Chitosan - more than just weight-loss
In the past few years, many new products have appeared in the weight loss industry. One of these ingredients, however, has gradually gained a leading status in the 'body contouring' market. Chitosan, which is widely adopted in the healthcare field, is one of the best-selling single ingredient products for weight loss. With so much research and an extensive range of applications, chitosan is now more than a simple weight loss product.
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Origin of chitosan
The raw material for production of chitosan is normally the exoskeletons of crustaceans such as shrimp and crab. The shells contain chitin which is then processed (deacetylation) to produce chitosan.
The earliest record of usage of crab shell powder can be traced in the "Compendium of Materia Medica". In Japan, legends about adopting crab and shrimp powder as medicine can also be found. In the 80's, research on chitosan was focused on its fat-absorbing quality for binding greases effectively in polluted rivers and the environment. In Europe, there has been research on the medical functions of chitosan. When compared with glucose and fibre, chitin has a very high biological activity.
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In the production of chitosan, chitin has to be refined from the exoskeletons of crustaceans by first grinding shells into powder. After processing, the product is graded. Grading is defined by purity as well as the degree of 'deacetylation' (DAC).
Chitosan has a powerful positive charge (resulting from the 'deacetylation'), and actively seeks negatively charged molecules to neutralize this. When chitosan encounters substances with a negative charge (such as animal fat), they combine naturally.
The DAC level of chitosan varies according to application. For industrial use it is typically 40-50% while for food grade product, the range is usually 70-85%. The DAC level has a direct impact on how much fat each gram of chitosan can bind. Chitosan for weight-loss supplements is mostly of the 70-85% DAC range. Pharmaceutical grade chitosan is 95% or higher. Chitosan may benefit users in reducing cholesterol levels, enhancing digestion, improving constipation, minimizing the absorption of fat and weight control.
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Usage of chitosan
In 1984, a national research project on chitin was launched in 13 medical universities in Japan so as to certify its medical benefits including lowering cholesterol level and blood pressure, enhancing the function of the alimentary canal, activating the immune system and wound healing. The high adoptability in organisms of chitin in chitosan makes it a good material for medical products such as artificial blood vessels, skin, organs and contact lenses. The range of applications covers potential application in medicine, biotechnology, food, agriculture and environmental protection.
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Summary of benefits
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- Cholesterol reduction
Medication used for lowering cholesterol has significant side effects such as affecting liver function, obstructing absorption of vitamins and increasing the risks of having rectal cancer. The release of findings on chitosan therefore aroused interest amongst researchers in Europe. Since it is a safe substance with no obvious side effects, numerous clinical trials were conducted. One trial demonstrated a reduction in the cholesterol level by 32% after five weeks. Most importantly, the level of HDL ('good') cholesterol in the body increased. At the same time, triglyceride level within the body decreased by 18%. By obstructing the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine, it not only reduces the accumulation of cholesterol in the liver, but also suppresses the formation of fatty liver.
As it can decrease the density of LDL ('bad') cholesterol and increase the concentration of HDL cholesterol, it is potentially effective in the prevention of arteriosclerosis and cardiovascular diseases. As early as in 1978, research revealed that in animals fed a high cholesterol diet mixed with 5% chitosan, the total cholesterol value in the blood and liver of trial animals decreased rapidly instead of increasing. Chitosan can be considered as a supplement for diet control and improving the problem of high cholesterol.
- Strengthen the functioning of brain and anti-aging.
By improving the delivery of nutrients to cells, EFA may prolong the lifespan of the cell and increase oxygen levels. DHA plays a crucial role in the functioning of the cerebral cortex, maintaining good memory as well as enhancing the development of the brain during the growth of a child. Our cerebral cortex consists of 10% DHA. DHA softens the structure of cell wall and facilitates the efficient transfer of messages. DHA is not only beneficial for growing children but also activates brain cells and slows down the aging process. It is also a powerful antioxidant.
- Strengthen digestive mechanism
Chitosan accelerates the reproduction of beneficial bacteria in the body and limits the growth of harmful bacteria so that the health of the digestive system can be enhanced. Chitin is a fat-soluble fibre, which shares similar structure and the same chemical properties as normal fibre and has zero caloric value. Chitosan and fibre may promote the feeling of fullness with a resulting reduction in food intake. With sufficient intake of water, it can strengthen the digestive mechanism and enhance bowel movement.
Chitosan helps create a better environment in the large intestine for beneficial bacteria so that harmful bacteria may be eliminated efficiently.
- Fortify body mechanisms:
Chitosan activates T-cells thereby strengthening the immune system and reduces the accumulation of heavy metals in the body. With environmental, food and water pollution, heavy metals encountered in our daily lives accumulate in the body, damaging our kidney and liver. Heavy metal poisoning may result in increased risks in nervous system diseases and functional disorders of internal organs. Chitosan ensures a normal internal biological functioning by absorbing harmful heavy metals which are then eliminated.
- Control absorption of fat and support weight loss:
Chitosan binds with fat so that it cannot be digested and stored thereby reducing caloric intake. When we consume fat, it passes through the alimentary canal into the stomach for digestion and decomposition. Chitosan attaches to fat in the stomach before it is metabolized. It works like a sponge and absorbs about 4 to 6 times its weight in fats.
The fat binds to the chitosan fibre and becomes a large mass which the body cannot absorb. This large mass is then eliminated from the body. Neutralizing fat after it enters the stomach spares the body from having to deal with the fat. Chitosan fibre differs from other fibre in that it possesses a positive ionic charge. This positive charge gives chitosan the ability to chemically bond with negatively charged lipids, fats and bile acids.
Chitosan should be taken prior to consumption of greasy food. To achieve optimum effectiveness, vitamin C (or something like orange juice) can be taken simultaneously to activate the binding action of chitosan even further.
The research on chitosan (both large and small scale studies) has been extensive and studies continue. For those in pursuit of health and beauty, chitosan is indeed an ingredient with amazing benefits.
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