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Chitosan is a dietary fiber-like
substance made from chitin, which forms the hard shells of lobsters, crabs,
and other shellfish. Proponents of chitosan say that it binds to fat and substances that are
soluble in fat. They believe that humans don't have the enzymes to break
down chitosan. That allows it to pass through the intestinal tract,
taking some fat along with it. By blocking the fat absorption in your body,
chitosan is promoted as helping you to lose weight.
In a small, unpublished, study in Sweden,
researchers gave 12 men and women of normal weight half a cup of
cream along with 1,000 mg of chitosan. In eight of the people, the chitosan
bound 8 to 14 percent of the cream's fat, preventing about 50 calories from being absorbed. Chitosan had no effect in the other four
Three studies in Europe looked
at whether chitosan alone helps people lose weight. Only one found that it
did. Ten overweight Italian men and women lost an average of nine pounds after
taking 2,000 mg of chitosan and eating 1,200 calories a day for four weeks.
Ten similar men and women who ate the same diet but got a placebo instead of
chitosan shed six pounds.
While chitosan may prevent fat from
being absorbed, it can do the same to fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin D,
vitamin E, and carotenoids. That coul;d pose a serious health hazard. For
example, blood levels of vitamin E dropped quickly and
sharply in laboratory rats fed the equivalent of ten to 20 times the human
dosage of chitosan for two weeks. And their bones lost calcium and other
minerals. Many disease-fighting
phytochemicals in plant foods, some drugs, including estrogen and
contraceptives are fat-soluble. It makes them vulnerable to chitosan.
So, if you take chitosan, take your
multivitamins and certain drugs at different times of the day than when you
take your chitosan. Also, don't take chitosan
indefinitely. Take it for just 1 or 2 three-month periods,
with a break in between.
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