Chitosan May Slightly Improve Certain Lipid Levels

Elena Elisseeva, istockphoto

Chitosan is commonly found as a supplement in health stores and pharmacies. This product is a derivative of chitin, which is a major component of the hard, outer shell that crustaceans and insects possess. It is also a component of the cell wall of fungi.

Studies have noted some beneficial effects from taking chitosan, including weight loss, wound healing, reduction of dental plaque, and treating insomnia.

During some studies examining the health benefits of chitosan, it was also revealed that the supplement could also possibly lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Does Chitosan Really Work?

Studies examining the lipid-lowering effects of chitosan appear conflicting. Some studies revealed that chitosan has the ability to affect certain aspects of your lipid profile, whereas other studies suggest that chitosan may not have a significant impact on certain lipids. Studies examining the effectiveness of chitosan on cholesterol and triglyceride levels have been performed in animals, obese individuals, those with type II diabetes, people with high cholesterol, and healthy adults.

Most studies involving healthy people with no changes in their lifestyle did not note significantly lowered lipid levels, with the exception of one study that resulted in a 6 percent decrease in total cholesterol levels and a 7 percent increase in HDL cholesterol levels.

However, some studies involving participants with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels and/or obesity following a healthy, low calorie diet (about 1200 calories a day) noted that total cholesterol levels were lowered by about 8 percent and LDL cholesterol levels were significantly lowered by up to 5 percent.

The effect of chitosan on triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels in these studies were mixed. In some cases, triglyceride and HDL levels were not affected, whereas other studies saw only a slight, positive effect on triglycerides or HDL cholesterol. It is difficult to determine whether or not chitosan, the healthy diet followed by the study participants, or both had a beneficial impact on lipid levels in these studies.

The doses of chitosan given in these studies also widely varied, ranging from 125 to 6,000 mg daily, usually given with food in divided doses throughout the day. The studies lasted anywhere between one week and four months. It is thought that chitosan may work by binding to cholesterol and lipids in the gastrointestinal tract and preventing them from being absorbed into the bloodstream.

Should You Take Chitosan To Lower Your Cholesterol Levels?

Current studies suggest that chitosan can modestly reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels. However, because more studies are needed to further examine chitosan’s impact on your lipid profile, you should probably look for other measures to lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels before trying to lower your lipids with chitosan.

Chitosan didn’t appear to have any serious side effects in these studies, but it can cause flatulence, constipation, and nausea. Chitosan also has not been studied long-term, and there are some animal studies that suggest that chitosan may interact with certain fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins D, A, and E) if taken for long periods of time. As with any natural product, make sure that you talk to your healthcare provider about taking chitosan before trying it in order to make sure that this supplement does not interact with any health conditions or medications you may be taking.


Shields KM, Smock N, McQueen CE, et al. Chitosan for weight loss and cholesterol management. Am J Health Sys Pharm 2003;60:1310-1313.

Xu G, Huang X, Qiu L et al. Mechanism study of chitosan on lipid metabolism in hyperlipidemic rats. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2007;16:313-317

Tapola NS, Lyyra ML, Kolehmainen RM, et al. Safety aspects and cholesterol-lowering efficacy of chitosan tablets. J Am Coll Nutr 2008;27:22-30.538-42.

Rizzo M, Giglio RV, Nikolic D et al. Effects of chitosan on plasma lipids and lipoproteins: a  4 month prospective pilot study. Angiology 2014;65.

Natural Standard. (2014). Chitosan  [Monograph]. Retrieved from

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