Chitosan for Weight Loss and Cholesterol Management

Kelly M. Shields, Pharm.D., Nick Smock, Pharm.D., Cydney E. McQueen, Pharm.D., Patrick J. Bryant, Pharm.D., FSCIP


Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2003;60(13) 

In This Article


A 1998 study determined that 22.3% of Americans were obese,[1] a more than 50% increase over the rate in the preceding decade. The frequency of obesity is rising in all age groups and all ethnic groups.[1,2] These statistics, combined with the population's desire for an easy "cure" of this problem, have led to a ballooning market for dietary supplements promoted as weight-loss agents.

Chitosan is one of the multitude of weight-loss products to emerge. It differs from many other dietary supplements in that it is not claimed to increase energy expenditures. It also differs from many current prescription drug treatments focused on inducing satiety. Chitosan is promoted as a product that binds to lipids in the gastrointestinal tract, decreasing their absorption and lowering body weight.

Chitosan's purported mechanism of action offers the dream of weight loss without dietary restrictions or lifestyle modifications (such as exercise). It also offers an alternative to ephedra- or other stimulant-based products, which are increasingly recognized as dangerous. Chitosan may be safer and have less potential for abuse than some pharmaceutical agents, especially those with central-nervous-system effects, such as phentermine and sibutramine. Chitosan also appears safer than fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine, which have been removed from the market because of association with cardiac valve abnormalities. It is not associated with the same gastrointestinal complaints (oily stools, cramping, nausea) as the prescription lipase inhibitor orlistat.

Chitosan has also been claimed to reduce cholesterol, improve anemia, enhance physical strength, and promote sleep. Topical formulations have been used to treat periodontitis and stimulate donor-site tissue regeneration in patients undergoing plastic surgery.[3]


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