The ability of chitosan to form complexes with various fats, including cholesterol, provides a theoretical basis for its use in hyperlipidaemia. Dietary chitosan has been tested and found to be effective in reducing serum cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis in normal and diabetic mice, and therefore has been investigated in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia in humans (Muzzarelli 1999).

A 2002 review states that in humans, dietary chitosan reduces serum total cholesterol levels by 5.8-42.6% and LDL levels by 15.1-35.1 % (Ylitalo et al 2002). Based on these figures, the effects of chitosan range from mild to moderate and appear to be inconsistent for total cholesterol. More specifically, lowering of LDL-cholesterol is more consistent, whereas little effect is seen on plasma triglyceride concentration, according to several different experimental and human studies involving obese or diabetic subjects or people with mild to moderate hypercholesterolemia (Bokura & Kobayashi 2003, Tai et al 2000, Wuolijoki et al 1999, Yihua & Binglin 1997).

Reduction in LDL-cholesterol was evident after 4 weeks' treatment with a microcrystalline chitosan (1.2 g twice daily) according to one double-blind study (Wuolijoki et al 1999) and after 8 weeks' treatment using a low dose of 1.2 g/day of chitosan in another double-blind study (Bokura & Kobayashi 2003). However, not all studies have produced positive results. One double-blind study found no effect with 1.5 g chitosan tablets taken three times daily (Zahorska-Markiewicz et al 2002).

© 2007 Elsevier Australia

The electrically neutral nature of triglycerides may mean that chitosan is unable to form complexes with it, and therefore is unable to influence its absorption.

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