Chitosan is a popular weight loss supplement made of ‘chitin’ molecules that are derived from the hard external shells of marine crustaceans such as shrimps, lobsters, crayfish, crabs, squids and other shellfish. Chitosan is claimed to be similar to plant fiber in being totally indigestible by the body. Chitosan fiber binds with the dietary fats while passing through the digestive system and removes it out of the body thus preventing the absorption of fats. This eventually leads to reduced cholesterol levels and weight loss. Studies by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and PDR Health support this theory. People also use chitosan supplement to heal wounds, prevent dental cavities, treat kidney failure, reduce hypertension and as an antimicrobial agent. However, there are certain potential health hazards associated with chitosan use, so getting an approval from your doctor is a must before starting on this supplement. Below is a list of the common side effects caused by the usage of chitosan supplement.
Gastrointestinal distress side effect
Studies by PDR Health and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center report that gastrointestinal distress may occur in patients using chitosan supplement. Possible symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal discomfort. This is because chitosan if taken in high doses and for an extended period of time encourages the growth of harmful intestinal bacteria, explain the scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. If you happen to experience any of these symptoms, discontinue chitosan supplement immediately and inform your doctor. He may prescribe a reduced dosage of the supplement or even stop the supplement altogether depending upon the severity of your symptoms.
Nutrient malabsorption side effect
Because chitosan prevents absorption of fats from your diet, fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K may not be absorbed in sufficient quantities by your body. Case studies published in the Journal of Pharmaceuticals & Pharmacology and in the Journal of Nutrition Research in 1997 and 1998 respectively have proven that using chitosan supplement in high dosages over extended periods of time inhibits the absorption of essential nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E and K, essential fatty acids and as well as minerals such as magnesium, selenium and calcium. Clinical studies say this effect of chitosan can result in deficiency of essential nutrients. Therefore, it is especially important that pregnant women and those suffering from osteoporosis and intestinal malabsorption syndrome should stay away from chitosan supplement.
Allergic side effect
People having a shellfish allergy should refrain from taking chitosan supplements. Surveys by American Dietetic Association show that over 7 million Americans are prone to shellfish allergy and nearly 60 percent of them do not develop any symptoms before they are adults. Common signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction include shortness of breath, discomfort in the chest, wheezing, tingling in the throat, swelling in the wrists and heels, itchy skin, rash or hives. Occasionally the patient may even develop shocks, low blood pressure, dizziness and circulatory collapse. These side effects can get worse over time, so it is recommended that those who experience any allergic reaction should stop taking chitosan supplement at once. Rarely an allergic reaction can even prove fatal for some people.
Blood thinning side effect
Chitosan when used as a supplement appears to increase the blood-thinning effects of anti-coagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin). Researchers at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital and National Yang-Ming University in Taiwan have uncovered a possible interference of chitosan on warfarin drug. This is because chitosan blocks the absorption of vitamin K which thereby increases the actions of blood-thinning drugs, says Shao-Sung Huang, MD in his publication ‘The Annals of Pharmacotherapy’. Therefore, taking chitosan along with warfarin could potentially increase the chances of bleeding or bruising. Those who are currently taking anti-coagulants must discuss with their doctor before starting on a chitosan supplement.
Arsenic poisoning side effect
Studies by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center points out that chitosan supplements may contain certain quantities of arsenic in them. This is because crustaceans have a tendency to absorb and concentrate arsenic in their shells from water, as part of their normal growth and development. This in turn leads to dangerous arsenic-contaminated chitosan supplements. Therefore, chitosan supplements can possibly cause arsenic poisoning when taken over an extended period of time, reports a case study published in the Clinical Toxicology in 2002. Extremely rare, but taking arsenic-laced chitosan for long periods of time may cause toxicity and eventually death.
Constipation side effect
Although many companies are widely promoting chitosan as a safe weight loss supplement, medical studies show that dehydration coupled with chitosan has the potential to cause severe constipation. Chitosan supplements may also contain fibers such as glucomannan and psyllium. These substances can be harmful if consumed without adequate water because if any of these powders remain in the esophagus it can lead to swelling and choking.Therefore, make sure to take chitosan supplement with ample amount of water or any other liquid. If you do not drink sufficient amount of liquid, this supplement may cause undesirable abdominal cramps and flatulence in addition to constipation as with any other dietary fiber.
Rhabdomyolysis side effect
Some of the weight loss supplements have chitosan as the main ingredient while including other substances such as garcinia cambogia making it really complicated to pinpoint exactly which ingredient is responsible for negative reactions. The American Journal of the Medical Sciences and the National Toxicology Program reported a case of rhabdomyolysis that occurred after a woman consumed a supplement containing chitosan along with garcinia cambogia, ma huang, guarana and other herbal ingredients in June 2004. Rhabdomyolysis is a serious condition which involves skeletal muscle breakdown, which thereby releases proteins directly into the bloodstream that leads to acute damage of the kidneys. Common symptoms include muscle aches (myalgia), decreased urine production, joint pain, seizures, unintentional weight gain and general fatigue. Doctors advise caution to people who have a history of rhabdomyolysis before starting on a routine of chitosan supplement.