4 Main Health Benefits of Chitin, Based on Science

Today, I'm going to show you how chitin may boost your gut health, reduce inflammation and improve your immune system.

Emanuel Skrobonja
Nutrition Facts
Cricket wing

Chitin. A wondrous supplement or a scam?

On the internet, you can find lots of articles with overstated benefits of chitin.

Most of these claims and benefits are based on chitosan (which is not the same as chitin), and on outdated and poorly designed studies.

So, I decided to dig a little deeper into the subject and find out, what’s the deal with chitin?

Is it any good?

In this article, we’re going to cover what we know about it for now, based on studies:

  1. May improve your immune system
  2. Can reduce inflammation
  3. May help with weight loss and preventing constipation
  4. Can protect and moisturize your skin
  5. Potential side effects and allergies
  6. Who can benefit from eating more chitin?
  7. Which foods are rich in chitin?

Before we start, no, chitin has nothing to do with cheating.

cheating on an exam

And it’s also pronounced very differently.

So, what is chitin?

Chitin, pronounced “ky-tin” (kʌɪtɪn), is a naturally occurring fiber similar to cellulose. [1]

It is found naturally in exoskeletons of crabs, shrimps, insects, snails and in the cell walls of mushrooms and other fungi.

It has lots of uses in many different industries and may have some very promising health benefits.

Chitin acts like cellulose in the human body and due to this effect, it is often called “animal fiber”. [2]

Like any other fiber, chitin is very useful in our diet.

Based on science, there are 4 main reasons to increase your chitin intake.

1. May Boost Healthy Gut Bacteria

In short, our body is not able to digest chitin. [3]

Chitin acts as an insoluble fiber, meaning it doesn’t dissolve in water.

That’s why it doesn’t easily break down in our digestive tract.

For our microbiome, chitin can be a real treat.

In fact, it may act as food (prebiotic) for the healthy bacteria in our gut. [4]

Prebiotics are compounds in food that induce the growth or activity of beneficial microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. [5]

Prebiotics can promote our immune system, gut health and reduce inflammation.

Immune defense

According to a study published by Scientific Reports, 20 participants where supplementing 25 grams of cricket powder over a 14 day period.

Cricket consumption was safe over the study period and was not associated with any unwanted side effects like nausea (sickness), vomiting, constipation and diarrhea.  

The study concluded that cricket powder supported growth of the probiotic bacterium, Bifidobacterium animalis, which increased 5.7-fold. [4]

“We found that cricket consumption may actually offer benefits beyond nutrition."
- Tiffany Weir (co-founder off the study)

The study authors note that more research is needed to fully understand these effects.

Yet, the results suggest that the chitin in cricket powder may contribute to a healthier digestive system.

Infographic based on the above mentioned study
Feel free to embed this image on your own website.

Summary

Increasing your intake of chitin through supplements like cricket powder may help you increase the count of healthy gut bacteria. Thereby. promoting our immune system and gut health.

2. Can reduce inflammation

reducing inflammation

Several studies on chitin have been conducted, across multiple industries.

The most promising applications of chitin seem to be within immunology.

Chitin may hold the key to prevent and treat inflammatory bowel disease.

In a study conducted in 2013, on animal models, the authors concluded:

“Chitin-microparticles, significantly suppress the development of inflammation by modulating cytokine balance and microbial environment in colon.” [6]

Meaning, chitin microparticles can prevent the development of inflammation in the colon.  

colon infection

In 2014 Yoshimi Shibata. PHD. told Sciencedaily how crab and other crustacean shells, may hold key to preventing, treating inflammatory bowel disease.

"Under normal conditions, inflammation is a process that actually protects health and promotes healing by mobilizing the immune system to attack, invading bacteria and killing it through the immune system reaction," said Shibata. "Chronic inflammation on the other hand harms instead of heals because the immune system attack never stops."

But, doctor Yoshimi Shibata, didn’t stop here..

In 2018, his team discovered that Chitin protects the layer of our guts called the epithelial barrier, which protects the guts from physical and chemical damage, infection, dehydration, and heat loss. [7]

A 2019 study conducted on animal models indicates that dietary chitin is an effective preparation for treating colitis. [8]

In the cricket study from the previous chapter, the researchers suggest that chitin can lower tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα). [4]

TNFα is a cell that signals our immune system to react.

When TNFα Levels are high, our body is fighting a non-existing threat.

Excess production of TNFα can cause many bad diseases such as cancer, AD, major depression, IBD and psoriasis. [9], [10], [11], [12], [13]

Summary:

Chitin can reduce inflammation, and it may hold the key to prevent and treat inflammatory bowel disease.

3. May be good for weight loss and preventing constipation

Seal meme: Happy face after pooping
made at imgflip.com

Like any other insoluble fiber, chitin sits in the gastrointestinal tract, absorbing fluid and sticking to other byproducts of digestion that are ready to be formed into the stool. [14]

Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool and appears to help food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines.

[15]

Helping prevent intestinal blockage and constipation or reduced bowel movements. [15]

Insoluble fiber physically fills up space in the stomach and intestines, increasing the sensation of being full. [15]

These properties may help people manage their weight.

Insoluble fiber (inkl. chitin):

  • Prevents constipation
  • Reduce the risk of developing small folds and hemorrhoids in the colon
  • May reduce the risk of colorectal cancer
  • Feeling full longer after meals

It is important to eat enough fiber, both soluble and insoluble.

A high-fiber diet is associated with a lower risk of many diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and others. [15][16]

And of course, it may help you live longer. [15]

Turtle meme: I'll stay with you buddy

Summary:

Chitin is a great source of insoluble dietary fiber. It may help you soften the stool and reduce the risk of hemorrhoids in the colon. Also, fiber makes you feel more full, which may be beneficial for weight loss.

4. Can moisturize and protect your skin from drying

Applying hand creme

Chitin is widely used in skin and hair care products.

It can moisturize and protect your skin from drying.

Chitin has a film-forming ability.

Which makes it a good carrier in cosmetics.

It can fix ingredients on skin for long-lasting effects.

[17]

Summary:

Chitin can serve as a hydration agent helping to moisturize and protect your skin from drying.

Who can benefit from eating more chitin?

finger pointing towards you

If you want to increase your fiber intake and possibly increase the number of healthy bacteria in your gut, you may want to give chitin a try.

Intestinal disorders characterized by inflammation may also mean that chitin can benefit you.

Allergies and potential side effects

allergic man

Can I be allergic to chitin?

Yes, you absolutely can.

Many people who have an allergic reaction towards shellfish or edible insects, are in fact allergic to chitin.

Also, the allergy to house dust mites is thought to be driven by a response to chitin.

[18]

However, if you’re allergic to shellfish, you might not necessarily be allergic towards edible insects nor chitin from fungus, and the viceversa.

Chitin might affect your nutrient absorption

Chitin binds to fat (lipids), and many vitamins like vitamin A,D,E and K are only dissolvable in fat. [19][20]

This means, it is possible that dietary chitin interacts with nutrient absorption. [4]

To avoid unwanted effects, simply give your body a break from chitin from time to time, and don't consume it in excess.

Although chitin is non-toxic and considered safe, please consult with a health specialist before implementing chitin as a regular part of your diet.

How can I add more chitin into my diet?

cricket, shrimp, mushroom and snail

As I mentioned before, chitin is the main ingredient in the exoskeletons of crustaceans and arthropods, and it is also present in the cell walls of fungi.

That means everything from butterflies to beetles, spiders, lobsters, snails, button mushrooms, and shrimp have some chitin in their protective armors.

Fun fact

Behind cellulose, chitin is the second-most abundant natural biopolymer in the world.

Foods containing chitin:

  • Edible insects
  • Mushrooms
  • Shellfish
  • Escargots (Edible snails)
Mushroom and cricket

Now, from this list of foods, only edible insects and mushrooms are a good source of chitin.

This is due to fact that most of the chitin from escargots and shellfish simply goes to waste. We don’t eat the exoskeletons nor snail shells.

Mushrooms

Mushroom

Mushrooms are a great way to get more chitin into your body. They are low in calories and they taste delicious.

The most fiber in mushrooms comes in form of chitin.

Amount of fiber per 100g of mushroom:

  • Button mushrooms 1 g
  • Shiitake mushrooms 2.5 g,
  • Oyster Mushrooms 2g
  • True Morels 2.8 g

Edible insects

Cricket

Eating insects is perhaps the best way to get more chitin into your diet.

Fun fact:

The oldest preserved chitin dates to the Oligocene, about 25 million years ago, consisting of a scorpion encased in amber. [21]

Besides being incredibly rich in protein, which helps with weight loss and gaining muscle mass, edible insects are also rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Yes, we’re talking about chitin here.

Mealworms, Crickets, Buffalo worms and  grasshoppers are all great sources of chitin.

Amount of fiber per 100g of insect powder of which the majority is chitin:

  • Mealworms 3.3g
  • Buffalo worms 3.7g
  • Crickets 4.1g
  • Grasshoppers 6.5g

Insects have a mild and nutty flavor, and they can be used in both, sweet and salty dishes.

If you’re new to the idea of eating insects, the easiest way to start is to add a tablespoon of cricket flour to your morning smoothie.

Check out my favorite insect smoothie recipe:

Smoothie
  1. 2 Bananas
  2. 10g of cricket powder
  3. 100g of blueberries
  4. 50g of raspberries
  5. 50g of oats
  6. 100g of coconut milk
  7. Water

Simply blend the ingredients together and you have a true titan breakfast!

Now, go and add some prebiotics and fiber to your diet.

Head over to the supermarket and buy mushrooms or simply get some edible insects online.

Your body will thank you! :)

Keep reading

Sources:

[1] Wikipedia - Chitin

[2] FAO - Nutritional value of insects forhuman consumption

[3] Nutritional and sensory Quality of edible insects - Science direct

[4] Impact of Edible Cricket Consumption on Gut Microbiota in Healthy Adults, a Double-blind, Randomized Crossover Trial

[5] Wikipedia - Prebiotic

[6] NCBI - Chitin microparticles for the control of intestinal inflammation.

[7] Chitin microparticles for the control of intestinal inflammation.

[8] NCBI - Dietary chitin particles, "mimetic fungi", ameliorate colitis in TLR2/CD14- and sex- dependent manners.

[9] NCBI - A meta-analysis of cytokines in Alzheimer's disease.

[10] NCBI - The TNF and TNF receptor superfamilies: integrating mammalian biology.

[11] A Meta-Analysis of Cytokines in Major Depression

[12] NCBI - TNF-alpha and apoptosis: implications for the pathogenesis and treatment of psoriasis.

[13] NCBI - Tumour necrosis factor alpha converting enzyme (TACE) activity in the colonic mucosa of patients with inflammatory bowel disease.

[14] The behavior of dietary fiber in the gastrointestinal tract determines its physiological effect

[15] Medine Plus - Soluble vs. insoluble fiber

[16] NCBI - Dietary Fiber and Metabolic Syndrome: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Related Mechanisms

[17] Science Direct - Chitin

[18] NCBI - Epithelial Cell Regulation of Allergic Diseases

[19] NCBI - Chitin Research Revisited

[20] Medical News Today - All you need to know about fat-soluble vitamins

[21] NCBI - Molecular taphonomy of animal and plant cuticles: selective preservation and diagenesis