Shrimp-lovers take note - research has shown that a chemical called chitosan, derived from shrimp shells, might be useful in the fight against obesity and high cholesterol.

This study is published by Wiley-Blackwell in the journal, Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology. Lead author Dr. Shahdat Hossain from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Jahangirnagar University tested the effect of chitosan - derived from the exoskeleton of shrimp - on the body weight, plasma lipid profile, and fatty acid composition of rats.

The results from the study conducted by Dr. Hossain and his colleagues have shown that chitosan reduced weight gain and blood cholesterol levels in the rats. More significantly, the researchers found that when taken as a dietary supplement, the chemical chitosan increased the ratio of 'good' versus 'bad' cholesterol levels.

The results of this study could have far reaching effect on the world stage- both socially and economically. With obesity associated with numerous diseases including diabetes and coronary heart disease, among others, this breakthrough finding on the effects of chitosan could see the global community gain a vital weapon in its fight against heart disease and stroke - one of the biggest killers in the developed world - in the guise of the humble shrimp shell.

On the economic front, with shrimp being the second biggest export earner for countries such as Bangladesh, this study also bodes well for the future economy. Shrimp shell could well play a major part in alleviating the burden on the economy by helping manage obesity levels and other associated cardiovascular diseases. Countries such as Bangladesh can also gain economically from the production and export of chitosan-based products.

These research results suggest that chitosan produced from shrimp may be a good source of nutrition and may guard against high cholesterol and other related complications.

However, Dr Hossian cautions, "Adequate anti-oxidants should be added to chitosan-enriched supplements in order to minimize the degree of oxidative stress to the liver. Further studies are certainly needed to clarify these aspects of chitosan."

This paper is published in the March 2007 issue of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology, 34 (3), 170 - 176.

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