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replica of human lungs

Learn Biology with These Helpful Online Courses

Thanks to the internet, people can learn about nearly any subject they want, with just a few taps on a smartphone. As a result, education is much more accessible to people around the world who are eager to learn.

If you’re keen to learn more about biology, you can take advantage of virtual seminars and courses while you’re at home or on the go. In this post, we’ll share some of the online resources available to help you boost your biology knowledge.

The courses listed below include a mix of free and paid sessions, so you can fulfill your desire to learn, no matter what your budget is. Take a look and start your biology lessons today.

Introduction to Animal Behavior

This six-week course will teach you the essential information about how animals behave, including how they communicate, learn, eat, and interact with one another. You should expect to dedicate 4-6 hours per week to this class.

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: How Life Works

In this virtual course, you will learn about biochemistry, or as the professor calls it, “the science of us.” You will watch video lectures that dive into the science behind biochemical reactions and how they occur within the human body.

Biology 101: Introduction to Reproduction and Genetics

Brought to you by Udemy, this course covers the basics of reproduction and genetics in both animals and plants. It incorporates 2.5 hours of on-demand video lessons and downloadable materials so that you can move through the class at your own pace.

Human Anatomy

This class will teach you the essentials of human anatomy, brought to you by lecturers from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. You’ll dig into the basics of how the human body is structured, with invaluable lessons from examining a real-life severe stroke case.

Plant Science: An Introduction to Botany

As summer rolls around in the United States, it’s a great time to get outside and explore. Before you hit the great outdoors, brush up on some basic botany knowledge so that you can identify and understand the science behind the flora in your area.

Biology 101: Respiratory, Transport System and Diseases

Get a better understanding of how the human respiratory system works in this short online class. The lectures also provide information about how the body fights off diseases and how blood and nutrients are transported.

Sustainable Food Security: The Value of Systems Thinking

As humans, we need to produce food to survive. But how does that impact the environment? Learn those vital lessons and more from esteemed instructors at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands.

Music and the Brain

Why is music so powerful? This lecture series will inform you about the origins and evolution of music, as well as how the body reacts to musical rhythms. 

These types of online biology classes make learning accessible to everyone. Instead of enrolling in a college course and attending weekly lessons, you can study key concepts on your own time and fit learning into your schedule, rather than the other way around.

For more biology-related content, visit the Biology Wise blog.

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fish swimming in ocean

Differentiation Among the Various Branches of Biology

Biology is a fascinating subject. Defined as the study of life and living organisms, it comprises many different sectors that play a vital role in understanding how human beings exist and interact with the world around them.

There are numerous branches within biology, and professionals dedicate their entire careers to the study of these different fields. What’s more, each of these branches has sub-categories of their own, giving us a more in-depth picture of how the world works.

In this post, we will offer an overview of several of the most popular branches of biology, highlighting the role that these fields of study play in our day-to-day lives. 

Anatomy

Anatomists study the structure and organization of living things, including humans and animals. Human anatomy is particularly important to learn for doctors and other medical professionals.

Biochemistry

As the name might suggest, biochemistry incorporates principles from both biology and chemistry. Biochemists explore the chemical processes occurring within living organisms (for example, metabolism).

Botany

Botany is the study of plants, including their evolution, physiology, and ecology. With this knowledge, botanists can help design plant conservation programs and prevent invasive species from taking over a region.

Ecology

Ecologists look at the science behind how organisms interact with their surrounding environment, including living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) things. An example might be how humans impact the environment.

Genetics

Genetics involves the study of several different functions related to genes, such as the inheritance of traits within families and gene expression. It’s a key component in the field of medicine.

Immunology

As another medicine-related branch of biology, immunology involves the exploration of the immune systems in different organisms. At the moment, immunologists are busy trying to understand how the immune system responds to the infection caused by COVID-19.

Microbiology

Microbiologists specialize in the study of microorganisms, which are living things that can only be viewed under the lens of a microscope. Examples of microorganisms include bacteria, algae, and protozoa.

Paleontology

Many people associate the term “paleontology” with the study of dinosaurs, but this field actually encompasses the broader exploration of ancient animals and plants. Paleontologists collect and examine fossils of these life forms to understand what the world looked like millions of years ago.

Physiology

As “the science of life,” physiology incorporates many different biological disciplines, from the behavior of cells to the function of major organs to the body’s interaction with the world around it. Physiologists study how the body responds to diseases and external factors, helping pave the way for new medical treatments.

Zoology

Zoology is the study of animals, including how their anatomy, physiology, and evolution patterns. There are several sub-disciplines within zoology, where professionals specialize in the study of a particular type of animal. For instance, mammalogy refers to the study of mammals, and entomology is the study of insects.

These areas of study represent just a handful of the many branches of biology. All together, they combine to help us understand ourselves and the world around us.

For more biology-related content, visit the Biology Wise blog.

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woman holding bottle of probiotics

How Do Probiotics Work in the Body?

What do you think when you hear the term “bacteria”? If you’re like most people, you probably think about the harmful germs that can make you sick. While it’s valid that there are a lot of bad bacteria like this in the world, there are also other forms of bacteria that can actually benefit your health.

Probiotics are one example of good bacteria, and many people around the world consume them to improve their health. In the United States, probiotics rank among the most popular dietary supplements for adults, after vitamins and minerals.

In this post, we’ll discuss the key details about probiotics, including how they work, where they are found, and what you should know before taking them.

What are probiotics? 

In a healthy bowel, there are about 100 trillion bacteria that work to protect you from pathogens and help you with digestion. Probiotics are live microorganisms that you can ingest to make sure these essential functions continue.

In the gut, probiotics effectively take the place of harmful bacteria. They consume the nutrients that pathogens would need to reproduce, while also assisting with digestion. Probiotics also create helpful byproducts that can prevent diseases from spreading to other parts of the body.

How can probiotics improve your health? 

Research has shown that probiotics can help people experiencing gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, constipation, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. Doctors commonly recommend that their patients take probiotics while they’re on antibiotics, in order to prevent stomach-related issues.

Probiotics are also useful for women to ensure the appropriate pH balance in the vagina. The balance is frequently affected by things like birth control pills and women’s hygiene products, and probiotics can restore it to a normal range.

Studies also suggest that probiotics can be used to improve the health of children who are experiencing allergies or eczema. 

How do you take probiotics?

Some fermented foods, like yogurt and sauerkraut, contain probiotics. Alternatively, you can take them as an oral supplement. You can find the capsules at pharmacies around the United States. 

Are all probiotics the same? 

There are different strains of probiotics, which perform various functions within the body. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics are the most common probiotics. Lactobacillus is found in yogurt and helps with diarrhea, while Bifidobacterium exists in some dairy products and can help alleviate irritable bowel syndrome.

But even within those categories, there are multiple uses. For example, studies suggest that Lactobacillus plantarum can improve cholesterol levels, while Lactobacillus reuteri can stop pathogens from growing.

The human body is complex, so it can be difficult to correlate specific strains with their purported uses. However, medical research does point to the overall effectiveness of probiotics to treat particular health conditions. 

With that in mind, it’s important to note that there has not been a great deal of research on the impacts of the long-term use of probiotics. As with any other supplement, you should consult with your health professional before adding probiotics to your diet.

For more biology-related content, check out the Biology Wise blog.

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plants with water

A Brief Overview of Plants and Their Role in the Biosphere

Plants are one of the six kingdoms of life and play an essential role in the world’s biology. Plants, which are multicellular organisms, are needed to support many different forms of life, from animals to fungi to bacteria.

In this post, we will discuss the role of plants in the biosphere, including the different types of plants around the world and how they produce their own food through photosynthesis.

What are the different types of plants?

There are several different groups of plants, each with different characteristics and roles in the ecosystem. They fit within the Plantae kingdom of life.

The largest group of plants are called angiosperms. These plants have flowers, seeds, and fruit and account for about 80% of all living green plants. Angiosperms often grow and spread when animals (like birds and insects) take a plant’s pollen or seeds and distribute it elsewhere. In these cases, the animals and plants rely on each other for survival.

Gymnosperms are another plant group, and they’re closely related to angiosperms. These woody plants don’t have flowers or fruit, but they have seeds, which are contained in cones rather than within fruit. The four groups of gymnosperms are ginkgo, gnetophytes, cycads, and conifers (which include pine trees). There are more than 1,000 unique species of gymnosperms around the globe, including the world’s largest organisms.

Finally, ferns and lycophytes are the oldest plant groups. The fossils of these plants extend back about 400 million years. Ferns and lycophytes don’t have flowers, fruit, or seeds, but instead have spores, which they use to reproduce. They are commonly found in tropical environments. The difference between ferns and lycophytes is within their vascular systems. Ferns have multi-veined fronds, whereas lycophytes only have one vein.

How are plants structured?

Although there are different groups of plants, they share the same components, including leaves, stems, and roots.

Leaves are filled with a green-colored pigment called chlorophyll and are used to capture sunlight during photosynthesis. Stems support the plant’s weight and move water and nutrients through the organism. Roots are planted in the ground and absorb water and nutrients to keep the plant alive.

What is photosynthesis?

Through a process known as photosynthesis, plants can make their own food to sustain themselves — and other life forms.

In terms of nutrition, plants comprise at least part (if not all) of many animals’ diets. But more importantly, plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. This oxygen is then released into the atmosphere, and other living creatures consume it to live. After they die, the different parts of plants become food for fungi and bacteria.

All of these functions underscore the importance of plants in the circle of life. Over the duration of a plant’s life cycle, it provides critical sustenance for all other forms of life.

Plants are a fascinating topic of study for biologists since they are uniquely positioned as organisms that can create their own food and sustain life for others.

For more biology-related content, check out the Biology Wise blog.

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virus

The Structure and Spreading of Viruses

Viruses play a significant role in day-to-day life, even though they are so tiny that they can’t be seen with the naked eye. The COVID-19 global pandemic is a current example of this, as the coronavirus has led to the closures of businesses, schools, and public spaces all over the world.

For billions of people around the globe, viruses are at the forefront of their minds right now. That’s why it’s important to share information about what viruses are, how they are structured, and how they spread between people. In this post, we will cover all of those vital topics and more.

What are viruses?

Viruses are a form of microbes, which are microscopic living things that exist all around the world, in air, water, and soil. Other examples of microbes include bacteria and fungi. Some microbes, like the bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus, also live within the human body and help keep people healthy. However, other microbes can be seriously harmful to people — like some viruses.

How are viruses structured?

Viruses are the smallest type of microbes. According to the Microbiology Society, viruses are so small that “500 million rhinoviruses (which cause the common cold) could fit on to the head of a pin.”

Technically, viruses are not living organisms. Unlike some other microbes, viruses do not have cells. Instead, they contain genetic material (DNA or RNA), as well as a protective outer layer called the capsid, which is made from protein. The small size of a virus allows it to infiltrate healthy host cells, where it relies on the cell’s machinery to replicate itself. Without host cells, a virus would not be able to make copies of itself.

How do viruses affect people?

Different viruses can affect people in many different ways. For example, the influenza A and B viruses infect people with the flu every year. For many, flu symptoms will resolve themselves with rest and proper care. But for others, this virus can be deadly.

Similarly, the world is now grappling with COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus disease). People who have been infected with COVID-19 often experience respiratory illness and other symptoms like fever and cough.

Another example is the varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox and shingles. These viral infections are highly contagious and cause itchy and painful blisters on the skin.

How do viruses spread?

People can transmit viruses to one another quite easily, especially in enclosed spaces. The main way that this happens is through coughing and sneezing. When a person has been infected with a virus, the droplets contained within their coughs and sneezes contain particles of the virus. If those particles come into contact with another person’s nose or mouth, they may become infected.

Viruses (including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19) can also live on plastic and steel surfaces for two to three days. If someone were to touch a contaminated surface and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth, they also run a risk of infection. This is why handwashing is critical to prevent the spread of this virus.

For more biology-related content, check out the Biology Wise blog.

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What Are the Six Kingdoms of Life?

While animals, plants, and fungi are some of the more commonly recognized kingdoms in biological taxonomy, there are also other less well-known kingdoms of organisms that exist and play an essential role in the biosphere.

It’s true that there is some debate among biologists regarding the classification of kingdoms and how many truly exist. However, the following six kingdoms have mainly been agreed upon by a number of prominent biologists, and the six-kingdom system is generally taught in schools across the United States.

In this post, we will offer a quick overview of each kingdom and the role it plays in the world. Take a look and discover the differences between these fascinating life forms.

Animals

Of course, animals are the most widely recognized kingdom, with human beings belonging within this classification. It is also the largest sector, with more than 1 million identified species. Animals include organisms that dwell on land and in the sea, such as mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Invertebrates also fit within this kingdom and make up 97% of all animal species.

Plants

Plants are the second-largest kingdom of the six and are critically important to the wellbeing of the earth. Species within this kingdom create their own food via the process of photosynthesis, while also providing oxygen that many animals need to breathe. Plants also serve as food for many land and sea animals.

Fungi

In previous schools of thought, fungi were categorized within the plant kingdom. However, you will find a few notable differences between the two kingdoms. For instance, fungi are not able to feed themselves through photosynthesis and must rely on the organic matter around them for sustenance. Common examples of fungi include mushrooms, yeast, and molds.

Protista

The organisms within the Protista kingdom fit within a wide-ranging spectrum. Most consist of a single cell (unicellular), but all protists are eukaryotes, just like fungi, animals, and plants. This means that their cells have a complex composition, including a nucleus and organelles. Examples of protists include algae and amoebas.

Eubacteria

Unlike each of the four kingdoms listed above, eubacteria are single-celled prokaryotes (as are archaebacteria). This means that the nucleus within the cell is not bound by a membrane. These bacteria are found almost everywhere and include things like Escherichia coli (better known as E. coli) and Streptococcus pneumoniae (which causes strep throat).

Archaebacteria

Archaebacteria were discovered in the 1980s and joined the six kingdoms shortly after that. Like eubacteria, they are single-celled prokaryotes. However, they are in a realm of their own, because biologists discovered that they are the oldest living organisms on the planet. Scientists believe that archaebacteria derive from ancient bacteria that used to live in hydrothermal vents in the deep sea. Interestingly, they are not closely related to eubacteria.

Within each of these six kingdoms, organisms can be further classified into phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, and species. Biological taxonomy is complex and sophisticated, as scientists continue to study life forms all around the globe.

For more biology-related content, visit the Biology Wise blog.

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microscope

How Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) Impacts Hair Loss in Men

For many men, hair loss is an inevitable but challenging part of getting older. The most common type of hair loss is male pattern balding, which is also known as androgenic alopecia.

While there has been extensive discussion and debate about alleged cures for hair loss (including pills, lotions, and hair transplant surgery), not many people know about the science behind hair loss. In this article, we will outline the medical causes behind male pattern balding, focusing on how dihydrotestosterone (DHT) impacts hair loss.

What is DHT?

Men’s bodies naturally produce androgen hormones, which create male sex characteristics such as a deep voice and increased muscle mass. DHT and testosterone are two examples of these androgens.

Of all testosterone in a man’s body, about 10% of it is converted into DHT using an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase (5-AR). Following that process, DHT is then released into the bloodstream. Sometimes, there is an excess of DHT in the body, which can not only lead to hair loss but also coronary heart disease and prostate cancer.

What role does DHT play in hair loss?

In the bloodstream, DHT and other androgens (like testosterone) attach themselves to receptors on hair follicles. However, DHT binds to these receptors five times more than testosterone does.

When this happens, DHT reduces the size of the follicles and shortens the growth cycle of hair that originates from these follicles. Then, the follicles are unable to create enough healthy hair, so hair may appear thin and take longer to regrow.

When there are higher amounts of 5-AR in the body, more testosterone will be converted to DHT (which is considerably more potent than testosterone). As a result, more DHT in the bloodstream will equate to increased hair loss.

DHT can impact people in a variety of ways, but many men experience the adverse effects of this androgen. In fact, about half of men in the United States will have some form of DHT-caused hair loss by the time they turn 50.

How can this information be used to prevent or reverse hair loss?

Limiting the amount of DHT has proven to be effective in reducing male pattern balding. One of the most common treatments is the oral medication finasteride, which prevents 5-AR from converting testosterone into DHT. In turn, this increases the amount of testosterone in the body.

Researchers have found finasteride to be useful for hair regeneration. In one Japanese study, 87% of participants reported seeing great, moderate, or slight increases in hair growth from taking 1mg of finasteride per day.

Currently, in the United States, finasteride is available with a doctor’s prescription and sold under the brand names Propecia and Proscar. It is important to remember that this medication will only stimulate hair growth as long as an individual takes it. In other words, once a person stops taking finasteride, hair growth will cease.

Although hair loss is not considered a serious medical condition or disease, it can cause severe self-esteem and confidence issues for the men (and women) who experience it. As such, it is vital to understand the science behind hair loss and the available methods for treating it.

For more biology-related content, visit the Biology Wise blog.

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baby's eyes

Predicting a Child’s Eye Color Based on Genetic Data

For expecting parents, envisioning what their baby will look like is an exciting part of the pre-birth journey. Factors like eye color, hair color, and other physical features remain a mystery until the child is born (and can even change after birth).

However, there are ways to determine the probability of a child’s eye color, using their mother and father’s genetics. In this post, we will discuss how a person’s eye color is determined and provide examples of specific eye color outcomes for children based on their parents’ genetic traits.

How is eye color determined?

In broad terms, a person’s genetics are the determining factor in their eye color. However, the specific genes that affect eye color are more complex than some may realize. Here’s how the process works.

First, these genes produce the pigment known as melanin (which also plays a role in a person’s skin and hair color). The amount of melanin that someone has in the front layers of their iris will dictate what their eye color is. More melanin equates to darker eyes, while less melanin creates lighter eyes.

In addition to melanin, there are also two subtypes of this pigment present in the eyes: red-yellow pheomelanin and black-brown eumelanin. Depending on how much of these pigments are produced, eyes may appear in shades such as green, hazel, or amber.

So what determines how much melanin is produced? Let’s look at chromosome 15, where two genes play a significant role in pigment production. First, the OCA2 gene produces the P protein, which is present in melanocytes (the cells that create melanin). 

Meanwhile, the HERC2 gene contains a strand of DNA that controls the expression within OCA2. As HERC2 reduces expression of OCA2, less melanin is produced (leading to lighter-colored eyes).

Examples of eye color outcomes

Putting all of that information into practical use, how can parents-to-be predict their child’s eye color? While there is no way to be entirely certain about the outcome, genetic data can be applied to come up with an assumption about a baby’s potential eye color.

To do this, parents can create a graph (known as a Punnett square) using each individual’s eye color and family history to get an overview of the possibilities for their child’s eye color. On the graph, each parent will be assigned a sequence of letters based on their eye color and the traditional eye color that others in their family lineage have had. 

Here’s a simple example. If the mother has brown eyes and a family history of brown eyes, they could be assigned “BB” on the chart, listed on the horizontal axis. If the father has brown eyes, but most others in his family have had blue eyes, he would be assigned “Bb,” listed on the vertical axis. The result is four squares with four possible combinations – two that would indicate a likelihood of brown eyes (“BB”) and two that offer the possibility of blue eyes (“Bb”). To learn about how to create your own Punnett square, check out this resource, which also offers examples of more complex eye color combinations.

As mentioned earlier, this type of analysis doesn’t guarantee a child’s eye color but instead offers an overview of potential outcomes. It is also important to note that melanin takes some time to permeate a newborn’s eyes, which explains why many babies are born with blue eyes that later change.

For more biology-related content, visit the Biology Wise blog.

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Chitin: Structure, Function, and Uses

Chitin: Structure, Function, and Uses

The hard outer shell of arthropods and insects like beetles is primarily made up of chitin, a naturally occurring biopolymer. The following BiologyWise article elaborates more on the structure, function, and uses of chitin.

Did You Know?

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

If one is to observe a lobster closely, he cannot fail to notice its tough outer covering. This protective outer shell, referred to as the exoskeleton is a distinguishing feature of arthropods that include crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, shrimp), arachnids (ticks, mites, scorpions, and spiders), and even insects (beetles, grasshoppers, butterflies). Chitin, a naturally occurring biopolymer is an important component of this exoskeleton. The internal shells of cephalopods and radulae of mollusks are also primarily composed of chitin.

Structure

Chitin is essentially a linear homopolysaccharide (long chain polymer) consisting of repeated units of N-acetyl-glucosamine, which is a monosaccharide derivative of glucose. These units form covalent β-1,4 linkages. Chitin with the chemical formula (C8H13O5N)n is considered as a complex carbohydrate, whose structure resembles that of cellulose, with one hydroxyl group on each monomer replaced with an acetyl amine group.

Chitin Molecule

Chitin Structure

Function

  • This skeleton on the outside of the body appears hard and rigid due to the presence of chitin that is known for its tough elastic properties. Although chitin is the dominant constituent, other compounds such as proteins and calcium carbonate also play a crucial role in the formation of exoskeleton. The main function of this chitin-containing exoskeleton is to keep the inner soft tissue safe from any sort of injury.
  • Most importantly, it prevents these delicate tissues from becoming dry. In short, it acts as a watertight barrier against dehydration, which is crucial for their survival.
  • The hard chitin-containing exoskeleton of arthropods also acts as a defense mechanism against predation. This outer covering can tolerate strong compressive stresses, which can provide protection from predation because predators exert a compressive force on the exoskeleton to injure their victim.
  • The fungal cell wall that protects the micro-organism from the outside environment is also made up of chitin.

Exoskeleton Shedding

Chitin is released from the animal’s outer skin (epidermis) to form the protective covering. After the exoskeleton fully develops, the growth of epidermis stops. Moreover, the exoskeleton is found to be relatively rigid, since it does limit growth with the increase in the size of the animal. So when there is a mismatch between the anatomy of the arthropod and the size of the exoskeleton, it can cause suffocation. To avoid this, the animal gets rid of the exoskeleton and begins to form a new one. This process of shedding the current skeleton is done periodically, which is necessary for their proper growth.

Uses

As a Fertilizer

One of the most important benefits of chitin is its use in making fertilizers. Chitin-containing fertilizers are organic, non-toxic, and have shown to increase crop productivity. Chitin in fertilizers helps in increasing soil organisms and enzyme activities, which positively affects soil health. This in turn increases crop yield.

As a Food Additive

Chitin has a long history of use as a food additive. It is commonly obtained from crabs, and shellfish that include shrimp. Sometimes cell walls of eumycetes (a type of fungi) are used as a source for extracting chitin. Microcrystalline chitin (MCC) as a food additive can be helpful to enhance taste and flavor.

As an Emulsifying Agent

Use of food chitin can also help in creating stable food emulsions. It essentially acts as an excellent emulsifying agent, which helps to prevent the breaking of emulsion when exposed to other fluids. For instance, whipped dessert toppings often contain chitin that provides uniformity and stability to the product.

Medicinal Uses

This naturally-occurring fiber-forming polymer can also help to lower cholesterol levels as found out through animal studies. Chitin molecules tend to mop cholesterol and fat in the digestive system. So chitin in the diet may help to reduce cholesterol absorption efficiency.

As a Surgical Thread

Chitin is also used for manufacturing strong and flexible surgical threads. Quite a few dissolvable stitches used to close wounds are made from chitin. These stitches start decomposing during the wound healing process. Reports also suggest that stitches composed of chitin may help to facilitate the healing of wounds.

Chitin in its supplemental form may help to reduce cholesterol. Moreover, chitin is said to have antioxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anticoagulant, antihypertensive, and anticancer properties. So taking it in the supplemental form may be beneficial for overall health.

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