Glucomannan is a water-soluble polysaccharide that is considered a dietary fiber. It is a hemicellulose component in the cell walls of some plant species. Glucomannan is a food additive used as an emulsifier and thickener. Products containing glucomannan, marketed under a variety of brand names, are also sold as nutritional supplements for constipation, obesity, high cholesterol, acne vulgaris and type 2 diabetes. Although there is some clinical support for potential health benefits, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any product containing glucomannan for the treatment of these medical conditions. Health Canada has authorized some products containing glucomannan for the purposes of appetite reduction, weight management, treatment of constipation and management of high cholesterol levels.
Glucomannan is mainly a straight-chain polymer, with a small amount of branching. The component sugars are β-(1→4)-linked D-mannose and D-glucose in a ratio of 1.6:1. The degree of branching is about 8% through β-(1→6)-glucosyl linkages.
Glucomannan comprises 40% by dry weight of the roots, or corm, of the konjac plant. Another culinary source is salep, ground from the roots of certain orchids and used in Turkish cuisine. Glucomannan is also a hemicellulose that is present in large amounts in the wood of conifers and in smaller amounts in the wood of dicotyledons. Glucomannan is also a constituent of bacterial, plant and yeast membrane with differences in the branches or glycosidic linkages in the linear structure.
Potential health benefits
Treatment of constipation
Glucomannan is a soluble fiber, and as such, has been investigated for the treatment of constipation. Glucomannan may relieve constipation by decreasing fecal transit time. In the treatment of chronic constipation, glucomannan significantly improved symptoms of constipation while being well-tolerated and free of relevant side effects.
Cholesterol and other lipids
Glucomannan has demonstrated statistically significant improvements in the total cholesterol of obese patients. In healthy men, four weeks of taking 3.9 grams of glucomannan decreased total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein, triglycerides, and systolic blood pressure; notably, triglycerides dropped by 23%. Glucomannan has also been tested in children with high cholesterol in conjunction with a diet. A gender difference has been shown, greater decreases in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein were observed in girls when compared to boys. When used in conjunction with chitosan, glucomannan decreases serum cholesterol, possibly by increasing steroid excretion via the feces.
Type 2 diabetes
Glucomannan may be useful as a therapeutic adjunct for type 2 diabetes. It has been shown to improve the lipid profile and alleviate the fasting blood glucose levels of type 2 diabetics. Glucomannan also helps to increase insulin sensitivity and improves glycemia and risk factor for coronary heart disease 
In one three-armed study lasting 16 weeks, 200 overweight and obese subjects were given a mixture of psyllium seed husks (3g) and glucomannan (1g) twice daily, the same mixture 3 times daily, or a placebo. The psyllium and glucomannan groups lost, on average, 9.96 lbs and 10.14 lbs respectively compared to 1.75 lbs by the control group. The difference between the twice-daily and thrice-daily groups, was not statistically significant. The glucomannan group had increased satiety compared to the control group and LDL cholesterol was significantly reduced during the study period. The treatments were well tolerated in all groups.
An eight-week double blind trial involved 20 obese patients. A placebo or a glucomannan fiber supplement of 1 gram was given to the subjects one hour before each meal. No changes were made to the diet or exercise habits of the patients. The study found that during the eight-week period, cholesterol levels were significantly reduced, and the Glucomannan group had an average weight loss of 2.5 kg.
Hydrogels for wound healing application
The biological effects of konjac glucomannan (KGM) on skin cells are dependent on the species, ratio of Man:Glc, the content of GM, and also molecular weight. It was found that KGM increase fibroblast viability and proliferation while paradoxically inhibit keratinocyte proliferation. This finding is very encouraging for wound healing application, where synergistic biological interaction of fibroblasts and keratinocytes will reduce or inhibit wound contraction and do not halt healing progression at the same time.
Potential health risks
A health advisory was released by Health Canada stating the following: "natural health products containing the ingredient glucomannan in tablet, capsule or powder form, which are currently on the Canadian market, have a potential for harm if taken without at least 250 ml or 8 ounces of water or other fluid. The risk to Canadians includes choking and/or blockage of the throat, esophagus or intestine, according to international adverse reaction case reports. It is also important to note that these products should not be taken immediately before going to bed." The health advisory was issued after authorization of some products containing glucomannan for the purposes of appetite reduction, weight management, treatment of constipation and management of high cholesterol levels.
Several companies selling products containing glucomannan have been disciplined by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for misleading or exaggerated claims pertaining to the health benefits of glucomannan supplements.
Glucomannan is an ingredient in a variety of dietary supplement products marketed via television advertisements claiming to aid in weight loss. According to the FTC, there is no clinical data supporting many of the manufacturer claims and several companies have been determined by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have, at some time, violated the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The companies include Vitacost, PediaLean, Herbal Worldwide Holdings, BioTrim, and others. The company Obesity Research Institute, the marketer of FiberThin, Zylotrim, Propolene and Lipozene, settled FTC charges that their misleading weight-loss claims violated federal laws by agreeing to pay $1.5 million in consumer redress.
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