Keratin Vs Chitin: How Do They Differ? (W/ Table Comparison)

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Do you ever wonder what is the difference between keratin and chitin? And how they both can help us achieve beautiful, healthy hair?

In this article, we will discuss the differences between keratin and chitin — what they are, the difference between them, and the role each plays in your hair.

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What is Keratin?

Keratin is a protein that forms the main component of hair, nails, and skin. It’s also found in feathers, horns, hooves, claws, beaks, and scales.

Keratins are made up of long chains of amino acids (protein building blocks) linked together by peptide bonds [1].

The number of amino acid units varies depending on the type of keratin. For example, human hair has about 100-150 amino acids per chain, while chicken feather keratin has around 300-400 amino acids per chain.

Most animals have two types of keratin: hard and soft. Hard keratin makes things like horns, bone, shells and scale. Soft keratin is used to build things like hair, nail, and skin. Usually, the keratin proteins are produced by specialized cells called epithelial cells.

Keratin is made by keratinocytes in the outer layer of skin cells [2]. The protein is then secreted into hair shafts. Hair grows when it has enough energy to do so. When you have too much energy, hair falls out.

What Does Keratin Do?

The primary function of keratin is to provide structural support for cells [3]. In humans, keratin helps form our hair, fingernails, teeth, bones, and skin. It’s made up of keratin proteins that form strong bonds with other proteins in hair.

The protein is then cross-linked by an enzyme called transglutaminase. This process creates a protective layer on the surface of the hair shaft.

  • This makes hair very durable.
  • It provides strength and flexibility to your nails.
  • It gives you a tough outer layer to protect your skin from injury.
  • It keeps your teeth strong and healthy.
  • It protects your bones from breaking.
  • It allows your body to heal quickly after an injury.
  • It creates a protective barrier against bacteria and viruses.

What is Chitin?

Chitin is a polymer of N-acetylglucosamine. It’s the main component of exoskeletons and cell walls in fungi, arthropods (crabs, lobsters, shrimp), mollusks (snails, clams), and some other invertebrates. [4] T

Chitin is often referred to as the second strongest natural fiber after cellulose. It can be processed into many different products, including paper, textiles, plastics, cosmetics, food additives, biodegradable films, adhesives, coatings, insulation, paints, foams, gels, resins, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, detergents, lubricants, and polishes.

Chitin is one of the most abundant polymers in nature. It is present in all living organisms except plants.

What Does Chitin Do?

Chitin also has many beneficial effects on the human body.

Taking chitin orally while on a calorie-restricted diet can increase weight reduction in overweight or obese adults, but only marginally.

Chitin also helps to maintain normal blood pressure levels by acting as a vasoconstrictor (tightening blood vessels).

Chitin has been shown to have antioxidant properties that help reduce damage from free radicals that can cause cancer or heart disease.

it’s been found to help reduce inflammation and protect against oxidative stress. [5]

Additionally, chitin has been shown to improve cardiovascular function and reduce blood pressure levels in people with hypertension or atherosclerosis.

What is the difference between chitin and keratin?

Both Keratin and chitin are quite different both in structure and uses. Here are some of the most distinct differences between the two.

KERATINCHITIN
Keratin is an insoluble protein that forms fibrous structures like hair, nails, feathers, hooves, horns, claws, scales, beaks, bristles, wings, quills, and so on.Chitin is a polysaccharide composed of N-acetylglucosamine units.
Keratin has a three-dimensional structure.Chitin is a linear polymer,
Proteins are hydrophilic.Chitin is hydrophobic
Keratins are present in animals, but they’re not very abundant in plants. They can be found in insects, reptiles, birds, fish, amphibians, and mammals.It’s found in the exoskeletons of arthropods, such as crabs, lobsters, shrimps, etc., and also in fungi (mushrooms).

Conclusion

Chitin and keratin are both important components of our bodies. However, they serve different purposes.

While chitin is primarily used for structural support, keratin serves more of a protective role. Both are essential elements of our bodies and should be included in our diets.

Resources

  • 1. McKittrick J, Chen PY ., Bodde SG, Yang W, Novitskaya EE, Meyers MA. The Structure, Functions, and Mechanical Properties of Keratin. JOM. 2012;64(4):449-468. doi:10.1007/s11837-012-0302-8
  • 2. Layers of the Skin | SEER Training. Cancer.gov. Published 2022. https://training.seer.cancer.gov/melanoma/anatomy/layers.html#:~:text=Keratinocytes%20produce%20keratin%2C%20a%20tough
  • 3. Study.com. Published 2022. Accessed August 23, 2022. https://study.com/learn/lesson/keratin-overview-structure-function.html#:~:text=What%20are%20the%20functions%20of
  • 4. Elieh-Ali-Komi D, Hamblin MR. Chitin and Chitosan: Production and Application of Versatile Biomedical Nanomaterials. International journal of advanced research. 2016;4(3):411-427. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5094803/
  • 5. Elieh Ali Komi D, Sharma L, Dela Cruz CS. Chitin and Its Effects on Inflammatory and Immune Responses. Clinical Reviews in Allergy & Immunology. 2017;54(2):213-223. doi:10.1007/s12016-017-8600-0