Chia

Common Names

  • Chia
  • Salba

For Patients & Caregivers

How It Works

Chia may have some nutritional benefits, but it has not been shown to treat or prevent cancer. More research is necessary.

The seeds of the chia plant are rich in fiber, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of essential fatty acid. They are thought to be useful for weight loss and reducing risk of heart disease. Data from human studies showed that chia seeds may help to regulate blood sugar but do not affect weight loss. Oil from chia seeds demonstrated anticancer effects in labs but this has not been shown in humans.

Purported Uses

  • Heart health
    Most studies of chia’s effects on heart disease risk have not shown meaningful results.
  • Weight loss
    Results from a clinical trial showed that chia did not affect weight loss. More studies are needed.

Patient Warnings

Never consume dry chia seeds on their own, as they can absorb up to 27 times their weight in water. This may cause them to expand and become lodged in the throat. Chia seeds should be prepared or mixed with enough liquid to allow them to expand before eating.

Do Not Take If

  • You are taking blood pressure medications: Chia seeds may increase the adverse effects of these drugs.
  • You are taking diabetes medications: Chia seeds may increase the adverse effects of these drugs.
  • You have swallowing problems: Use chia seeds with caution, and never use dry chia seeds alone which may expand once in contact with a liquid, such as saliva or water.
  • You are allergen-sensitive: Use chia seeds with caution, as there has been a case report of allergic reaction.

Side Effects

Case reports

Throat blockage: In a 39-year-old man who received emergency treatment to remove chia seeds that had expanded in his throat.

Allergic reaction: In a 54-year-old man with previous history of rhinitis and asthma. He experienced rapid facial swelling, rash, shortness of breath, and dizziness that required emergency treatment after a few days of eating chia seeds to lower cholesterol levels.

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For Healthcare Professionals

Scientific Name

Salvia hispanica

Clinical Summary

The chia plant is native to Central and South America and the seeds it produces have been consumed as food since ancient times. They are high in dietary fiber, n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and are marketed as dietary supplements for cardiovascular health and weight loss. The seeds can expand and turn into a gel-like substance when mixed with water, and are often found in a variety of packaged goods touted as functional foods or superfoods.

Various laboratory analyses suggest that chia constituents have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antithrombotic activities (8). In obese rodents, chia seeds were shown to prevent the onset of dyslipidemia (1) (6) , reverse insulin resistance (1) (9) (10), and confer cardio- and hepatoprotective effects (7) , but chia seed or oil did not reduce body weight gain or abdominal fat accumulation (10).

In clinical studies, chia did not benefit overweight adults (3) , or had only modest effects (10), but it may help patients with type 2 diabetes (4) . Other small studies suggest chia supplementation may prolong satiety and has positive effects on blood glucose levels (11) (12). Chia flour supplementation was found to reduce blood pressure in both treated and untreated hypertensive subjects (13). However, a systematic review determined that most studies of chia’s effects on cardiovascular disease risk factors did not demonstrate statistically significant results (14). In other small studies, topical use of chia seed oil was helpful for pruritus in a small group of patients with end-stage renal disease (15), and consumption of chia oil during pregnancy and nursing transiently increased docosahexaenoic acid in breast milk (16).

Oil from chia seeds has demonstrated anticancer properties in mice (2) , but human studies have not been conducted. More research is needed to elucidate and validate health benefits with chia supplementation. Rare adverse or allergic reactions have been reported.

Purported Uses

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Weight loss

Mechanism of Action

Active compounds in chia include essential fatty acids, flavonols, and phenolic compounds, some of which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antithrombotic activities (8) (17). Protein content of chia is higher than that of most traditional grains (18). The main protein fractions extracted from chia seed flour were globulins, with globulin peptides demonstrating homology to sesame proteins, and essential amino acids, especially methionine and cysteine (19).

In animal models, chia seed reversed impaired insulin stimulated glycogen synthase activity, glycogen, glucose-6-phosphate and GLUT-4 protein levels as well as insulin resistance and dyslipidemia (9).

Decreases in postprandial glycemia with chia supplementation seen in generally healthy human volunteers may explain the improvements in blood pressure, coagulation, and inflammatory markers observed in patients with type II diabetes (4) (11).

IgE-mediated anaphylaxis by chia seeds appeared to be caused by water- and lipo-soluble allergens including a lectin, an elongation factor, and an 11S globulin (18).

Warnings

Never consume dry chia seeds on their own, as they can absorb up to 27 times their weight in water. This may cause them to expand and become lodged in the esophagus. Chia seeds should be prepared or mixed with sufficient amounts of liquid to allow them to expand before consumption (20).

Contraindications

Patients with any history of swallowing problems should use chia seeds with caution due to absorption interactions with liquid, causing them to expand (20).

Adverse Reactions

Case reports

Blocked esophagus: In a 39-year-old man who received emergency treatment to remove chia seeds from the esophagus. The cause of the blockage was the ingestion of no more than 1 tablespoon of dry chia seeds followed by a glass of water (20).

Anaphylactic reaction: In a 54-year-old man with previous diagnosis of rhinitis and asthma, after a few days of consuming chia seeds to lower cholesterol levels. Symptoms included pruritus in his mouth, generalized urticaria, facial angioedema, shortness of breath, and dizziness, requiring emergency treatment (18).

Herb-Drug Interactions

  • Antidiabetic medications: Chia seeds may potentiate their effects (4) .
  • Antihypertensive medications: Chia supplementation may have additive effects (13).

Herb Lab Interactions

  • High amounts of n-3 PUFAs could lead to altered bleeding and clotting times (5) .
  • May reduce blood sugar levels (11) (12).

References


  1. Nieman DC, Cayea EJ, Austin MD, et al. Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults. Nutr Res. Jun 2009;29(6):414-418.

  2. Mohd Ali N, Yeap SK, Ho WY, et al. The promising future of chia, Salvia hispanica L. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2012;2012:171956.

  3. Toscano LT, da Silva CS, Toscano LT, et al. Chia flour supplementation reduces blood pressure in hypertensive subjects. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. Dec 2014;69(4):392-398.

  4. De Souza Ferreira C, De Sousa Fomes LF, Da Silva GE, et al. Effect of chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) consumption on cardiovascular risk factors in humans: A systematic review. Nutr Hosp. 2015;32(n05):1909-1918.

  5. Garcia Jimenez S, Pastor Vargas C, de las Heras M, et al. Allergen characterization of chia seeds (Salvia hispanica), a new allergenic food. J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol. 2015;25(1):55-56.

  6. Sandoval-Oliveros MR, Paredes-Lopez O. Isolation and characterization of proteins from chia seeds (Salvia hispanica L.). J Agric Food Chem. Jan 9 2013;61(1):193-201.

  7. Rawl R, American College of Gastroenterology AB. Abstract Highlights | Watch It Grow: Esophageal Impaction With Chia Seeds (Presentation P643). Available at: http://acgblog.org/2014/10/14/watch-it-grow-esophageal-impaction-with-chia-seeds/. Accessed February 11, 2016.

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