Chia seeds are derived from a plant species called Salvia hispanica.
These seeds rich with a lot of nutrients hence are tagged as a Super Food. The plant cites its native to the central and southern regions of Mexico and Gautemala.
The seeds of the plant did beat rice and maize and was a major commodity in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.
There have been historic evidence the Chia was the staple food in the region. And the knowledge of the medicinal properties of this plant was known to the Aztecs.
The Chia seed is superabundant in nutrition. About 20 % -40% of the seed contains oil, and 60% of the oil is ω-3 alpha-linolenic acid and 20% ω-6 linoleic acid.
Alpha-linoleic acid is a precursor to Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which play an indispensable role in many of the body processes.
They are also a good source of proteins and carbohydrates.
Also, important minerals and vitamins are contained in the seeds of the Chia plant.
They are Gluten free and hence not harmful to people suffering from celiac disease. The seeds are also high in fiber content and hence considered beneficial to person health.
12 Research-Backed Health Benefits Of Chia Seeds
The anti-oxidant and anti-tumor properties of the constituents of Chia seeds make it a plant of high medicinal value. Chia Seeds is a good source of alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based essential ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid.
These constituents present in Chia seeds are beneficial for the human body and helps counter cardiovascular diseases, diseases caused due to inflammation like asthma and arthritis, chronic ailments like diabetes, and cancer.
Alpha-linoleic acid also acts as an antidepressant and is consider being therapeutic for conditions like a cerebrovascular accident (stroke).
1. Chia seeds can improve blood sugar control in diabetes
A study in an animal model of diabetes proved that dietary intake of Chia seeds helped regulate glycemia (blood sugar levels).
It was also observed the on intake of Chia seeds the insulin resistance was also normalized Hence Chia seeds can be a good alternative to other fat sources.
The high fiber content of the seed also slows down the conversion of carbohydrates into sugars and helps to keep the blood glucose at normal levels.
Another study conducted on diabetic patients by supplementing Chia seeds in their diet along with the conventional treatment showed good results, as it lowered the risk of cardiovascular diseases and helped maintain good glycemic and lipid control.
Read a Detailed article on Chia Benefits for Diabetes Patients
What does this mean? Chia seeds are a rich source of fatty acids, they help in lipid control as well as in the control of blood sugar levels. In Diabetes the cells develop a resistance towards insulin, but on intake of Chia seeds as a source of fat it was observed that there was less resistance to insulin, hence controlling the blood sugar levels.
2.Great for heart health
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a generic term used for conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels.
The abnormalities are usually caused due to deposition of fat inside and around the arteries and blood clots.
Alpha-linoleic acid can be extended to Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) through elongation and desaturation. Chia seeds are rich sources of alpha linoleic acid (ALA)
Omega 3 fatty acids (A group of compounds comprising ALA, EPA and DHA and other similar compounds) reduce the content of Arachidonic acid in membrane phospholipids of platelets, endothelial cells, and inflammatory cells.
This reduces the amount of pro-inflammatory factors that are derived from Arachidonic acid.
Alpha-linoleic acid is found to down-regulate the activity of a nuclear factor NF-ƘB which plays an important role in generating inflammatory responses which is known to cause cardiovascular diseases.
Thrombosis is one of the underlying causes of cardiovascular diseases.
Alpha-linolenic acid decreases the risk of thrombosis by inhibiting platelet aggregation. They act upon the m RNA expression of the growth factors of platelets, thus stop abnormal growth and proliferation of platelets.
Lipid homeostasis is a process which maintains the internal steady state of lipid within an organism or cell. Polyunsaturated Fatty acids regulate lipid metabolism by regulating the genes responsible for it.
Omega 3 fatty acids which can be obtained from Chia seeds help reduce Very Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL).
VLDL is found to exert potent pro-artherogenic effects and is thus considered to be a risk factor of cardiovascular diseases.
A number of studies conducted on animal models in order to check for the effects of Alpha-linoleic acid obtained from Chia seeds have shown positive effects on the cardiac health of the animal model by modulating the lipid metabolism.
In animal models, dietary chia seeds led to normalization of blood lipids. An increase of these lipids in the blood increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Stearoyl-CoA desaturase 1 is an enzyme that plays a major role in fatty acid metabolism.
It helps in the production of monosaturated fatty acid from saturated fatty acid.
This product is mainly deposited in the heart and liver, thus increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
It was observed by studying impacts obesity-inducing diet that Alpha Linoleic acid present in Chia seeds induce redistribution of lipids from the sensitive organs like heart and liver.
Read: A Comprehensive article on Chia and Heart Health>
What does this mean? Chia seeds are a very rich source of Alpha linoleic acid which is precursor of other Omega 3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA which can be produced within the body. These compounds exhibit anti-inflammatory and also contribute in maintain the optimum lipid levels in the body, hence keeping one away from cardiovascular diseases. Therefore a regular intake of Chia seeds can provide protective cardiac care.
3. Chia seeds exert anti-cancer property
Alpha Linoleic acid found in Chia seed oil is proven to reduce the growth of the tumor.
Cancer is nothing but the undifferentiated and unregulated growth of cells. Hence combating the tumor-inducing compound will prevent cancer.
These tumor-inducing compounds are a part of the immune system, thus in order to curb the unregulated differentiation of cells compounds which modulate the immune system need to be a part of our diet.
A study was done on tumor-bearing lab rats to check for the immune modulation by Alpha-Linoleic acid.
After administration of Alpha Linoleic acid, it was observed that the immune cells showed decreased proliferation capacity and also there was a decrease in the pro-inflammatory cytokines (chemicals released by cells).
Thus it was proven that oil rich in Alpha Linoleic Acid caused an immune modulation in cancer cells.
Chia seeds contain lignans. Lignans are chemicals found in plants which have been often associated with reducing the risk of Breast cancer and cervical cancer.
Lignans are estrogen-like molecules but they prevent the proliferation of cells. (Imbalance in the level of estrogen is a cause of the unregulated proliferation of cells)
What does this mean? Chia seeds are a rich source of Alpha Linoleic Acid. It was experimentally proved that Alpha Linoleic acid has anti-tumor properties .And hence regular intake of Chia seeds can help reduce the risk of Cancer. Also a compound called lignin, present in Chia seeds stop the unregulated spread of cells in the breast and cervix thus reducing the risk of breast cancer and cervical cancer.
4. Chia seeds have essential minerals for healthy bones
Chia seeds are a rich source of Alpha linoleic acid, a Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (PUFA) and a precursor for EPA and DHA which are Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (LCPUFA). They come under the ambit of Omega 3 fatty acid.
It has been made evident through a number of studies that LCPUFAs can increase bone formation and reduce bone loss.
LCPUFAs help modulate the fatty acid metabolites like prostaglandins, resolvins and protectins. These compounds stimulate the bone forming (osteoblasts) and destroying cells (osteoclasts).
Omega 3 Fatty acids regulate the release of cytokines (chemicals released by immune cells) and growth factors.
LCPUFAs decrease the release of prostaglandins E2 (a compound that stimulates osteoblasts to release factors that stimulate bone resorption by osteoclasts) and the most important osteoclast differentiation factor Receptor Activated Nuclear Ƙ β Ligand (RANKL).
Also, omega 3 fatty acids increase the production of IGF1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor) and improve calcium augmentation in bones.
Consumption of Omega three fatty acids may protect one against osteoporosis because they inhibit osteoclastogenesis (Formation of a bone cell ‘osteoclast’ that breaks down bone tissue)
Omega 3 Fatty acids regulate pro-inflammatory compounds, chronic inflammatory diseases like arthritis which affect the health of the bone.
Chia seeds are also a rich source of calcium and minerals like magnesium zinc which are important to maintain bone and health.
What does this mean? Intake of Chia seeds help acts as a protective measure against bone related ailments like osteoporosis. Also its omega 3 content may benefit in inflammatory bone conditions like arthritis.
5. Chia seeds benefit brain health
About 10% of the dry weight of the brain comprises of Fatty acids.
DHA is one of the major brain fatty acids.
Omega 3 Fatty acids serve as energy substrates and are an integral membrane component; therefore they play a crucial role in the maintenance of normal neurological function.
And the main source of DHA is through our diet.
Alpha Linoleic acid is a precursor for the formation of DHA in our body.
It has been studied that low consumption of omega3 fatty acids can result in the delay in brain development and increases the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers Disease and Parkinsons Disease.
These omega 3 fatty acids are said to have neuroprotective properties.
Ischemic stroke is a disorder which causes weaken the brain. It occurs when the blood supply to the brain decreases due to clots or bursting of arteries.
Omega 3 fatty acids decrease the effect of ischemic stroke by activating Nuclear Factor E2 Regulated factor and by increasing Heme Oxygenase-1 (HO-1) (an enzyme which reduces oxidative stress). This effect of Omega 3 fatty acids was studied in both in vitro and in vivo models.
Cortisol a steroid hormone has been observed to have psychological effects in humans and also plays a role in fatty acid metabolism.
A study was done to check the effect of Chia seeds that contain high levels of unsaturated fatty acids (Alpha Linoleic Acid) on socially induced stress responses.
During the study, it was observed that the levels of the stress-inducing Cortisol were lowered by dietary chia seeds.
And hence it was concluded that the PUFAs in Chia seeds do play a positive role in modulating behavioral and physiological stress responses in a social environment.
What does this mean? Omega 3 fatty acids are an important component required for the normal functioning. It is important to get sufficient amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids into our body, as these compounds cannot be synthesized by the body.
Chia seeds are a major source of Alpha Linoleic acid which is a precursor of DHA and EPA. Therefore regular intake of Chia seeds can protect the brain and are good for brain health.
6. Chia seeds help maintain healthy skin
Oxidative stress has an adverse effect on the skin and free radical formation leads to skin diseases.
Anti-oxidants present in Chia seeds help counter these free radicals and hence reduce oxidative stress.
Pruritus an unpleasant sensation of the skin that provokes the urge to scratch is associated with a lot of auto-immune, allergic and inflammatory diseases.
It was observed that over 40-80% of the end-stage renal disease patients complain about Pruritus.
A lot of studies had proved that dietary omega 3 fatty acids were effective against such conditions, thus the effect of Chia seed oil which is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids was checked.
After 8 weeks of topical application of Chia seed oil, a significant improvement was seen in skin hydration and no adverse reactions to Chia seed oils were observed.
Melanin is a pigment that determines the colour of the skin, hair, and eye.
A formulation of Chia seed extract and pomegranate fruit extract was observed to have a synergistic effect on the production of melanin.
On studying the mechanism it was found that the Chia seed extracts downregulated expression of melanogenesis (production of melanin) related genes.
What does this mean? Chia seed are rich with anti-oxidants and the regular intake of Chia seeds also helps in keep the skin cells hydrated, hence preventing dry skin and the problems which arise due to dry skin. Chia seed extracts have also proven to be used for cosmetic benefits and can benefit in melasama.
7. Chia seeds help lower high blood pressure
High blood pressure or Hypertension is a grave medical condition characterized by a strong force of blood pumping through your arteries.
Chronic high blood pressure can give rise to an of serious health problems.
It was observed in a study comprising of hypertensive patients that Chia flour has the ability to reduce blood pressure.
Angiotensin I converting enzyme (ACE) plays an important role in blood pressure regulation. ACE helps in the production of a vasoconstrictor (a compound that constricts the blood vessels).
Chia protein acts as an inhibitor to the activity of ACE-I.
Read: Chia seeds and High Cholesterol
What does this mean? Chia seed contain elements which help in maintaining the blood pressure and a regular intake of Chia seeds have proven to be beneficiary against high blood pressure.
8. Chia seeds are a good addition to the diet in menopause
The phytochemical profile of Chia seeds unleashed the nutraceutical potential of Chia seeds.
Isoflavone a phytochemical, which has proven to lower the rates of postmenopausal cancer and also associated with hot flashes in postmenopausal women, was found in Chia seeds.
An increase in the levels of ALA and EPA in plasma was observed in postmenopausal women on supplementation of milled Chia seeds.
This increase in EPA and ALA has positive effects on inflammation and bone health in postmenopausal women.
What does this mean? A regular intake of Chia seeds by post menopausal women will help them maintain good bone health and also prevent them from complications like cancer and diseases caused due to oxidative stress.
9. Chia seeds improve digestion
Chia is rich in dietary fiber.
Hence it promotes frequent bowel movements and fights constipation.
Fibers are of two types soluble and insoluble. Chia seeds strike a balance between the two.
Fibers prevent quick digestion and hence improve sugar absorption and digestion.
Fibers also act as probiotics as the bulk requires bacterial action for digestion. This is beneficial for inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
There have been reports of Chia causing stomach pain and diarrhea, but if taken with a good amount of water the high fiber content in Chia seeds has proven to ameliorate digestion problems by enhancing bowel movements.
What does this mean? The dietary content of chia seeds benefits digestion and improves gut health. This may benefit in constipation, dyspepsia, IBD and IBS.
10. Chia seeds combat metabolic syndrome
In a study on animal models, it was observed that in animals that were fed with Chia seed oil there was an improvement in the fat metabolism.
It also improved glucose tolerance in the animal models by enhancing the expression of genes (HSP, PGC-1α) that encode proteins that are involved in energy metabolism.
Overall these studies do reflect that chia seeds help in lowering cholesterol and improving glucose and fat metabolism in metabolic syndrome.
What does this mean? Chia seed oil which is rich in Alpha Linoleic Acid helps to keep metabolic activities under control and prevents any disorders which may be caused due to metabolic syndrome.
11. Chia seed adds nutritive value to food
A number of methods and techniques have come up in order to incorporate Chia seeds in one’s diet and increase the nutritive value of that particular food product.
A Chia seeds are gluten-free, hence functional bread was made by fortifying wheat flour with whole Chia flour.
Higher protein, lipid and better lipid profiles were found when 10% of whole Chia flour as compared to the standard loaf.
The use of whole chia seeds also improved the texture of the bread as it contributed to the reduction in specific volume, lightness and hue angle of the breadcrumb.
It also weakened the protein network of the dough and resulted in a denser product.
Addition of chia seeds to Frankfurters increases their nutritive content. Chia increased total dietary fiber and mineral content irrespective of the strategy used. Chia along with olive oil can be used in order to add nutritive value in frankfurters
Addition of Chia seed’s by-product which is rich in omega -3 fatty acid (ALA) in Hamburgers helped obtain a nutritionally well-balanced food product.
What does this mean? The gel forming capacity of chia seeds makes it a viable option to replace eggs and gel forming agents. Also its high nutrient content adds to the nutritive value of even calorie dense food items.
12. Chia seeds boost antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity
Many times, due to a high concentration of free radicals (due to inflammation or reactions by the immune system), oxidation of the lipids of cell membranes takes place.
This occurs because the free radicals rob the membranes of their electrons in order to stabilize themselves. However, this phenomenon can be prevented with the help of chia seeds.
In an animal study, the effect of dietary chia seeds on antioxidant defenses in diet-induced obesity was investigated.
The group with the dietary chia showed a significant improvement in the activity of antioxidant enzymes (which prevent oxidative damage), a decrease in the free radicals that lead to oxidation and also in interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-α (that contribute to inflammation).
The abnormally high lipids in the body also returned to normal and the cells gained back the lost sensitivity to insulin.
While fat has gained a “bad reputation” due to the diseases that it results in upon accumulation in the body, such as atherosclerosis, obesity, and stroke, there are some fats that are essential for our body.
Examples of these are Alpha-linolenic acid and omega-3 fatty acids, which are present in abundance in chia seeds.
In a study, it was reported that vegetable oils that are rich in Alpha-linolenic acids increase the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the liver.
An example of these vegetable oils was chia oil, which when fed as the lipid source led to an increase in the antioxidant activity of enzymes.
What does this mean?
Chia seeds and chia oil helped conquer situations where inflammation and oxidation lead to damage of the cells of the body, as they contain an essential fatty acid called “Alpha-linolenic acid.”
How bioavailable is the omega 3 in chia seeds?
Alpha-linoleic acid is a precursor for the production of long chain fatty acids (EPA and DHA).
These long chain fatty acids play an important role in the brain development of children and in adults; the supplementation of these fatty acids can be beneficial against pathological conditions.
Studies show that below 5% of the ALA is converted into long-chain fatty acids 25% of it is completely oxidized to form CO2 in the first 24 hours while 70% of it is oxidized within the next 7 days.
It has been made evident that humans of all ages can convert ALA derived from plant sources like Chia seeds, but the conversion rate is less.
The conversion rate of ALA to long chain fatty acids is dependent on the concentration of omega 6 fatty acids and long-chain PUFAs in the diet.
This reduced conversion of ALA in chia seeds does not limit its therapeutic applications; chia seeds are a great source of nutrients and minerals that are essential for health.
Also, you would not find a superfood that packs so many nutrients in such a small quantity.
Recommended Daily Intake of Chia Seeds For Health Benefits
Inclusion of Chia seeds in your daily diet will prove to be beneficial in the long run. Daily intake recommendations for adults are 18-20 gm daily.
You can consume chia seeds whole or ground or soaked. You can grind the chia seeds and use the flour for baking or preparing pasta.
For soaking chia seeds, 1-ounce serving would require 1.5 cups water to obtain a gel-like consistency.
You can consume this water containing chia seeds but not immediately prior to meals.
Also, you could include chia seeds in juices and smoothies to improve the protein content.
Chia seeds with pureed berries could serve as a jam.
You could also add them to puddings, yogurt, almond milk, and oatmeals. Chia seeds or flour are an excellent addition to meat preparations. Chia oil is a great addition for salad dressing.
Chia seeds do not cause any side effects unless you are allergic to them or you eat excess which could cause gastric side effects.
However, do not consume water after consuming dry whole chia seeds.
They can swell in volume and obstruct the food passage. It is best to incorporate soaked or ground chia seed in the diet.
Chia seeds are a source of many essential nutrients required to maintain good health. Their constituents and active compounds help limit the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
It also helps maintain good bone health and the constituents of Chia seeds are proven to be neuroprotective agents.
Its anti-oxidative properties help reduce oxidative stress and help maintain good skin health.
It also helps keep a check on metabolic syndromes and improves gut health. It helps lower blood pressure.
It reduces the risk of postmenopausal complications in women. It also improves the action of insulin and increases glucose tolerance.
Also, a number of techniques are being tried out to include Chia seeds in food products in order to increase their nutritive value.