Nutrition Myths
Chia seeds side effects

SUMMARY

  • There are very few, but worth knowing side effects of chia seeds consumption.
  • Chia seeds are generally safe to eat. However, there are some special cases where care must be taken.
  • Excessive fiber from chia seeds may cause temporary digestive issues.
  • Allergies to chia seeds are possible, but very rare.
  • Consult your doctor before adding large amounts of chia seeds to your diet when on blood pressure lowering drugs, if you use insulin injections for diabetes or if you suffer from IBD conditions.
  • People with swallowing difficulties must take special care and consume fully soaked chia seeds.
  • There are conflicting results on the association between ALA (which is high in chia seeds) and prostate cancer.
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Chia seeds side effects – what is the evidence?

Chia seeds are considered a superfood, due to their high nutrient contents and proven wide range of health benefits. Chia seeds are generally considered as safe to eat by the majority of the population.  However, as with any other food, there are exceptions. Although chia seeds side effects are not very common, some individuals may be affected, especially if large quantities are consumed.

Please consider the following cases of documented negative reactions to chia seeds.

8 commonly publicized chia seeds side effects and warnings:

1. Abdominal discomfort – fiber related

Abdominal discomfort is one of the most common chia seeds side effects.

Chia seeds are a great source of fiber (1oz/28g/2 tablespoons contain about 35% of RDA). (see other high fiber foods here)

Although dietary fiber has many health benefits, it may also cause digestive issues, such as abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation (especially with insufficient water intake).

These symptoms may occur if large amounts of chia seeds are eaten in one sitting, or if one is not accustomed to eating fiber rich foods or taking fiber supplements.

To prevent these symptoms from occurring, start with small amounts and increase gradually, but avoid excessive consumption. (1, 2)

An increase the water intake is necessary, since adequate hydration is required for the fiber to bulk up and move along the intestine.

MAIN POINTS

  • Abdominal discomfort may occur from excess fiber. This is one of the most common side effects of chia seeds.

2. Risk of prostate cancer

Are chia seeds bad for men? 

Results from studies on the association between chia seeds and prostate cancer are conflicting.

Chia seeds contain high amounts of Alpha-linolenic acid (ALAs) – a type of omega 3 fatty acid.

Some studies show that elevated consumption of ALAs increase the prostate cancer risk. However, other studies show that ALAs may be protective to prostate cancer. (3, 4, 5, 6)

MAIN POINTS

  • Consumption of chia seeds may increase the risk of prostate cancer. More research is needed.

3. Allergy to chia seeds

Cases of allergic reactions, including severe anaphylaxis, to plants of to the same family as chia (Lamiaceae) are well-documented.

Common products such as menthol toothpaste, cosmetic products containing Salvia officinalis extracts, ingesting oregano and thyme can cause such a reaction.

However, allergy is to chia seeds is very rare. 

In fact, the first documented case of an allergic reaction was only registered in 2015.

A 54-year-old man with a previous diagnosis of rhinitis and asthma, sensitive to grass pollen and cats dander, had the following allergic reactions to chia seeds: itchiness in the mouth, hives all over the body on the third day, angioedema (swelling of the lower layer of skin), shortness of breath and dizziness.

Six allergens in chia seeds have been identified: lectin, elongation factor, 11S globulin and another  three, not yet identified. (7)

MAIN POINTS

  • Allergy to chia seeds is very rare but possible.

4. Blood thinners/blood pressure medications

Many laymen online sources claim that chia seeds are powerful blood thinners. This is incorrect.

While two omega 3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA sourced from fish oils are well-known inhibitors of platelet aggregation, there are many studies that don’t detect any changes in platelet aggregation after supplementation with ALA rich oils.

The consumption of chia seeds may be not as effective anticoagulant as previously thought. 

Currently there is no evidence that patients on blood thinners, such as warfarin, need to restrict the consumption of the chia seeds or chia oil.

More studies are needed to reach definite conclusions on dose dependent association between ALA supplementation and coagulation factors. (8, 9, 10, 11)

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seeds or chia oil are not effective blood thinners as previously thought.

5. Effects on blood sugar

Chia seeds, due to their high fiber contents, can lower blood sugar levels after a meal. 

Patients with hypotension or on insulin management need to take special care, when introducing a high fiber food, such as chia seeds.

To prevent hypoglycemia, adjusting the insulin dosage may be necessary to compensate for the effects of fiber on lowering blood sugar. (12)

MAIN POINTS

  • Consult your doctor if you are hypotensive or take insulin because one of the chia seeds side effects is reduced blood sugar after a meal. 

6. Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs)

Another fiber-related chia seeds side effects affect IBD sufferers. Although fiber is recommended for IBDs, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, it is recommended that, during moderate or severe activity of disease, fistulas, strictures or after surgery, fiber should be restricted and whole grain products should be avoided.

During periods of no symptoms or mild disease activity, it is recommended to slowly introduce high-fiber foods one at a time to achieve daily adequate intake.

In case of ulcerative proctitis (a mild form of ulcerative colitis), a high fiber diet accompanied  by plenty of water is recommended in case of constipation. (13)

MAIN POINTS

  • If you suffer from IBD consult your doctor about when to take fiber (chia seeds) to avoid aggravating of the symptoms.

7. People with swallowing problems

People with eosinophilic esophagitis, constricted esophagus or other swallowing problems should take care when consuming chia seeds.

Eosinophilic esophagitis is an inflammatory condition with symptoms, such as swallowing difficulty and food impaction in the esophagus. 

Although rare, the first case of esophageal obstruction has been reported in 2017, in a patient with who ate a tablespoon of dry chia seeds with a glass of water. (14)

This is not a surprising risk, since chia seeds absorb water up to 27 times its size forming a gel-like substance, which can cause obstruction.

For people with swallowing problems, it is recommended to consume chia seeds after they have been fully expanded in liquid, rather than consuming them dry. It usually takes about 10 minutes for the chia seeds to fully absorb water.

MAIN POINTS

  • If you have any problems with swallowing take special care when eating chia seeds since they may cause obstruction.

8. Risk of contamination

Since chia seeds absorb water so readily, they are prone to mold formation, yeast and salmonella, if not handled properly when harvesting or during sprouting.

Commercial chia producers usually test the crop for such contamination, but it may be unsafe to buy untested products from home-grown producers. (15, 16

Chia seeds side effects related to contaminants such as salmonella poses serious risks for anybody affected. Children under 5 years, pregnant women, elderly, and people with weakened immune systems is a group of people with a higher risk of developing severe illness from these contaminants. 

MAIN POINTS

  • To avoid contaminants, buy chia seeds only from trusted producers and store them in a sealed container in a cool, dry place. 

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