Despite their tiny size, chia seeds pack a powerful nutritional punch. These miniscule black seeds provide a substantial amount of nutrients but very few calories. The ancient civilizations of Mexico cultivated the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family, for the potent little chia seeds it produced, and modern nutrition experts still recognize the dietary muscle these small seeds flex. But what chia seeds side effects do you need to be aware of before you start incorporating them into your diet or sports nutrition plan?
What Could Cause Chia Seeds Side Effects?
These small black seeds are loaded with nutrients. According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database, a 1-ounce serving (about 2 tablespoons) of dried chia seeds contains 10 grams of dietary fiber, 5 grams of protein, and 8 grams of “healthy fats” (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), with only 138 calories and 1 gram of saturated fat. They are a good source of niacin and thiamine, the B vitamins that turn food into energy and support the brain and nervous system. They also provide significant levels of important minerals such as selenium, manganese, phosphorous, and copper.
The National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health notes that chia seeds contain high levels of calcium, the mineral that builds strong bones and plays a role in blood clotting and muscle and nerve function; iron, which helps form red blood cells and carry oxygen throughout the body; and magnesium, which helps regulate the body’s metabolism and supports the muscular and nervous systems.
The Mayo Clinic hails chia seeds as an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, containing 4,500 milligrams per serving.
Chia Seeds Side Effects That Are Good For You
With such a healthy nutrition profile, chia seeds can arguably be called a “superfood.” For most people, chia seeds side effects translate into healthy benefits. The American Heart Association recommends eating foods with high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids 3-4 times per week since Omega-3s are essential fats that the body needs to function properly but can’t make on its own. The AHA cites research showing that omega-3 fatty acids decrease risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), which can lead to sudden death. Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and slow the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque (clogging of the arteries which can lead to a heart attack or stroke).
The Cleveland Clinic affirms that chia seeds have been shown to lower triglyceride cholesterol, and that it may also lower total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while raising “good” HDL levels. The world-renowned medical institution also notes that chia seeds decrease c-reactive protein (a sign of inflammation) in type 2 diabetics. After studying the benefits, the Cleveland Clinic concluded that chia seeds are a safe and effective food source for the treatment of cardiovascular risk factors.
The significant amount of insoluble fiber in chia seeds helps prevent constipation, according to the National Institutes of Health. The added bulk that chia seeds deliver may also create a feeling of fullness and decrease the amount of food intake, potentially contributing to weight loss.
Be Aware of Potential Drug Interactions
It is important to discuss possible chia seeds side effects with your healthcare provider if you are taking other nutritional supplements or prescribed medications.
In its publication Possible Interactions with Omega-3 Fatty Acids, University of Maryland Medical Center cites specific medications that interact negatively with increased levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, resulting in potentially adverse chia seeds side effects, including:
- Blood-thinning medications -- may increase the effects of blood thinning medications, including aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), and clopedigrel (Plavix).
- Blood sugar lowering medications -- may increase fasting blood sugar levels, resulting in the need for higher doses of blood sugar lowering medications, such as glipizide (Glucotrol and Glucotrol XL), glyburide (Micronase or Diabeta), glucophage (Metformin), or insulin.
UMMC also notes some medications that the use of some medications may be enhanced by Omega-3s, including:
- Cyclosporine -- Taking omega-3 fatty acids during cyclosporine (Sandimmune) therapy may reduce toxic side effects, such as high blood pressure and kidney damage, associated with this medication in transplant patients.
- Etretinate and topical steroids -- The addition of omega-3 fatty acids (specifically EPA) to the drug therapy etretinate (Tegison) and topical corticosteroids may improve symptoms of psoriasis.
- Cholesterol-lowering medications -- Following certain nutritional guidelines, including increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet and reducing the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, may allow a group of cholesterol lowering medications known as "statins", including atorvastatin (Lipitor), lovastatin (Mevacor), and simvastatin (Zocor) to work more effectively.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) -- In an animal study, treatment with omega-3 fatty acids reduced the risk of ulcers from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (Aleve or Naproxen). The medical center noted that more research is needed to evaluate whether omega-3 fatty acids would have the same effects in people.
The Cleveland Clinic notes that, while it would be unusual, it is possible that some people may be allergic to chia seeds. The National Institutes of Health states that anyone undergoing surgery may need to avoid consuming the seeds for a prescribed amount of time beforehand due to the blood-thinning nature of chia seeds side effects.
WebMD offers additional special precautions and warnings. The website advises avoiding the use of chia seeds when pregnant or nursing, since not enough research has been done about chia seeds side effects in those situations. Additionally, anyone at high risk for prostate cancer should avoid consuming large amounts of chia seeds. Chia contains a significant amount of alpha-linolenic acid. Some research suggests that large amounts of alpha-linolenic acid in the diet might increase the chance of getting prostate cancer. Finally, WebMD recommends using a specific variety of chia called Salba. The site warns that eating some types of chia can make triglyceride levels higher, but Salba does not significantly increase them.
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