Chia (Salvia hispanica L.) is a plant whose seeds are widely marketed as a natural remedy for certain health conditions. For instance, many proponents claim that chia seeds can promote weight loss, keep blood sugar in check, protect against diabetes and heart disease, increase energy, improve athletic performance, enhance mood and preserve bone health.
Long consumed as food, chia seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acid). In addition, chia seeds offer a number of essential minerals (including calcium, potassium and magnesium). Chia also contains antioxidants.
Per ounce, chia seeds provide 138 calories, 9.8 grams of fiber, 8.71 grams of fat and 4.69 grams of protein.
Benefits of Chia
To date, few studies have tested the potential health benefits of chia. In a 2009 report published in Reviews on Recent Clinical Trials, for example, scientists sized up the available research on chia and concluded that there is limited evidence supporting the use of chia for any health condition.
Still, some studies suggest that chia may offer certain health benefits. Here's a look at several key findings:
Published in Diabetes Care in 2007, a study involving 20 people with type 2 diabetes found that 12 weeks of treatment with chia helped reduce systolic blood pressure and inflammation. However, chia failed to produce changes in body weight.
Chia may help lower cholesterol levels, according to an animal-based study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2009. In tests on rats given a diet high in sugar, researchers found that adding chia seed to the diet helped prevent the onset of high cholesterol and insulin resistance. In addition, chia seed appeared to reduce abdominal fat.
Since this research was conducted on animals, it's too early to tell whether chia may have the same benefits for humans.
3) Weight Loss
There is currently a lack of research supporting the claim that chia can promote weight loss. In fact, the existing research indicates that chia may have no effect on body weight.
For a 2009 study in Nutrition Research, researchers assigned 90 overweight or obese adults to 12 weeks of treatment with chia seed or a placebo. Looking at study results, the researchers found no differences in body mass, inflammation or blood pressure between the two treatment groups.
Side Effects of Chia
Little is known about the safety of the long-term intake of chia. However, there is some concern that consumption of chia may increase the effects of anti-diabetic medications and blood pressure medications. In addition, chia may reduce blood sugar levels and trigger changes in bleeding and clotting times.
Due to safety concerns, it's important to talk to your doctor before using chia as a dietary supplement (especially if you are currently taking medications for diabetes or high blood pressure).
Where to Buy Chia
Widely available online, chia can also be found in many natural-foods stores and shops specializing in dietary supplements.
Different Forms of Chia
Chia is sold in whole-seed, oil, capsule and supplement form.
Using Chia for Health
Due to the lack of supporting research, chia cannot be recommended for as a principal standard treatment for any health problem. Adding whole chia seeds or chia oil to your diet may offer some health benefits, but it's important to consult your physician before using chia for the treatment of a chronic condition.
Chicco AG, D'Alessandro ME, Hein GJ, Oliva ME, Lombardo YB. "Dietary chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) rich in alpha-linolenic acid improves adiposity and normalises hypertriacylglycerolaemia and insulin resistance in dyslipaemic rats." Br J Nutr. 2009 Jan;101(1):41-50.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "About Herbs: Chia". July 2011.
Nieman DC, Cayea EJ, Austin MD, Henson DA, McAnulty SR, Jin F. "Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults." Nutr Res. 2009 Jun;29(6):414-8.
Ulbricht C, Chao W, Nummy K, Rusie E, Tanguay-Colucci S, Iannuzzi CM, Plammoottil JB, Varghese M, Weissner W. "Chia (Salvia hispanica): a systematic review by the natural standard research collaboration." Rev Recent Clin Trials. 2009 Sep;4(3):168-74.
Vuksan V, Whitham D, Sievenpiper JL, Jenkins AL, Rogovik AL, Bazinet RP, Vidgen E, Hanna A. "Supplementation of conventional therapy with the novel grain Salba improves major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: results of a randomized controlled trial." Diabetes Care. 2007 Nov;30(11):2804-10.