Nature has endowed our world with several unique foods. Naturally sourced produce are increasingly available in health food stores and groceries – both through online vendors as well as in supermarkets. Some of these natural goods needs to be processed before intake while a few does not need further processing. Chia seeds – a naturally available produce – are gaining widespread acceptance and popularity due to their health benefits. Chia seeds are believed to have originated from the Mayan ages in the central and southern parts of America (to be more precise, deep in the Mexican terrains). True to the meaning of its name – which stands for “vigor” or “strength” in the native language, chia seeds help boost energy levels and promote weight loss. But, can these seeds trigger a few adverse side effects?

Chia is the name of edible seeds sourced from a plant belonging to the species known as S. hispanica. These seeds date back to Aztec and Mayan civilizations. These black & white colored natural produce is consumed for added energies, and especially, to support your weight loss goals. The nutrients available in these seeds are known to suppress appetite and help shed a few pounds of body weight with relative ease. Presence of healthy fatty acids (such as omega-3), antioxidants, proteins, calcium and fiber make these seeds as a superfood in terms of nutrients.

A standard serving of nearly 2-tablespoons (or, say 1 ounce) contains as high as 4 grams (gms) of protein, more than 8 gms of fats, nearly 11 gms of carbohydrates, almost 140 calories and fiber in excess of 10 gms. Along with these nutrients, these seeds are also endowed with minerals and vitamins. Chia seeds can be taken without much processing as they can be easily absorbed like, say – whole-grains based breads or similar foods. The seeds bear a nutty taste and a milder aroma, making them to blend well with juices, foods and other edible substances. In popular cuisine, chia seeds are used along with dairy-based foods such as yoghurt, sauces, beverages, baked items, rice-based preparations, other edible cereals, etc.

Side effects of chia seeds

There is very little known about the presence of a wide range of nutrients in chia seeds. But, these edible seeds may also cause a few adverse side effects. Knowledge of these side effects can help you to take needful precautions to minimise or avoid some of these undesired outcomes. The most common side effects of chia seeds are difficulties to pass stools (constipation), problems associated with the lining of the intestines (especially, large intestine), choking of throat, swallowing problems, indigestion or diarrhea, etc. In some cases, these seeds are known to trigger risks associated with prostate cancers as well as thinning of blood.

Difficulties to pass stools

There is a marked presence of fiber in each standard serving of chia seeds. As mentioned above, fiber content in an ounce of these seeds is more than 10 gms. Due of the presence of abundant fiber, people living with diabetes are advised to take more of it. The daily requirement of fiber for diabetics ranges between 24 gms (in case of women) and 40 grams (for men).

Now, you can clearly see how an ounce of chia seeds helps meet a sizeable requirement of your daily need for fiber. However, the downside is – intake of such high shares of fiber may not go down well with all. In fact, when you add a higher dose of fiber to your daily diet, you are likely to experience problems in your digestive tract. These show up as difficulties to pass stools – i.e., constipation. In some people, a larger intake of fiber can lead to formation of gas, bloating, flatulence, etc. As a contrasting side effect, some may also report loosening of stools or at times, diarrhea.

How to manage this side effect? – The best way to manage this is to soak chia seeds in water for at least 7 to 8 hours. You can consider soaking them overnight, which can make these seeds easy to digest. As an alternative approach, you can also grind them to a powder or a paste, and can sprinkle them on foods or drinks. Some people use these seeds to make smoothies; which also can help avoid constipation or other digestion related problems. The commonly used ratio of water for soaking purpose: one cup of water for half ounce of chia seeds.

Intestinal problems

Walls of your intestine may at times see outgrowth in the form of bags; these bags or sacs are known as diverticula. One of the widely used remedies for these sacs is the intake of fiber-rich foods. The catch however is – intake of foods (like chia seeds) with greater share of fiber in them can worsen this intestinal condition. Chia seeds may get into these extended bags of the large intestine and can lead to inflammation or swelling of intestines. As a general precaution, you are advised to stay away from taking these seeds while experiencing diverticulitis. An aggravated form of this condition often leads to a few other side effects such as flatulence, bloating, pain on one side of the lower abdomen, indigestion, etc.

Swallowing problems

A common side effect of chia seeds is the development of swallowing or choking problems. You need to know how to consume these seeds to avoid these problems. Dietitians advise soaking these seeds for at least 6 to 7 hours or roast them before intake. Such practices are known to help in avoiding problems like gagging or getting choked.

Blood thinning effects of chia seeds

Owing to the presence of fatty acids of omega-3 genre, these seeds naturally possess a few antiplatelet – i.e., blood thinning – properties. In other words, chia seeds can prolong your blood clotting time. Hence, those who are already taking drugs such as Coumadin – heparin, warfarin, etc. – are advised not to take these seeds. Also, those who are likely to undergo a dental or surgical intervention are advised to tell their dentist or surgeon, about their intake of chia seeds. You may run risks of bleeding profusely if you fail to share inputs about your daily intake of chia seeds.

Allergic reactions caused by chia seeds

It is a fact that those with prior allergies to nuts or seeds-based proteins may turn allergic to chia seeds. This is mainly because these seeds also contain abundant amounts of proteins in them. As mentioned above, an ounce of chia seeds can supply nearly 4 to 5 grams of proteins. So, you need to tell your dietitian if you have prior episodes of allergies towards nuts, proteins or seeds. Your medical team will tell you to refrain from adding chia seeds to your daily diet.

Common allergic reactions linked to the intake of chia seeds are abdominal discomforts such as nausea, vomiting, etc., rashes on skin or hives. In some people, allergies can show up as soreness of throat, shortness of breath and an incessant spell of coughs. In rare instances, chia seeds may lead to internal swelling – especially of your throat or tongue; in such cases, you may find it difficult to inhale or exhale and may also develop speaking problems. In case of acute allergies, conditions such as discoloration of the skin, weakened pulse rates or being in a psychotic state of mind are experienced. Upon noticing any of these acute reactions, it is highly recommended to take medial help on an emergency basis.

Risks of cancers in the prostate region

A few random trials done on chia seeds indicate that an overdose may lead to cancers in the prostate region. However, there are a few studies which refute this risk. The basis for contesting the presence of this risk is: the presence of fatty acids of the omega-3 family. These fats – especially, alpha linolenic acid – are known to moderately reduce the risks of cancers in the prostate area. However, a few recent researches done on chia seeds tend to confirm the presence of such risks. You are hence advised not to take chia seeds in larger proportions. Always exercise needful caution to watch over your portion size.

Possible risks of hypotension or low blood pressure

Owing to the blood thinning properties of chia seeds, it can also help decrease the blood pressure levels. These seeds can hence help those who are living with hypertension or high blood pressure. However, those who are already taking antihypertensive drugs may need to exercise needful caution; co-administration of chia seeds along with such blood pressure lowering meds can lead to a severe drop in blood pressure levels. The side effects of a hypotensive condition include dizziness, numbing sensation, headaches, erratic heartbeats, passing out, etc. It is highly recommended to consult your physician about the risks of hypotension. Your doctor will modify the strength of antihypertensive drugs or may prescribe milder / safer alternatives.

Interactions with diabetic drugs

Chia seeds are known for their ability to regularise your blood sugar level. Hence, intake of these seeds may directly conflict with diabetic drugs or medicines taken to control blood sugars. Intake of chia seeds along with meds to control sugar levels can lead to a severe drop in blood sugars. The side effects of low level of blood sugars are dehydration, hunger, dizziness, feeling drowsy, fainting or loss of consciousness. You are advised to talk to your treating doctor prior to the intake of chia seeds, especially if your current medication plan includes diabetic meds.

So, what is the safer level of intake of chia seeds per day?

It is prudent to limit the intake of chia seeds to a tablespoon each day. The maximum limit of intake must never exceed 1.5 tablespoons in a day. Also, beware of the calories you would get from such a daily dose. A standard serving of 1.5 tablespoons is known to provide more than 130 calories. So, those who are nursing weight management goals need to stay careful as a tablespoon of chia seeds can add a sizeable amount of calories, in a seemingly effortless manner.

In sum, the most common side effects of chia seeds include choking of throat or swallowing problems, difficulties to pass stools (constipation), indigestion, internal swelling or inflammation of linings of the large intestine, etc. In a few remote instances, chia seeds may lead to cancers in your prostate. If you have prior conditions such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, intestinal problems like diverticulitis, etc., you need to share needful details with your treating doctor, dietitian as well as the pharmacist. Suitable alternatives are prescribed to minimise risks of hypotension, low blood sugars or diverticulitis.


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