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Chia Seed: Side Effects and Allergic Reactions

The tiny oval seeds of the Chia plant were a staple, along with corn and beans, in the diets of the ancient Aztecs and Mayans. In recent years, these highly nutritious seeds have been making a comeback, and today, you can find dried chia seeds in almost any health food store. The rapid increase in popularity of chia as a health food has, however, raised questions about the safety and potential side effects of eating chia seeds, including the possibility of allergic reactions. In this article, we take a look at some possible side effects of eating too much chia.

Bleeding and Drop in Blood Pressure

chia side effects
Eating chia seeds in excess may cause unwanted side effects.

Due to their high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds can act as a blood thinner. Therefore, people who are taking prescription blood thinners (such as Warfarin), are scheduled for surgery, or are on an aspirin regimen should avoid eating chia seeds or at least talk to their doctor before adding chia to their diet. An overdose of blood thinners may lead to excessive bleeding, which in turn may have severe negative consequences for your health.

Furthermore, people with low blood pressure should consult a qualified health care professional before adding chia seeds to their eating plan as chia seeds appear to be capable of lowering diastolic blood pressure (DBP) to alarming levels.

Allergic Reactions

Although uncommon, an allergic reaction to chia seeds is possible. Symptoms of chia seed allergy may include rashes, hives and watery eyes. Also more severe symptoms associated with food allergies may occur, including trouble breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, and swelling of the tongue.

There is some evidence that cross-reactivity exists between chia seeds and certain foods that are taxonomically close to chia, such as oregano and thyme which – like chia – belong to the Labiatae family of plants. Also sesame and mustard have been shown to cross-react with chia in some individuals.

Gastrointestinal Side Effects

Gastrointestinal problems are one of the most common side effects of chia seeds. The scope of potential gastrointestinal problems associated with eating chia seeds is wide, ranging from constipation and hard stools to diarrhea, bloating and excessive intestinal gas. The good news is, many of these chia seed side effects can be prevented by following a few tips when preparing and using these fiber-rich seeds. For details, check out our article How to Eat Chia Seeds Without Getting Constipated or Bloated.

Unknown Effects on Pregnant Women

Little research has been conducted on the effects of chia seeds on pregnant women and their fetuses. Therefore, some health authorities advise pregnant and breast-feeding women to stay on the safe side and avoid the use of chia seeds until more research has been done.

Increase in Prostate Cancer Risk?

One case-control study and a meta-analysis of observational studies have found a relationship between alpha-linolenic acid – the dominating fatty acid in chia seeds – and an increased risk of prostate cancer. Both of these studies were published in the early 2000s. A recent meta-analysis, however, found evidence of publication bias in some of the earlier studies done on ALA and prostate cancer. This meta-analysis, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009, concluded that if there is an increased risk of prostate cancer associated with a high intake of ALA, that risk is likely to be small.

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