Although plasma ALA levels were elevated 337% compared to baseline in the chia group, the run time to exhaustion
did not differ between the chia and water groups. In addition,
no differences were observed in the respiratory exchange ratio
(a measure of fatty acid oxidation), plasma glucose, oxygen
consumption, blood lactate, or ratings of perceived exertion
between the two groups. Cortisone and inflammatory markers increased with exercise to a similar extent in both groups.
Because anti-inflammatory effects of ALA may depend on
its conversion to EPA, which takes at least one week, further
research is needed to determine whether chronic ALA supplementation can reduce post-exercise inflammation.
“Chia seeds are a good nutrient source, but definitely
overhyped by companies and distributors,” says David Nieman,
professor and director of the Human Performance Laboratory
at Appalachian State University, North Carolina Research
Campus in Kannapolis, USA. “We have conducted several
randomized trials, and have found no benefits on weight loss,
However, some studies have indicated health benefits of
chia. Vuksan et al. investigated the effects of supplementing
conventional therapy for type 2 diabetes with chia (http://dx.
doi.org/10.2337/dc07-1144, 2007). People with type 2 diabetes
have an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease, and new treat-
ments are needed to complement existing therapies. Twenty
subjects with well-controlled type 2 diabetes consumed either
37 g/day Salba chia or wheat bran for 12 weeks.
Plasma levels of both ALA and EPA increased two-fold
in the group consuming chia. The researchers found that the
Salba chia mitigated three risk factors for cardiovascular disease: Systolic blood pressure was reduced by 6. 3 mmHg,
high-sensitivity CRP (a marker of inflammation) decreased by
40%, and von Willebrand factor (a prothrombotic glycoprotein) was reduced by 21% in the chia group. No changes in
body weight, blood lipids (triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, HDL
cholesterol), fasting plasma glucose, or hemoglobin A1c were
In another study, Vuksan et al. assessed whether Salba
chia could reduce blood sugar spikes following meals (known
as postprandial glycemia) in healthy subjects ( http://dx.doi.
org/10.1038/ejcn.2009.159, 2010). A reduction in postprandial glycemia could help explain the improvement in the three
cardiovascular risk factors that the researchers had observed
in their earlier study of people with type 2 diabetes. Eleven
healthy individuals consumed white bread containing 0, 7, 15,
or 24 g of ground Salba chia. The researchers collected blood
samples and appetite ratings 2 h after consumption.
Post-prandial glycemia was reduced in a dose-dependent
manner. On average, each gram of Salba chia baked into white
bread decreased post-prandial glycemia by 2% compared with
white bread lacking chia. In addition, appetite ratings for all
doses of chia were decreased 2 h after consumption, suggesting an effect on satiety.
Vuksan claims that the results from his studies on Salba
chia cannot be extended to regular chia. “People make incredible profits on chia because they sell it based on our research,”
he says. “Unlike regular chia, Salba has a very, very consistent
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composition. The composition of Salba that we analyzed in
2000 closely resembles that of Salba in our most recent study,
more than 10 years later.” According to Vuksan’s experience
and others’ data reported in the literature, the composition of
regular chia is much more variable, he says.
However, some researchers, such as Nieman, do not
believe that large discrepancies in chia clinical trial results can
be explained by the chia source. “All types of chia seeds are
concentrated sources of ALA, soluble fiber, and minerals,” says
Nieman. “There is no meaningful difference between types of
chia seeds that would ‘magically’ make one seed (within the
context of a normal diet) induce weight loss or alter disease
FORMULATING WITH CHIA
Whether or not clinical data currently support the superfood
status of chia, consumer interest in the trendy seed is unlikely
to wane any time soon. Therefore, many formulators are incorporating chia into foods, including breads and other baked
goods, snack foods, and beverages.
Chia may be an attractive option for food manufacturers who want to make omega- 3 claims. As of January 1, 2016,
the FDA prohibited food labels from claiming that products
are “high in,” “rich in,” or “excellent sources of” EPA or DHA
because no reference values for the nutrients have been
established ( http://tinyurl.com/FDA-omega3-claims). In contrast, the FDA has taken no action against ALA claims of “high