You might know chia seeds as part of a fad toy that involves growing green "hair" on top of a clay “pet,” but chia seeds actually have a long history as a power food dating to the Aztecs. Although whole chia seeds have the most nutritive value, chia seed oil also has properties that may boost your health and help prevent disease. But because of the lack of large-scale human trials to verify these benefits, consult your doctor before using chia seed oil for medicinal purposes.
Chia is from the mint family and native to North America. The whole seeds contain protein, fiber, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6, as well as antioxidants called tocopherols. Ground chia flour contains much less omega-3, since the oil is removed during processing, whereas chia oil is a good source of omega-3 but has no fiber and little protein or antioxidants. There are several chia species, but the only one containing high omega-3 levels is Salvia hispanica L.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation and help lower your risk of heart disease, arthritis and cancer. Omega-3 also may be beneficial in treating rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, osteoporosis, macular degeneration, menstrual pain, mood disorders and certain cancers. But it’s equally important to get the right ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids for optimal health. Not only is chia thought to contain more omega-3 than any other plant, it has a healthy balance of oils, with approximately 60 percent omega-3 and 20 percent omega-6.
Researchers in Argentina investigated the effect of chia oil on a breast cancer cell line in rats. The study, published in the journal “Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids” in 2007, found that chia oil might decrease tumor weight and the number of cancer cells, as well as boosting cancer cell death. The rats in the study also had a decrease in cancer metastasis, the spread of the cancer to other parts of the body. More studies are needed to verify this benefit in humans.
High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of heart disease. A study published in the “Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism” in 2007 investigated whole chia seed and chia seed oil on cholesterol levels in rats. Although triglyceride fats and beneficial HDL cholesterol had only minor improvements in rats fed chia oil versus the whole seed, both groups showed improvement in the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids when compared to a control. Other studies have found a general benefit from plant-based omega-3 oil supplements on cholesterol levels, such as a human trial published in the journal “Harefuah” in 2001 that showed significant decreases in total cholesterol, harmful LDL cholesterol and triglyceride fats in patients with cardiovascular disease.
Pruritis is an unpleasant skin sensation that produces a strong urge to scratch, and it is a characteristic symptom of some systemic diseases such as advanced kidney disease. Xerotic pruritis is a form of the condition that includes redness, dry scaling and cracks in the skin. Research reported in May 2010 in the “Annals of Dermatology” found that a topical application of chia oil led to significant improvements in skin moisture, skin thickening and crusty lumps in patients with pruritis caused by end-stage kidney disease and also in healthy patients with xerotic pruritis.
- USDA Plant Guide: Chia
- Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids: Effect Of Chia Oil Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids on the Eicosanoid Release, Apoptosis and T-Lymphocyte Tumor Infiltration in a Murine Mammary Gland Adenocarcinoma; C.E. Espada et al.
- Annals of Dermatology: Effectiveness of Topical Chia Seed Oil on Pruritis of End-stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Patients and Healthy Volunteers; Se Kyoo Jeong et al.
- Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism: Effect of Dietary α-Linolenic Fatty Acid Derived from Chia when Fed as Ground Seed, Whole Seed and Oil on Lipid Content and Fatty Acid Composition of Rat Plasma; Ricardo Ayerza, Jr. and Wayne Coates
- Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.