Although chia seeds hold the potential to dramatically improve health and reduce chronic symptoms in the people who take them regularly, adding a new element to your diet should always be undertaken with caution. Though there are very few scientific studies demonstrating particularly negative chia seed side effects, there are a few concerns you’ll want to be aware of.
The first is the set of symptoms that can result in rapidly increasing the amount of fiber in your diet. This process isn’t unique to chia seeds – whether dramatically increase your fruit, vegetable, seed or bean intake, you’re going to experience some unpleasant side effects until your body adapts to the new levels of nutrients it’s receiving.
Chief amongst these complaints is an increase in flatulence, though cramping of the digestive system and the presence of loose stools may occur as well. Fortunately, these symptoms can be eliminated entirely by slowly increasing the amount of chia seeds you consume on a daily basis. Don’t start by adding a heaping serving of chia seeds to every meal – instead, consider starting with a half serving of the seeds at breakfast and working up your daily intake as your body adapts.
But beyond these symptoms, which can occur universally depending on your current diet and fiber tolerance levels, there are a few specific groups that will want to monitor their intake of chia seeds to avoid negative side effects.
Because of the high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds, patients who are already taking blood pressure medication, those who are taking aspirins or blood thinners for other conditions and those who are scheduled to receive surgical procedures in the near future should all use caution when incorporating chia seeds into their diets, given these substances’ known ability to lower blood pressure.
Indeed, any person who is currently taking prescription medication in order to manage heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other obesity- and lifestyle-related conditions should carefully consult with their doctors on proper dosing, as the improvements that chia seeds can bring about could result in lower doses needed or the elimination of some prescriptions altogether.
Beyond these medical concerns, those who have a history of negative reactions to mustard seeds should proceed carefully, as side effects produced by these kernels are often seen following chia seed consumption as well. Pregnant women are likewise advised to avoid chia seeds throughout their pregnancies as well, given the lack of scientific research into how their children may be affected.
Another concern that should be brought up when discussing chia seed side effects is the potential for toxicity resulting from agricultural pesticides and herbicides that may be used in the harvesting and processing of chia seeds. As with many products that are grown commercially, chia seeds may be exposed to these chemicals at several stages throughout the production process, which – given their small size – may be difficult to remove entirely by washing.
Fortunately, the chia plant is fairly insect resistant on its own, which means that chia seeds are typically exposed to fewer chemical compounds throughout their life cycle than most other food products grown commercially.
However, because it’s nearly impossible to gauge exactly how many pesticides, fungicides or herbicides chia seeds have been exposed to (given the potential for cross contamination or other exposures involved in the storage and packaging process), the only true way to protect yourself against side effects due to excess chemical consumption is by purchasing certified organic chia seeds.
Currently, chia seeds can be found in many grocery stores, including those that specialize in carrying natural and organic product lines such as Whole Foods, Trader Joes and local food cooperatives. If these stores aren’t available in your area, you can also find a number of online retailers that stock this powerful product, including both ecommerce giant Amazon.com and smaller shops focusing on natural, healthful foods.
Of course, one final alternative to seeking out organic chia seeds to purchase through these various retail outlets is simply to grow your own. To do this, place a handful of the chia seeds you already have on hand (you do not need to purchase special seeds in order to grow your own chia plants) and soak them in warm water for about 15 minutes before transferring them to a bed of potting soil to sprout.
Chia plants will need light, rich soil, as well as abundant water and sunshine to grow well, and given their tropical origins, may not be suitable for growing in all climates. Pay special attention to your plants to ensure that they aren’t damaged by weeds, insects or animal pests, and then wait until the leaves of the plants are fully opened before harvesting your chia seeds. These seeds can be collected and stored in a cool, dry environment in order to provide you with a safe, healthy source of chia seeds for months to come.