Danger of Chia Seeds: but we still eat them just not too many…
March 24, 2015
Dangers of Chia Seeds:
Chia seeds have some many positive nutritional qualities. They are high in Omega 3 and thus I have recommended it in the past for patients with dry eyes.
However, there are more reports coming out that some people are violently allergic to Chia Seeds. Some have had reactions after weeks of having no issues at all.
The main categories of negative reactions are:
1. Bloating, abdominal pain, vomiting: This is likely due to the fact that Chia Seeds expand to about 27x their volume when in water. So if the seeds are not soaked ahead of time, they will expand in the esophagus, stomach, or intestine.
One report notes a man with asthma who went the the ER after eating a tablespoon of dry Chia seeds. Apparently a large gel lump of chia seeds were noted on endoscopy at the ER but required surgical removal. He has a history of asthma.
For some of these patients, it is likely possible to re-try Chia seeds in very minute quantities and ideally after being soaked in water.
2. Hives, difficulty breathing, headache: this is likely a true allergy and thus Chia seeds should not be taken again unless under direct supervision by an MD/allergist with an epi pen nearby.
My own history: I have eaten Chia seeds without a problem for years but recently have been noting the abdominal pain, bloating, gas when eating even a small amount (raw) or fried in my favorite spinach, chia seed falafel recipe (though I put a large number in each seed). So be careful with Chia Seeds.
To date there are no published reports of Chia Seeds causing any medical related illnesses on PUBMED: case reports are needed. If you have a medical report ideally with imaging in the ER, please let me know. We need to report this.
Here are more reports below from various websites. Still we need a medical report published.
Take away message. Do not eat too many dry ones (or fried ones) at one time.
Sandra Lora Cremers, MD, FACS
Confession: I eat chia seeds everyday. I feed them to my children. They make me feel full and satisfied and, yes, I’m a sucker for foods touted as “super” even though I know deep down it’s just marketing.
I may be crazy, but I’m also trendy: chia seeds are everywhere, in energy bars and smoothies, atop yogurt parfaits and at the core of crunchy kid snacks. Good Morning America called chia seeds the“it” food of 2013.
And they really are good for you: “a rich source of fiber, protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids,” according to an NIH publication.
But this week, my chia euphoria took a hit. “Despite potential health benefits, chia seeds may pose a risk if they are not consumed properly, according to new research,” said the Medline headline.
A case report presented by a North Carolina GI doctor describes a scary case of chia seeds gone bad: a 39-year-old man spent several hours in the emergency room under anesthesia after eating no more than a tablespoon of dry chia seeds followed by a glass of water.
The seeds, which can absorb up to 27 times their weight in water, apparently expanded post-ingestion and completely blocked the man’s esophagus, according to the doctor who handled the case, Rebecca Rawl, MD, MPH, a gastroenterology fellow at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
I spoke to Rawl, and she told me the story of the chia seed blockage — believed to be the first report of its kind. She presented her poster, titled “Watch It Grow: Esophageal Impaction With Chia Seeds,” earlier this week at the American College of Gastroenterology’s annual meeting in Philadelphia. It began innocently enough, she said:
The man arrived at the hospital and said he had this feeling of pain at the top of his stomach and couldn’t swallow anything — “not even his own saliva.” Hospital staff took him in for an upper endoscopy and the imaging clearly showed the culprit: puffed up chia seeds.
What did it look like?
It was a gel of these seeds, the consistency was similar to Playdoh — not solid, but not a liquid.
That’s what made it very difficult to remove the obstruction — we initially tried using an adult endoscope…We tried to push the mass or gel of chia seeds through to the stomach. But because of the consistency, the seeds would just go around the scope.
After trying unsuccessfully with a variety of other medical implements to move the sloshing mass of seeds, Rawl said she switched to a neonatal or baby endoscope with a smaller diameter: “And we were able to get past the obstruction to see what was ahead and we used the tip of instrument to push a few seeds at a time into the stomach,” she said.
Little by little, then, over several hours, doctors were able to clear the man’s esophagus. “Afterwards, she said, “he was fine.”
The Michael Pollan-y moral here would go something like this:
Eat Them Wet
Chew A Lot.
A more nuanced moral, from Rawl, also urges caution:
“Nobody should be eating these seeds dry,” said Rawl, who has never personally eaten a single one of the tiny, oval-shaped seeds. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. Let them expand fully in some kind of liquid first — especially for people who have this sensation of food getting stuck. Chia seeds are tiny, so people would not necessarily think there are problems, but some people do have underlying “strictures” or narrowing of the esophagus.”
And of course, added Rawl, whose primary research focuses on irritable bowel disease, anyone who has recurring swallowing problems — whether from hot dogs or chicken or chia — should see a doctor.
But chia seeds — “which come from a species of flowering plant in the mint family native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala” — are already so pervasive in the foodosphere, it may be hard to get that “proceed with caution” message across.
Nina Manolson, one of my go-to health coaches here in the Boston area told me she loves, loves, loves chia seeds. Here’s her response to the quasi-ominous medical report:
Chia seeds live up to their superfood name. They are high in Omega 3’s (healthy fat that is an anti-inflammatory), they are an antioxidant, contain important micro-nutrients like magnesium, calcium and manganese and they are also loaded with protein. But possibly Chia’s biggest claim to fame is its fiber content. In 1 oz of chia seeds there are 11 grams of fibre – including both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber is the kind of fiber that acts like a scrub brush in your colon. Soluble fibre absorbs water so it creates bulk and it makes us feel full.
The interesting thing about Chia seeds is that it can absorb A LOT of water – claims vary from 8-27X their weight in water, which makes it a great food to add to your diet if you’re looking to feel satisfied for a long time without needing to eat a lot – as in trying to lose weight.
Chia seeds are also great at keeping dehydration at bay because it holds so much liquid. However, if you eat dry chia seeds, without giving them any liquid to absorb before ingesting them, they’ll absorb the water within your system and potentially cause a blockage. I can imagine, although I’ve never seen it happen, if you ate a lot of chia seeds without any liquid and they got stuck in your throat or windpipe, it could cause a blockage. But so could flax seeds, which also absorbs water and become gelatinous.
But the fact that you could choke on chia seeds – really, you could choke on any food – should definitely NOT be a reason to avoid them.
Chia seeds (and flax seeds) have huge nutritional benefits, and should definitely be included in a healthy diet. But, they should be eaten accompanied by a liquid, either while eating them or allowing them to soak in advance.
I used chia seeds for the first time in a batch of homemade Kombucha on Thursday and by Friday morning I was having violent diarrhea, which lasted for two full days, approximately every 30 minutes. Other than the diarrhea, weakness from dehydration and nausea at the thought of eating, I had no other symptoms. My three-year old twins also sampled the kombucha Friday morning before I got sick, one of them was absolutely fine and the other broke out in itchy hives on his back and also had diarrhea, but thankfully not to the extent that I did. Has anyone seen this type of reaction before? I have had kombucha many times before and have never felt sick. My batch tasted really good, there was no mold or anything that would lead me to believe that it had been contaminated. I don’t think there was anything else we came in contact with that could have caused this type of reaction, but I can’t be 100% sure. The only new thing was the chia seeds.
You’re not alone! For me it wasn’t kombucha, it was chia seed pudding. While my reaction wasn’t quite as strong as yours (thankfully), the general outline was the same. FYI: I’ve learned that I don’t tolerate sesame seeds very well either.
I had been taking chia seeds raw and in baked goods for about 4 weeks perfectly fine. They were fab! Suddenly I developed horrible abdominal pain, burping up horrible tasting gas and vomiting and diarrhoea.
I got over that, thinking it was a tummy bug, ate a very light diet for 2 days and then went back to my chia seeds. Same thing! I’m in the middle of it again. It is the same exact symptoms, only this time I’ve got a horrible sweat and mild fever.
Definently a bad reaction for me. I chucked them onto the front yard so hopefully the birds will benefit. Never trying chia again!
I had a horrible experience with chia seeds. I bought them at Costco a little over a month ago and started with putting a tablespoon into my spinach smoothies in the morning. I tolerated them fine for about a month, then suddenly had a horrible reaction. I had eaten a dry tablespoon of chia, followed by my dinner (grilled chicken and potatoes). After dinner, my stomach started burning, I started sweating, and I vomited. I then suffered diarrhea about (sometimes every 30 minutes) for the next two days. I stopped taking chia for a few days and tried it again with my morning smoothie. I suffered again with horrible diarrhea for the rest of the day. I took another couple days off chia and decided to try it in a pudding, soaked in almond milk and honey. I had horrible diarrhea again. That night when I was in bed, my stomach was burning so bad that it was hardly bearable. That was exactly a week ago and I will never touch chia again. My stomach still does not feel quite right but is slowly getting better.
There is not a lot of information out there about the potential for negative effects of chia, and I have been a little worried about the possibility of an underlying condition causing the reactions. It is nice to see that I am not the only one who cannot tolerate chia seeds!
I also had severe reaction to chia. Took it as daily supplement for a month or so, felt fine- great actually. Then very suddenly, took it one day and had severe stomach pains and bloating. Took it again next day, thinkng problem was something else, since I had used it for over month with no problem. Severe pains again. Stopped taking it, eliminated every other possible source of problem and tried again a week later, most severe reaction. Vomiting , diarrhea, debilitating stomach pains. Fast foward 3 months, made some protein bars with chia in them for family. Wasn’t thinking, ate small piece. Again, severe stomach pains, bloating. Chia not for me. Never had problems with sesame or any other food.
I found out the hard way I am allergic to chia seeds. I have IBS and today I had a severe reaction to Chia seeds this a.m. I couldn’t breathe, became dizzy, bad headache, wobbly knees, tingly around my mouth, and stomach felt like it ABSOLUTELY wanted to get rid of everything, plus my intestines elt like they were going to POP! I am an asthmatic so I took my inhaler. It helped a teeny bit. My husband helped me make a very, very strong 1/2 cup of coffee(like, grind FOUR scoops of beans!). This opened up my airways after a few hours. The not being able to breathe was the scariest part. The headache went away this afternoon. But all afternoon was spent in the bathroom, with my intestines doing the ‘subtraction thing’…. I have felt wrung out like a dish=cloth all of the rest of the day…Needless to say, I did NOT go anywhere today.
Has anynoe else suffered from watery eyes/general feeling of unwell and like they feel oddly faint after eating chia seeds? I had the bloated stomach the day of it and now I just feel kinda odd, almost like I have a cold with a sore throat and blocked nose? I had a pinch in my cereal three days ago and feel pretty damn bizarre…it’s the only thing that i’ve not eaten before that it could be? Help!
Within a 1/2 hour of my daughter eating Chia seeds she is vomiting violently. Her tongue tingles and then she throws up. only thing that works is antihisthamine…..Fenergan. She is also anaphalactic to EGG.
I tried chia for the first time this morning. 1 tsp in my pumpkin smoothie. I make this smoothie almost everyday with the same ingredients. Chia was the new thing. Within two hours I had a rash over my body. I would recommend if you suffer food allergies as I do (dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts, chicken and pork along with oranges,) that you skip trying chia. This is an intense on-going reaction. Benadryl is helping but I may need IV Benadryl to resolve it. Quite the expensive trial of chia and not worth it.
I bought the chia at Trader Joe’s so it’s the good stuff, not contaminated with anything else.
I had 1 tsp of chia seeds two hours ago in a smoothie. Everthing else was the same in the drink as I always had. I broke out in a rash all over my body within the 2 hours of drinking the smoothie. Had to be the chia since it was the only new thing in there. If you suffer food allergies, skip trying chia. I have many food allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts, oranges, soy, chicken and pork. This is a bad systemic reaction. Using Benadryl but may need IV Benadryl to resolve this since it keeps spreading.
Friends at work recommended Chia seeds, and I have been putting a tablespoon in my yogurt each morning. For about 3 weeks, I felt great. This week, my fourth, I have been extremely ill. Intense abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and chronic diarrhea. I did some research to see if chia seeds could be the culprit. I feel like I really had to dig to find negative connections to chia seeds. They are highly recommended by many in the medical field. It surprised me to find that doctors have recommended them for Crohn’s disease and IBS sufferers. I do have Crohn’s disease, and have been in remission for many years. I thought my illness was coming back. Now that I’m cutting out chia seeds, I’m hoping for steady improvement of these symptoms. I’m glad I found this website.
I have been taking 1TBL. of Chia Seeds every morning in my juice for about 1 1/2 wks. Friday I started with the worse headache. I stopped the seeds. I read were it lowers your blood pressure. My normal is 80/60. I thought that this must be what is causing my headache. I had the headache Fri. – Mon. Today it is very, very mild. I am running a low grade of fever and I feel like I have hit a wall. Sat. I was have the tingling in my legs. I did not relate this to the Chia Seeds; until I read others had the same problem. I have not had any since Fri. morning. I hope this goes away soon. Has anyone else had the headache? How long do you feel this way?
I was on vacation in San Diego and had kale chips for the first time. They were great so my friend opened another bag except this bag had chia seeds. Within minutes I broke out with hives couldn’t breath and my blood pressure dropped big time. I ended up staying three days at UCSD hospital. It was horrible.
After eating Mila chia seeds for two weeks, and feeling great, I broke out in a red, itchy rash on my face, neck, chest and arms. Took an antihistamine and it left within in a hour. Since then, I have tried small amounts and get the same reaction. Obviously, I am allergic to it!
These stories have been so helpful. My husband has been eating my homemade granola for 15 years. Recently, I started adding Mila and we just fiqured out that it was making him feel so terrible after eating it. Within 20 minutes of eating the granola (we have tested this now 3 times), he would have symptoms of cramping, bloating, flushed body and face and it would last throughout the whole day. I eat the granola and feel great. Must be an allergy. No more Mila for him.
I tried chia seeds in a Flat Belly Buster Smoothie last night. Today, I am having terrible diarrhea and no desire to eat. Maybe that’s where the flat belly comes from-not eating! I used the chia seeds in place of flaxseeds due to an allergy, I guess I’ll be adding chia seeds to that no go list! Good thing I didn’t have anywhere to go today!
ye DO NOT TRY CHAI SEEDS. Even just the tiniest portion i felt like i was on drugs and hen coming down in a really bad way! I feel awful. Really really ill. They even affect my rain so i cant think propely and it takes a few day for them to properly leave your system! This has hapened to me twice now! wont be making the same mistake again! they are going in the bin! For the record dont try flaxseeds either…they also have terrible effects!
So according to Loren Cordain, chia seeds contain saponins that can increase the reaction of other foods that we’re eating them with, because they permeate the gut wall and take the other proteins/pathogens with them. Since writing this question, I discovered that I have a yeast intolerance. Kombucha is bacteria AND yeast, so the reaction was amplified in me. The yeast had a clear path right into my blood stream, which is why the reaction was so violent.
I haven’t had chia seeds since, as they clearly permeate the gut wall and make me react violently to foods that I don’t normally react to. The last thing I need now is to develop a new intolerance or autoimmune response to something I normally enjoy.
Thankfully, with saponins (also in quinoa, amaranth and other pseudo-grains), the reaction is dose dependent — meaning the more you eat, the leakier your gut gets. This explains why some of you don’t have a reaction until the 4th or 5th day. For those of you that react right away, I would take a real close look at what you’re eating the chia seeds with. I would suspect you may have a slight intolerance to one of those ingredients.
Hooray! Since chia seeds are EVERYWHERE now, this is really something to be on the look out for. They’re in gluten free crackers, energy bars, even in pureed fruit for kids.
Wow. I am amazed that there are so many others that are having a reaction to the chia seeds. My story is very similar. I had bought on bag of chia seeds and ate them off and on for a couple of months with no problem. bag #2 started putting 1 Tablespoon a day in my smoothies. Bag #3, noticed after suffering a stomach infection for 6 weeks with sensitivity to most of my normal foods, one day decided to make another smoothie and I had a horrible histamine reaction. when I say histamine, I mean it was a systemic, whole body reaction. First I had stomach cramps, and then diarrhea. My heart was pounding, my head was pounding, my face, chest, and arms, were hot and burning, kind of like a rash. I felt awful and panicky as I also had some respiratory symptoms such as rapid breathing and a completely stuffy nose, eventually it died down, but I had a terrible pounding headache and fatigue the rest of the day. This was last November 2012. Yesterday, April 18, 2013, I decided to try a small amount in my smoothie, I am talking maybe 3/4 teaspoon. I really thought the reaction before was due to my ongoing long lasting stomach infection, but I had a hunch the chia seeds were an aggravation at the time. Well, I was wrong. Within 30 minutes I felt some cramping, and an hour in I had all the same systemic histamine reactions as before. I also woke up this morning with the lingering effects of my pounding headache and my eyes look red and glazed. I am thinking of going to an allergist to see if there are any other foods related as I never ever want this to happen to me again. I have also had some stomach cramps with quinoa and amaranth, but not as a sever reaction like the chia. I am wondering if anyone else has noticed sensitivity to these other seeds? I used to eat quinoa and amaranth fine, but now I won’t eat them or risk the same experience anymore. I am fine with flax, sesame, and al other seeds. As a matter of fact I am not allergic to anything else besides penicillin and have never had a reaction to foods in my entire life. I wonder if there could be some kind of mold in them? Thanks everyone for your input.
I’m severely allergic to so many nuts/seeds (anaphylaxis, itching, stomach pain, diarrhea, coughing, vomit, nosebleeds). I don’t touch the stuff nor consider them to be food. Allergic reactions to them seem to be quite common…
A Violent reaction to chia seeds has occurred three times for me, severe vomiting to the extent that bile is released and dry wretching, diarrhea, a ringing in the ears and narrowing of vision. the last time was a result of eating multigrain chips that happened to have chia seeds in them.
I’ve been eating 2 TBSP of soaked chia for the past week or so. Today, after eating it I noticed my stomach became immediately bloated and gassy, and my throat became sore. When I reviewed my food journal for the past week, I’d indicated sore throat and bloated each time after eating chia, I’d just been so busy I didn’t connect the dots until today. No more chia!
This is crazy – why do you think everyone is fine for 3-4 weeks then whammo not fine . . ? But my experiences are very similar. Chia seeds in my breakfast smoothie all good for a few weeks then severe tummy bug (probably rotavirus – 12 hours vomiting then watery dark green diarrohea) and no breakfast smoothies for some time – not much food at all really. Then today back to my usual routine – 10 mins after drinking the smoothie was burping then 30 mins later up it all came and I’ve been feeling delicate all day 🙁
I tried chia seeds on the recommendation of a good friend. I bought the packaged product at Trader Joe’s, sprinkled a tablespoonful on my morning oatmeal. All seemed fine for about 3-4 weeks.
Then, I began having sharp or “electrified” pins&needles feeling on various sections of my body. Always different areas, always varying degrees of severity. The pain was never debilitating, it was more just very, very uncomfortable–not to mention scary as I didn’t know what the heck was happening. In addition to the pins&needles was itching sensations, mainly on my back and legs. The itching sensations were not so severe as, say, a strong mosquito bite, and the sensation would vanish just as quickly as it appeared, but itching can be quite frustrating.
The symptoms almost all disappeared after a week-long trip out-of-state. Upon returning home I realized the negative symptoms had been fading. I was relieved, of course, but curious. I thought the symptoms were brought on by a soy product I had been drinking as a replacement for dairy milk. I began drinking the soy about the same time time (maybe a week or two sooner) than the chia seeds. I kept off the soy, but restarted with the chia on my morning oatmeal. The symptoms returned almost immediately.
I’ve continued to stay off the soy, and it’s been three days off the chia. The symptoms are almost completely gone.
I will continue to remain off the chia and soy for another week. After one week I will try the soy. If no negative effects return, I will try the chia again. I will report my findings.
same thing with me! I feel really hung over today, sick, hot then cold, gas and diarrhea! boooo…. I put a ton of chia seeds in a soup yesterday. I read somewhere that when they turn to gel, they help clean your digestive tract, and loosen anything that might be sticking to the walls. This could result in diarrhea, and also account for the “healing crisis” as they call it when you’re doing a detox. Around day 5 you feel like this too, especially if you do hydrotherapy. When toxins are all shaken up, you feel sweaty, sick and barfy. I’m not a doctor, and that’s just my loose theory. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of information about the side effects. Anyway, thanks for sharing everyone!
I’m horribly allergic to chia seeds, except the reactions are different: severe nausea and vomiting for at least a day or three. I went hone early from school once because my school lunch was chia seed pudding with organic cocoa. At first I thought it was hazelnut milk, but on the first day of school, there were chia seeds in my smoothie. My first day didn’t end up really good. I had a severe allergy instead!
Healthy oil profile of chia has been well established. Chia could also be a good source of gel. The characteristics of chia gel were studied and compared to guar gum and gelatin which are commonly used in the food industry. The properties tested were water and oil holding capacities, viscosity, line-spread; emulsification activity and freeze-thaw stability. The extracted chia gels from seeds and flour were analyzed for moisture, ash, protein, crude fiber, oil, and fatty acid profile. Water-holding capacity, oil-holding capacity, viscosity, emulsion activity, and freeze-thaw stability of the extracted chiaseed gel were similar to guar gum, and gelatin. Chia gel is a polysaccharide based gel mainly consists of crude fiber (58%) and carbohydrate (34%). Extracted chiaseed gel has a great potential in food formulations as thickening agent, emulsifying agent, and as a stabilizer.
Extracted chiaseed gel has good water-holding capacity, oil-holding capacity, viscosity, emulsion activity, and freeze-thaw ability. Chiaseed gel has potential application in food formulation as a thickening agent, emulsifying agent, and as a stabilizer in frozen food product.