9 Possible Benefits of Chia Seeds in High Cholesterol

With a greater amount processed foods now available and with various theme restaurants coming up with attractive ideas to increase their sales, the kind of food that we eat goes unnoticed.

Most people nowadays like to spend on fancy foods, the food must look appealing no matter it’s nutritive value.

People get really busy with jobs and taking care of their funds, but they forget taking care of their bodies. Sedentary lifestyle, stress and eating unhealthy has contributed to the increased cholesterol levels in many adults and even in youngsters.

Every passing year has increased the number of people with heart diseases and deaths due to cholesterol levels.

So, what is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a waxy substance. It occurs naturally in our body, as it is required for the functioning of the body.

But at times, the quantity of cholesterol in our body goes on increasing up to a level where it begins to get into the arteries and sticking to their walls in the form of a substance called “plaque”.

This increases the risk of stroke and other heart diseases. It can be inherited, or found in overweight people and even those who eat food high in fat.

For those wondering how can this problem be tackled, research and studies have come up with a new method of dealing with this health issue.

There are other means too, excluding exercise and following a diet plan through which a decrease in the cholesterol level can be achieved. This is done with the help of chia seeds.

Chia seeds are edible, unprocessed seeds that are derived from the plant Salvia hispanica.

These have a very mild flavor of their own and can be added to the food to give it an amazing crunch and texture as well as a boost of nutrients and fiber.

They might be blackish brown to white in color. They are native to Mexico and Guatemala and surprisingly belong to a flower of the mint family.

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Chia Seeds Benefits in high Cholesterol

Cholesterol can be good as well as bad. The good cholesterol is the HDL (High-density lipoprotein) and the bad cholesterols include LDL (Low-density lipoprotein) and VLDL (Very light density lipoprotein).

High LDL levels and low HDL levels lead to a greater risk of heart diseases.

High-density lipoproteins are of a bigger size and easily removable from the blood vessels (arteries) where plaque formation takes place.

Whereas low-density lipoproteins are harder to get rid of because of their small size and tendency to get trapped in the walls of the blood vessels.

Chia seeds are a great source of proteins, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and a huge source of other nutrients. They help in reducing cholesterol in various ways:

1. They benefit in insulin resistance and benefit in diabetes

Also, high blood sugar levels lead to more amount of insulin in the blood. Since there is not enough insulin available to utilize the sugar, it can lead to type-2 diabetes and more storage of the sugar as triglycerides

A study was conducted where it was proved that the intake of chia seeds decreased the levels of glucose or sugar in the bloodstream.

The study involved 11 individuals suffering from diabetes.

They were given varying amounts of chia seeds. The seeds were baked in white bread. After two hours of consumption, blood samples and appetite ratings were taken.

The individuals which had been given the chia seeds showed a dip in the blood glucose. The appetite was also found to be reduced. This also helped in improving the blood pressure.

Improvement in blood glucose, in turn, reduces the formation of triglycerides and helps reducing cholesterol levels.

A study was conducted in which 20 individuals with type 2 diabetes where they were fed with chia seeds for 12 weeks while maintaining their ongoing conventional treatment for diabetes.

Chia seeds helped in the dropping of their blood pressure, C-Reactive protein (which is a protein that’s in raised amounts in the body at the time of inflammation), fibrinogen (responsible for blood clotting), and blood sugar levels.

It also led to an increase in alpha-linolenic acid and polyunsaturated fatty acids doubled.

These are essential fatty acids needed by the body as our body cannot produce them.

Another study was conducted to check the effect of the intake of chia seeds (whole or ground) on the glycemic response of healthy individuals.

Glycemic response refers to the effect that carbohydrate intake has on blood sugar levels. 13 healthy individuals were given chia seeds baked into white bread.

Blood samples of the patients were taken at fasting and after 2 hours of consumption of the bread. The results were compared to those of three other pieces of bread (control bread).

It was found that both, whole as well as ground chia seeds reduce the glycemic response. There was a greater reduction in the glycemic response upon increasing the dose of chia seeds.

What does this mean?

Intake of chia seeds helps in reduction of blood sugar levels which in turn reduce the over-production of insulin and stop the storage of excessive sugar as triglycerides in the liver. It also prevents the risk of fatty liver and high cholesterol levels.

2. Help lower triglycerides

First of all, it is important to understand the link between high sugar content and the cholesterol/ triglyceride levels in the body. Our body stores excess sugar as fat.

Another way by which our body removes the sugar is by storing it as “triglycerides” in the liver. Triglycerides are unhealthy fat, contributing to high cholesterol levels (VLDL).

These triglycerides are stored in the liver and may lead to a condition called “fatty liver”.

In an animal study, omega-3 alpha linoleic acid was found to normalize insulin resistance and triglyceride levels in dyslipidaemia.

It was observed that chia seeds prevented the onset of dislipidaemia (abnormal cholesterol levels) as well as insulin resistance.

Omega-3s are fatty acids that cannot be produced by our body and hence they are essential.

A study published in “Plant foods for human nutrition”, 2016 reported that rats were given dietary chia seeds to test their hypoglycemic (reduction of blood sugar) effect as well as to check if there is an improvement on the lipid profile of the rats.

It was observed that there was a drop in the levels of triacylglycerides, glucose, LDL and VLDL. There was, however, an increase in the HDL levels, that is good cholesterol.

What does this mean?

This implies that chia seed intake results in a drop in the triglycerides and blood sugar that lead to an abnormal cholesterol.

3. The high fiber content of chia seeds lowers cholesterol levels

Chia seeds comprise of a good 18-30% of dietary fiber which is quite high.

High fiber has been known to reduce the risk of heart diseases, stroke and help in the lowering of serum cholesterol and blood sugar levels .

It also improves insulin sensitivity which in turn prevents the body from storing sugar as fat.

Fiber intake has always been encouraged since the times we were in kindergarten. The biggest sources of fiber known to everyone include raw vegetables such as cucumber and some raw fruits as well.

Fibers are known to help to ease the process of digestion.

A study was conducted in which the effect of a high fiber diet was seen on the glucose and lipoprotein metabolism of some diabetic patients.

In the study, dietary fiber was combined with a carbohydrate-rich diet and the effects were seen.

It was observed that it improved the raised cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels.

Dietary fiber also slowed down the process of digestion, and this had a positive effect on the lipids and carbohydrates in the body.

How? Since dietary fiber is not absorbed, we can get a full stomach by eating fiber and the blood glucose levels will not surge!

What does this mean?

The high fiber content of chia seeds aids digestion, curbs appetite, improves insulin sensitivity thereby increasing the breakdown of sugar and prevention of its storage as fat.

4. It attenuates dyslipidemia

Dyslipidemia is a condition where there are high levels of triglycerides and cholesterol or a low level of HDL that leads to a disease called “atherosclerosis”.

In this disease, the arteries get blocked because of deposition of a waxy substance called plaque, and also because of chronic inflammation.

In an animal study, insulin resistant and dyslipidemic rats (rats with abnormal cholesterol levels) were fed with chia seeds for 3 months after a sucrose-rich diet was given to them for 3 months. A number of changes were observed.

Adipocyte hypertrophy decreased. Fat cells increase in size by a process, and this process is “adipocyte hypertrophy”.

Along with this, there was also a decrease in the formation of fatty acids and promoted the lipolytic action (breakdown of fat) of insulin.

Another study was conducted in an animal model of adipose tissue dysfunction. More fat is stored in the tissue, the composition of the fat cells changes and they become resistant to the activity of insulin.

Upon feeding with chia seeds, it was seen that antioxidants enzymes came back to their normal values (preventing insulin resistance).

A decrease in the interleukin 6 and TumourNecrosis Factor-α were also seen, which result in inflammation and as a result may lead to atherosclerosis as well.

What does this mean?

Chia seeds prevent the occurrence of dyslipidemia by helping prevent insulin resistance as well as re-activation of antioxidant enzyme activity and decrease in the proteins that surge at the time of inflammation.

5. It protects the liver and heart

When there is an excess of sugar in the body, it is stored in the liver as triglycerides and it may lead to a condition called “fatty liver”.

Another term for fatty liver is steatosis.

This leads to abnormal cholesterol levels in the body and results in plaque formation in the arteries. This contributes to high blood pressure and a disease called atherosclerosis.

At this point, the heart also has to bear a lot of stress as the plaque blocks the arteries, it is understood that the heart would have to pump the blood with more force. It can also hence lead to stroke.

In an animal study, rats were given a high-fat diet for a period of 8 weeks and then they were given a diet with chia seeds for another 8 weeks.

Tests were conducted and the results concluded that the rats had an improved glucose tolerance and more insulin sensitivity. The fat in the liver was reduced. There was also a decrease in the inflammation of the heart and the liver.

A study published in The British journal of nutrition, 2013 reported that the effect of chia seeds was seen on the mechanisms that were responsible for causing dyslipidemia and fatty liver in insulin resistance.

It was found that the activities of the key enzymes in the liver that were involved in lipid metabolism were regulated.

It was proved in an animal study that dietary chia seeds reduced chances of cardiac lipotoxicity. Lipotoxicity is the condition where lipid intermediates begin to get accumulated in tissues other than fat (adipose) tissues.

It leads to malfunctioning of the cell and death. There is a transporter needed for the transfer of fatty acids into the membrane of cells of the muscle. It is called membrane fatty acid transporter.

Chia seeds reduce the activity of the membrane fatty acid transporter as well as the availability of fatty acids in the plasma. They improve heart lipotoxicity and glucose oxidation the cardiac muscles.

What does this mean?

Chia seeds are capable of protecting the heart and liver against the storage and toxicity of fat.

6. Chia seeds have anti-inflammatory activity

It has been seen that when there are high LDL levels in patients, there are also high levels of C-Reactive protein (which is secreted by the liver in case of inflammation).

This means that these factors altogether lead to the risk of heart diseases. There are many agents being designed that can reduce LDL levels and inflammation and increase the HDL levels.

On the other hand, inflammation has also been linked to glucose tolerance.

It has been seen that increased inflammation has been seen in cases of insulin resistance (the cells of the body do not react to insulin and do not absorb the sugar in the blood, leading to high blood sugar levels).

A study claims that insulin resistance is a possible contributor to diabetes.

It was found that Alpha-linoleic acid contributes to the reduction of inflammation. In a study, scientists investigated as to how alpha linoleic acid controls inflammation.

It was observed that the acid has an inhibitory effect on substances such as nitric oxide and tumor necrosis factor-alpha that contribute to inflammation.

Since chia seeds are rich in omega-3s, such as alpha linoleic acid, hence they help in the reduction of inflammation.

What does this mean?

Chia seeds have an anti-inflammatory activity which is needed to avoid insulin resistance and plaque-choked arteries that lead to cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis and stroke.

7. Chia seeds have antioxidant activity

High levels of blood sugar cause auto-oxidation of glucose and form free radicals. These radicals are capable of destroying cells of the body by robbing them of electrons and disrupting their membranes.

This can cause insulin resistance or lead to reduced insulin secretion.

At this point in time, when there is an increased oxidative stress, there is a need of antioxidants.

These antioxidants donate electrons to the substances in the cells that are unstable, that is radicals, as mentioned above and cause oxidation.

The donated electrons hence neutralize them and the harmful effects are diminished.

Chia seeds consist of compounds that reduce oxidative stress diminish insulin resistance and prevent the formation of free radicals.

A study was conducted that ensured that chia seed re-established the antioxidant system and improved insulin and glucose tolerance in dies induced obese rats.

It happened because treating the rats with the oil extracted from chia seeds restored the function of enzymes (such as superoxide dismutase) that help in breaking down of oxygen molecules that lead to oxidative stress.

It also restored the function of an enzyme (glutathione peroxidase) that prevented the oxidation of cells of the body.

What does this mean?

Chia seeds have antioxidant activity that prevents the formation of free radicals that reduced insulin resistance, thereby more absorption of glucose from the bloodstream and preventing its storage as fat in the liver thereby decreasing the chances of high cholesterol levels.

8. Chia seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids

No matter how much we hear against fat consumption, there are some kinds of fats that are necessary for the functioning of our body.

An example of such fat is “omega-3 fatty acids” which are present in abundance in the chia seeds.

The seeds have about 25 to 40% of oil out of which 60% comprises of omega-3 ALA (alpha linoleic acid). These are fatty acids that cannot be produced by our body.

Omega-3 fatty acids are required for various functions such as the development of cell membranes, brain, and eyes.

A study was conducted to test the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acids derived from chia seeds on the fatty acid content and lipid composition of rat plasma.

The study suggested that omega-3 fatty acids prevent the occurrence of coronary heart disease (CHD).

In CHD, plaque builds up in the coronary arteries, hindering the supply of oxygen to the heart. Then blood samples were taken and they showed a drop in triglyceride content and a rise in HDL content. There was a rise in omega-3 fatty acid content as well.

Another investigation was carried out to check the effectiveness of whole and milled chia seeds in overweight, menopausal women. Their diets were supplemented with chia seeds for 10 weeks.

It was observed, at the end of the trial, that chia seeds significantly increased the levels of plasma alpha linoleic acid as well as eicosapentaenoic acid (both of which are omega-3 fatty acids) .

What does this mean?

Some fatty acids are necessary for the body and are not synthesized inside the body. Chia seeds are a good source of such fatty acids (omega-3 alpha linoleic acid). These fatty acids can replace the other sources of fat in our diet and also lower the levels of triglycerides and insulin resistance.

9. Dietary inclusion of chia seeds benefits in metabolic syndrome

The metabolic syndrome represents a group of conditions like high blood pressure and blood sugar, high levels of fat (especially around the waist) and abnormal levels of cholesterol.

These conditions raise the chances of developing heart diseases including diabetes and stroke.

Many times, obesity and smoking are a major cause of the metabolic syndrome or, better known as pre-diabetes.

The syndrome occurs due to factors like insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.

In such conditions, the cells of the body do not respond to insulin and absorption of glucose is reduced leading to the presence of a large amount of sugar in the blood.

A study was conducted in which a dietary pattern including chia seed was introduced to patients with the metabolic syndrome. The patients were asked to consume their regular diet but cut down 500kcal for 2 weeks.

They were then assigned the diet including chia seeds for 2 months. After the trial period, it was found that patients with the dietary pattern showed a decrease in weight circumference, body weight, serum triglycerides, and betterment in glucose tolerance.

It implied that if the dietary changes are introduced (like the one involving chia seeds, the metabolic syndrome caused due to local foods and genetics could be treated.

What does this mean?

Consumption of chia seed helped ease the effects of the metabolic syndrome such as glucose intolerance and high triglyceride levels.

Dosage

The dosage of chia seeds per day is about 15 to 20g per day.

It would fulfill the requirement of omega-3s in the diet. Those looking forward to normalizing their insulin resistance can increase their intake slightly.

We can mix it into yoghurt along with fruits such as strawberries and blueberries and blend and drink the smoothie. We can also sprinkle some on the bread and eat them as they give a crunch.

Nowadays, several companies are promoting the intake of this superfood by mixing them into a drink and selling the beverage.

Precautions

Since chia seeds can be a new introduction into the diet, first we must experiment by taking only a small amount and checking for any allergic reactions.

Also, since it is high in fiber, suddenly including too much of chia seeds in our diet may lead to flatulence and constipation.

Avoid consuming dry chia seeds as it may swell in the food pipe and cause choking.

Summary

Chia seeds are a wonderful discovery. Being so tiny in appearance and crunchy in taste, they are the latest trends in food supplementation for the gym lovers and bodybuilders.

They can tackle abnormal cholesterol levels, insulin resistance, and glucose intolerance and in turn prove effective against hyperlipidemia.

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