Chia Seeds Prevent High Blood Pressure, Cancer

Chia seeds are categorized as a "superfood" that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, and other sources of nutrition. Discoveries from Oregon State University reveal these tiny seeds host even more benefits.

Scientists from Oregon State sequenced the chia genome and discovered chia genes are connected with properties that drug companies could use to treat diseases like cancer and high blood pressure.

The findings published last week in Frontiers dive deep into chia seeds at the molecular level through genetic data mining to uncover the health potential from within. Pankaj Jaiswal, a professor in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology at Oregon State, highlighted the significance of his team’s findings in a university release.

"This research opens up possibilities for scientists to study chia seed through the lens of improving human health while at the same time continuing to further our knowledge of all the nutritional benefits of chia," he said.

What are chia seeds?

Chia seeds derive from the plant Salvia hispanica L., and once were a formidable food crop in Mexico and Guatemala. The food was cultivated by indigenous groups as a food source in 3500 BC and was offered to Aztec gods during ceremonies.

The small food source has started to become more popular among the public in recent years. In 2022, chia seeds made the rounds on TikTok for the #internalshower trend. TikTok users like @jacvanek can be seen pouring two tablespoons of chia seeds into an 8 to 10-ounce glass of water along with half of a lemon. The drink known as "chia water" helps with relieving constipation.

Chia seeds are a source of:

A two-tablespoon serving size of chia seeds contains 140 calories, 4 grams of protein, 11 grams of fiber, and 7 grams of unsaturated fats. Chia seeds are the plant with the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids. The U.S. National Institute of Health says studies have found omega-3 fatty acids like the ones found in chia seeds have roles in fighting cardiovascular disease and cancer.

For comparison to other seeds, per 100 grams, chia seeds boast around 16 grams of protein, while quinoa seeds and oats contain 14 grams and 13 grams of protein, respectively. Chia seeds possess all nine essential amino acids not produced by the body: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Chia seeds contain 34 grams of fiber per 100 grams, while quinoa seeds hold a mere 7 grams. Chia seeds contain primarily insoluble dietary fiber with some soluble fibers. Insoluble fiber can absorb water and contribute to a feeling of fullness, while soluble fiber can form a gel-like substance, mucilage, that may help stabilize blood sugar levels and improve digestion.

New chia seed findings

Unlike rice and wheat, which are classified as major crops, orphan crops like chia seeds have garnered less attention from the scientific community. Chia seeds can grow on land unsuitable for traditional grain crops like oats, rye, and barley, making it a good option for farmers battling ongoing climate changes.

Sushma Naithani, an associate professor and senior researcher at Oregon State, emphasized the need for more crops like chia. She said, "Now we are at the point where long-term food and nutrition security requires diversifying the human diet by breeding and making genetic improvement to nutrient-rich, so-called minor crops like chia."

In their findings, Oregon State researchers found 29 genes involved with the biosynthesis of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Additionally, investigators uncovered 2,707 genes within chia seeds that are likely to create small bioactive peptides. A 2017 study published in Food Quality and Safety states bioactive peptides play a role in impacting the digestive, endocrine, cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems. After chia seeds pass through the digestive tract, small biopeptides are released and absorbed by the body. These properties may play a role in type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Researchers are hopeful their findings will encourage the growth of chia in Oregon and agricultural researchers to breed chia with certain traits amplified to help human health.

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