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Chia seeds may offer omega-3 heart and liver benefits: Study

By Nathan Gray , 26-Jul-2011
Last updated on 26-Jul-2011 at 14:42 GMT

Consumption of chia seeds as a source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) may bring about redistribution associated with heart and liver protection, according to new research in rats.

The study, published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, reports that rats fed chia seed supplements were protected from heart and liver problems associated with a high-fat diet, including improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, reduced visceral adiposity, decreased liver fat, and lower cardiac and hepatic inflammation and fibrosis.

The research, from the University of Queensland, Australia, revealed that the chia seeds brought about lipid redistribution in the rats, with lipids trafficked away from the visceral fat and the liver.

“We report an intricate pattern of fatty acid distribution in various tissues from rats fed a chia seed-supplemented diet that would probably lead to an improved lipid homeostatic condition,” said the researchers, led by Lindsay Brown, an associate professor at the University of Queensland.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of lipid redistribution with a rich dietary source of any omega-3 fatty acid associated with cardio-protection and hepato-protection,” they added.

ALA benefits

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that the body cannot make, and therefore must be consumed in the diet. Good sources of ALA include: chia seeds, flaxseed, soybeans, walnuts, and olive oil.

The U.S Institute of Medicine recommends an ALA intake of 1.6 grams per day for men and 1.1 grams per day for women.

“In human diets, ALA, the essential omega-3 fatty acid, is usually derived from plant sources such as flax seed, while EPA and DHA are ingested from fish, fish oil supplements and other sea foods,” said the researchers.

The health benefits associated with ALA consumption include cardiovascular effects, neuro-protection, a counter to the inflammation response, and benefits against autoimmune disease. However, the longer-chain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have received more study from scientists and more attention from the consumers.

Brown and her colleagues noted that chia seeds are the “richest botanical source of ALA,” containing about 60 per cent ALA.

Study details

The new research investigated the metabolic, cardiac, and liver changes following 5 per cent chia seed supplementation in high carbohydrate, high-fat diet-fed rats with low omega-3 fatty acid status.

Rats fed the high-fat diet were found to develop hypertension, impaired glucose and insulin tolerance, dyslipidemia, fatty livers, cardiac fibrosis and functional deterioration, inflammation and abdominal obesity.

“With the exception of elevated blood pressure and some plasma markers of liver function, dietary chia seed supplementation attenuated structural and functional changes caused by high-fat feeding,” said the authors.

“Chia seed supplementation caused lipid redistribution away from the abdominal cavity … and increased omega-3:omega-6 ratio in various tissues,” they added.

The supplemented rats improved insulin and glucose tolerance, reduced visceral adiposity, decreased hepatic steatosis (fatty liver), reduced cardiac and hepatic fibrosis and inflammation without changes in plasma lipids or blood pressure.

“Thus, chia seeds as a source of ALA induce lipid redistribution associated with cardio-protection and hepato-protection,” said Brown and her colleagues.

They added that the results of the research warrant further research on the use of chia seed as a complimentary therapy for treating some signs of metabolic syndrome.

Source: The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2010.11.011
“Lipid redistribution by α-linolenic acid-rich chia seed inhibits stearoyl-CoA desaturase-1 and induces cardiac and hepatic protection in diet-induced obese rats”
Authors: H. Poudyal, S.K. Panchal, J. Waanders, L. Ward, L. Brown

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