According to new research in rats, consumption of chia seeds as a source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) may bring about redistribution associated with heart and liver protection. The study, which was 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, discovered that the chia seeds brought about lipid redistribution in the rats, with lipids trafficked away from the visceral fat and the liver.
The research team, led by Lindsay Brown, an associate professor at the University of Queensland, said, “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. 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.”
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.
The researchers say that 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.
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% of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
The new research investigated the metabolic, cardiac, and liver changes following 5 percent 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.
The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry
28 July 2011