Chia Seeds and Digestive Health

Bowl of yogurt with blueberries, bananas, strawberries, and chia seeds

Verywell / Zorica Lakonic

Chia seeds may have several beneficial effects on your digestive health and how you absorb some components of food.

Research into this is in the early stages, but potential digestive benefits of chia seed include improving intestinal tissue health, promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria (flora), altering absorption of some dietary components, and easing constipation.

This article examines research into the potential digestive benefits of chia seeds, other health benefits, the possible risks, and how to add chia seeds to your diet.

Chia seeds have long been grown for medicinal use in Mexico and Guatemala. They have gained popularity in other countries because they're a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and dietary fiber.

What Are Chia Seeds?

Chia seeds come from the plant Salvia hispanica L. They're black and white and about the size of poppy seeds.

Chia seeds are a good source of:

Food manufacturers have begun to add chia seeds to cereals, baked goods, fruit juices, and yogurt. They are sometimes used nutritionally and other times as a thickening agent.

Digestive System Benefits

It's easy to find people online saying chia seeds have helped their chronic constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But so far, research doesn't back this up. 

However, some early research suggests chia seeds may have a beneficial effect on intestinal health, gut flora, and absorption. The fiber content suggests a possible use for constipation.

Intestinal Health and Function

Chia seeds' effects on intestinal health has been researched in animal and lab studies.

A 2016 study on rats noted an increased thickness in intestinal muscle layers that improved intestinal function. A 2018 study, also done on rats, confirmed those findings.

The walls of the small intestine have finger-like projections called villi. Their purpose is to maximize absorption of food.

A 2019 study on chicken eggs showed chia seeds increased the surface area, length, and width of villi, thus enhancing intestinal function. The study also showed an increased number of goblet cells, specialized cells that line the intestines and have a role in maintaining the intestinal wall.

Some research on humans has linked chia seeds to improving the growth of gut flora Enterococcus spp and Lactobacillus spp. Beneficial gut bacteria and other microbes play important roles in digestion and overall health.

Absorption

The types of fiber in chia seeds are believed to slow digestion, which allows your body more time to absorb nutrients from food.

They may also reduce absorption in beneficial ways. A 2020 study reports that chia seeds appeared to lower absorption of cholesterol and sugar in the diet. This may lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Constipation

Chia seeds haven't been studied for constipation. However, due to their fiber content, they are hypothesized to have a laxative effect.

Chia seeds can absorb a lot of water. When they do, they take on a gel-like consistency. Similar gel-forming fiber sources add bulk and weight to stools, which softens them and helps them pass.

The fiber content of chia seed is about 27 grams (g) per 100 g serving. The recommended daily allowance of fiber for adults is between 22 and 34 grams a day. It's better if those are food sources, not supplements.

Flaxseed, which shares similar omega-3 qualities with chia seed, has some limited research support for easing constipation.

Recap

Chia seeds may offer several digestive benefits. These include improving the health of your intestine, improving gut bacteria, altering absorption, and possibly easing constipation. Not enough research has been done to say for sure whether these seeds are effective for any condition.

Other Health Benefits

Research suggests that chia seeds may provide several other health benefits as well. They're thought to have beneficial properties as an:

  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antioxidant, which fights unstable compounds that can cause disease
  • Anti-blood clotting agent
  • Antidepressant
  • Antianxiety treatment
  • Analgesic (painkiller)

More research is needed, but studies have shown that eating chia seeds may help:

Based on their high level of omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds are thought to promote cardiovascular health by tempering inflammation.

With their high level of antioxidants, chia seeds may help reduce the risk of cancer.

Some preliminary studies have shown mixed results in terms of chia seeds promoting weight loss.

Again, very limited research ties chia seeds to these purported benefits. Much more work needs to be done to establish whether they're effective for any condition.

Side Effects and Risks

Studies show chia seeds to be safe. So far, the known side effects are the same as with other forms of fiber.

Eating or taking too much fiber can lead to:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)

Side effects can be minimized by slowly increasing your fiber intake. This gives your body time to adjust.

Fiber can interfere with your body's absorption of important minerals, including:

  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium

But most high-fiber foods are rich in minerals, which helps compensate for this. It's one reason food-based fiber is preferable to supplements.

Recap

Chia seeds may have benefits for managing diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, among other things. They've also been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antidepressant properties. However, more research is needed.

Adding Chia Seeds to Your Diet

According to recommendations regarding protein intake from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, about 5 ounces of protein each week should come from nuts, seeds and soy products—including chia seeds.

Here are some tips for incorporating chia seeds into your daily diet:

  • Start slowly to allow your system time to adjust.
  • Make sure to drink plenty of water.
  • Just toss them into whatever you are making. They're great in smoothies, pudding, cereal, salads, and baked goods. Unlike flaxseed, chia seeds do not need to be ground in order for you to benefit from their nutritional components.
  • Consider presoaking the seeds before eating them to maximize their gel-like qualities.

Are Chia Seeds Related to Tree Nuts?

No. Chia seeds come from a plant that is part of the mint family, not a tree. However, it is possible that chia seeds may be processed in a plant that also processes nuts. If you have a tree nut allergy, read labels carefully to avoid consuming chia seeds that may have picked up other allergens before reaching your table.

Summary

Chia seeds may have benefits for your digestive system and overall health. They may improve intestinal function, prevent absorption of harmful aspects of your diet, and might help treat constipation.

They may also help treat and/or prevent several serious diseases, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.

Side effects like bloating and cramping can come from ingesting too much fiber too fast. Introduce fiber into your diet slowly and drink lots of water to avoid this.

A Word From Verywell

Though chia and other seeds were once strongly cautioned against for people with pouches in the digestive tract (diverticulitis), that's no longer the case. Cleveland Clinic says that not only won't seeds get stuck in these bulges but their fiber content may help the condition.

If you want to add chia seeds to your diet and have any chronic condition, be sure to speak to your doctor first.

Was this page helpful?
16 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Melo D, Machado TB, Oliveira MBPP. Chia seeds: an ancient grain trending in modern human diets. Food Funct. 2019;10(6):3068-3089. doi:10.1039/C9FO00239A

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Chia seeds. Updated October 30, 2020.

  3. Kulczyński B, Kobus-Cisowska J, Taczanowski M, Kmiecik D, Gramza-Michałowska A. The chemical composition and nutritional value of chia seeds—current state of knowledgeNutrients. 2019;11(6):1242. doi:10.3390/nu11061242

  4. da Silva BP, Dias DM, de Castro Moreira ME, et al. Chia seed shows good protein quality, hypoglycemic effect and improves the lipid profile and liver and intestinal morphology of Wistar ratsPlant Foods Hum Nutr. 2016;71(3):225-230. doi:10.1007/s11130-016-0543-8

  5. Montes Chañi E, Pacheco S, Martínez G, et al. Long-term dietary intake of chia seed is associated with increased bone mineral content and improved hepatic and intestinal morphology in Sprague-Dawley rats. Nutrients. 2018;10(7):922. doi:10.3390/nu10070922

  6. Pereira da Silva B, Kolba N, Stampini Duarte Martino H, Hart J, Tako E. Soluble extracts from chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) affect brush border membrane functionality, morphology and intestinal bacterial populations in vivo (Gallus gallus). Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2457. doi:10.3390/nu11102457

  7. Tamargo A, Cueva C, Laguna L, Moreno-Arribas MV, Munoz LA. Understanding the impact of chia seed mucilage on human gut microbiota by using the dynamic gastrointestinal model simgi. J Funct Foods. 2018;50:104-111. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2018.09.028

  8. Jandhyala SM, Talukdar R, Subramanyam C, Vuyyuru H, Sasikala M, Nageshwar Reddy D. Role of the normal gut microbiotaWorld J Gastroenterol. 2015;21(29):8787-8803. doi:10.3748/wjg.v21.i29.8787

  9. Harvard University, T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Chia seeds. Updated July 6, 2021.

  10. Tamargo A, Martin D, Navarro Del Hierro J, Moreno-Arribas MV, Muñoz LA. Intake of soluble fibre from chia seed reduces bioaccessibility of lipids, cholesterol and glucose in the dynamic gastrointestinal model simgiFood Res Int. 2020;137:109364. doi:10.1016/j.foodres.2020.109364

  11. Ullah R, Nadeem M, Khalique A, et al. Nutritional and therapeutic perspectives of chia (Salvia hispanica L.): a reviewJ Food Sci Technol. 2016;53(4):1750-1758. doi:10.1007/s13197-015-1967-0

  12. Coorey R, Tjoe A, Jayasena V. Gelling properties of chia seed and flourJ Food Sci. 2014;79(5):E859-E866. doi:10.1111/1750-3841.12444

  13. MedlinePlus. Soluble and insoluble fiber. Updated October 8, 2021.

  14. U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025. Published December 2020.

  15. Mohd ali N, Yeap SK, Ho WY, Beh BK, Tan SW, Tan SG. The promising future of chia, Salvia hispanica L. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2012;2012:171956. doi:10.1155/2012/171956

  16. MedlinePlus. Fiber. Updated October 8, 2021.