Chia Seeds Promote Weight Loss in People with Diabetes: Study
University of Toronto researchers have found that a small daily dose of chia seeds can help obese diabetic patients lose weight while maintaining good blood sugar control. The study is the first to show that seeds can reduce weight, and it suggests that in people with Type 2 diabetes, a diet-based intervention can produce weight loss comparable to some diabetic medications.
“It’s well-established that obesity contributes to Type 2 diabetes development and progression, yet it’s very hard for individuals with diabetes to control their weight — in part due to the natural course of the disease but also because of the effect of many glucose-lowering medications on weight gain,” said Vladimir Vuksan, lead author on the study and a professor in the Departments of Nutritional Sciences and Medicine at U of T. “Here we’ve found that without changing any medications, a single food may have an impact on weight and other cardiovascular risk factors.”
The researchers found that people who consumed 30 grams (about one-third of a cup) of chia seeds daily over six months lost four pounds, compared to weight loss of about half a pound for the control group (who received oat-bran and inulin fibre, shown to lower body weight and LDL cholesterol and improve glycemic control). Both study groups followed a calorie-restricted diet.
Seventy-seven people participated in the trial, and the journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases published the final results online today.
The type of fat that study participants lost was also important. The researchers observed a reduction of 3.5 centimetres in waist circumference among people who ate chia, suggesting a notable decrease in visceral fat. In contrast to visible or ‘subcutaneous’ fat, visceral fat accumulates around organs deep in the abdomen and is associated with insulin resistance and accelerated narrowing and hardening of arteries.
Vuksan and his colleagues also found that chia seeds produced a 40 per cent reduction in low-grade body inflammation associated with cardiovascular risk (measured through C-reactive protein levels), and a beneficial increase in satiety-related hormones. “I believe many clinicians would find these results interesting and possibly applicable in daily clinical practice,” said Vuksan.
Although previous work from Vuksan’s lab has shown that chia, taken with a carbohydrate meal, can help control blood-glucose levels, the current study did not show similar results. Vuksan said that may be because the patients’ blood-glucose levels were already well-controlled. And he emphasized that participants in the current study were able to maintain control of their blood sugar with very few side effects.
“These results suggest that supplementation with chia may be a safe and effective addition to conventional therapy for people who live with diabetes and have excess body weight,” said Dr. Jan Hux, Chief Science Officer at the Canadian Diabetes Association. “We look forward to longer-term studies on the effects of this seed in the management of diabetes and obesity.”
Chia is a nutrient-dense seed, loaded with protein, fibre, omega-3 fats, minerals and antioxidants. The researchers used a white-coloured strain of seed called Salba-chia, which was developed through selective breeding (without genetic modification) to minimize nutritional variability. Most chia seeds are black and were traditionally consumed as a food and remedy by the Aztecs in Mexico, who referred to it as ‘running food.’
The study was supported by the Canadian Diabetes Association. Salba Smart, Centennial, CO, USA provided the Salba-chia seeds.
Professor Vuksan was a consultant for Salba Corporation, Buena Aires, Argentina (2003-2006) and Core Naturals, FL, USA (2007-2008), and he received conference travel grants from Salba Smart Natural Products (2008, 2010), LLC, Centennial, CO, USA, and Source Salba Inc., Toronto, Canada (2008). He holds an American (No. 7,326,404 B2) and Canadian (No. 2,410,556) patent for a viscous fibre blend in diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cholesterol lowering, and he received an honorarium for providing scientific advice to InovoBiologic (Calgary, AB), the producer of viscous fiber blend PGX® that is based on his patent. Professor Vuksan was also VP and part-owner of Glycemic Index Laboratories (Toronto, ON) from 2004 to 2015.
For a full list of each co-author’s sources of support, see the acknowledgements section at the end of the current study.