PUFAs in Chia Seeds

I’ve recently started distributing a raw food product in conjunction with my existing nutrition business and was hoping to get your thoughts on the product.  It’s called Mila, and is a proprietary blend of 8 different CHIA seeds, cut, to make the high Omega 3 content more bio-available. I am hearing so many great testimonials from people who take Mila, about improved skin conditions, improved digestion, better cholesterol numbers, and improved ADD/ADHD symptoms, I thought you both might be interested in learning more about it given your backgrounds in wellness and raw food.

Breaking seed shells is critical to their digestibility.  So this is a good idea in its fundamental aspect.  However, once the shell is broken, the antioxidant protection of the germ oils is broken, too.  This means that peroxides and hydroperoxides begin to form.  With saturated oils (coconut and palm) and monounsaturated oils (olive and palm kernel), the rate of peroxidation is slow enough that relatively simple antioxidant protections might be able to stabilize the oils long enough to give the cracked-shell product reasonable shelf life.  However, with di-unsaturated oils and tri-unsaturated oils (PUFAs), the rate of peroxidation is ten to a hundred times greater and exceedingly difficult to control.  For this reason, I tell clients to grind their own seed at home immediately before consuming it.

My Project Wellbeing blog on PUFAS explains the non-linear aspect of this from the underlying chemical structures:  http://projectwellbeing.com/health/the-low-down-on-pufas/

Unfortunately, the benefits to consuming a PUFA-containing product do not counteract the rancid-oil exposure.  Furthermore, the non-rancid PUFAs deposit in the fatty tissues and cell membranes of the body where they become targets for oxygen-free radicals.  This is the bad side.  The good side is that the PUFAs promote membrane fluidity and membrane permeability, which has a pro-metabolic effect that is in some ways similar to that generated by thyroid hormone, progesterone, exercise, vitamin D, vitamin A (not beta-carotene), magnesium and selenium (and other agents).  But because it mimics the effects of these other agents, there can be perceived benefits that are not truly biologically sustainable.  In other words, there is a perceived health change for the better, but it is being mediated by a chameleon-like mechanism rather than by a direct intervention to the actual metabolic bottleneck that is the underlying cause of the original health deficit.  As you might guess, this can have unintended consequences down the road that are “masked” by the suppression of the original symptoms.

As an example, consider pernicious anemia.  The impairment of methylation reactions through B-12-compromised S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) activity can be partially overcome by folic acid supplementation.  Both folate and B12 are needed to drive the SAM cycle, and a shortage of one can be ameliorated by an excess of the other.  In other words, the symptoms of B12 deficiency are being suppressed by the excess of folate.  The shortage of B12, however, is not being addressed.  So over-driving the folate system actually causes loss of more B12, so it gets worse, until, eventually, a crisis of life-threatening and mind-threatening proportions is reached.

PUFAs are a masking agent for low metabolic rate.  If the low metabolic rate is a direct consequence of cell-membrane rigidity or impermeability, the PUFAs are truly treating the problem directly.  But if the low metabolic rate (hypothyroid symptoms) is caused by endocrine problems, the PUFAS are masking the problem.  So PUFAS can be used to treat hypothyroidism (low levels of T4 and/or T3), thyroid resistance (inadequate response to normal levels of thyroid hormone), heavy metal poisoning, mitochondrial insufficiency, insulin resistance and estrogen dominance, but they mask the underlying cause instead of resolving it.

For these reasons, I usually recommend against using fish oil, flax oil and cracked chia seeds until a better understanding of their underlying metabolic problems is achieved, and even then to keep the use to a minimum (for example, by eating cold-water fish instead of taking encapsulated or liquid fish oil).  I also suggest a slight increase in consumption of mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols that is proportional to the increase in PUFAs.

Elsewhere, I talk about inflammation risks of using seeds, nuts and grain on a regular basis, despite the considerable anti-inflammatory benefits of the PUFA oils.  I believe this is one of the primary benefits of a paloelithic diet.  —Steve

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