Chia seeds have been enjoying their moment in the spotlight for the last few years, thanks to experts and researchers proving their health benefits. But they did not make public that these little seeds, often often considered a superfood, may come with a secret health threat: they can potentially block your esophagus, according to a case study from Carolinas HealthCare System.
After one 39-year-old man swallowed a tablespoon of dry chia seeds and chased it with water, he experienced intense dysphagia, or difficulty of swallowing. It’s worth noting that the patient suffers from asthma and seasonal allergies and has a medical history that includes intermittent dysphagia to solids—but it worsened considerably after he consumed the seeds-water mixture. The blockage was so severe that the man had to seek medical treatment.
“When added to liquid, dry chia seeds immediately begin to form a hydrogel capsule, absorbing up to 27 times their weight in water,” write the study authors. The gel-like ball of chia seeds resulted in an esophageal obstruction that was hard to dislodge. Doctors tried various methods like using an endoscope and trying forceps, but it wouldn’t budge. Finally, they turned to a neonatal gastroscope and pushed pieces of the gel into the patient’s stomach until his esophagus was clear.
Based on this case, the study authors recommend that those with a history of dysphagia or esophageal restrictions be aware of the potential danger of chia seeds, especially in their dry form.
“Over the last five years, [chia seeds’] use as a food product in the U.S. has been growing in popularity due to high protein, omega-3 fatty acid, and fiber content,” write the researchers. “In addition, proponents cite their vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant content as part of the reason they are labeled a ‘superfood.’ ” Granted, this case study doesn’t mean thateveryone should ditch chia seeds since there’s no evidence that people without dysphagia or esophageal restrictions will have issues consuming them—but it does go to show that even though a food is having its moment in the sun as the new It Thing of healthy eating, it isn’t necessarily right for everyone.