What is Hemp?
Hemp (Cannabis Sativa L.) seed oil is a complete nutritional source. It contains all of the essential amino and fatty acids. Additionally, a number of compounds within the oil may exhibit desirable pharmacological activity. Hemp seeds are not actually seeds, but “achenes,” which are tiny nuts covered by hard shells.
Whole hemp seeds are composed of 20-25% protein, 20-30% carbohydrates and 10-15% insoluble fiber. (Theimer 1995). They are also an excellent source of minerals including phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, sulfur and calcium, as well as a fair source of iron and zinc.
Why is Omega-3 Important?
It’s important to have an optimal ratio of omega (Ω)6: omega Ω3 in the diet. Most commonly consumed oils in the Westernized diet are high in Ω6. The average American diet contains somewhere around a 10:1 ratio of Ω6: Ω3, while the desired ratio is closer to 3:1.
Hemp seed oil contains this desirable ration with its composition of LA (Linolenic acid, Ω6) and ALA (α-linolenic acid, Ω3) being roughly 3:1. It also contains some GLA (γ-linolenic acid, Ω6) in smaller amounts. Since its composition matches the body’s optimal fatty acid requirements, it can be consumed and supplemented with indefinitely without the development of any imbalances.
The same is not always true for other fatty acids like those from flax seeds. The ratios are so important because the fatty acids are metabolized into eicosanoids, which ultimately become prostaglandins, which affect a number of important functions like clotting, inflammation response and immune function. When the ratio is undesirable then certain metabolic intermediates will build up and efficient fatty acid metabolism, as well as these important functions, can be compromised.
What is the difference between Hemp and Marijuana?
While both compounds are found in little more than trace amounts, hemp seed oil’s composition is higher in cannabidiol (CBD) and lower in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabis plants have been shown to have higher THC concentrations in tropical latitudes, likely because the THC may provide some evolutionary advantage in being protective against UV light (Pate, 1994). Conversely, cannabis plants grown in more Northern and temperate climates, as many modern day hemp crops are grown in places like Canada, will yield concentrations of CBD that are much higher than THC. This is good news for the nutrition of hemp seeds because CBD may possess a number of pharmacological benefits, without the psychoactive effects of THC. It is well-documented to be anti-convulsant and anti-epileptic (Karler et al., 1973; Karler &Turkanis, 1981). CBD may also possess analgesic, anti-inflammatory (Formukong et al., 1988) and antimicrobial activity (Ferenczy et al. 1958).
Other chemical compounds and benefits found in Hemp Seed Oil
Aside from CBD, hemp seed oil contains a variety of other compounds that may provide health benefits:
- Beta β-Sitosterol– Phytosterols like β-sitosterol may be efficacious in lowering cholesterol by blocking its absorption.
- Tocopherols-Tocopherols are often touted for their capacity as antioxidants, as in vitamin E supplements.Hemp seed oil contains both α-tocopherol and γ-tocopherol. The former tends to have high bioactivity by virtue of its interaction with the liver, yet the latter may be overall more effective in helping to prevent coronary heart disease in comparison (Wolf, 1997). γ-tocopherol may also show some ability to eliminate harmful products in the bowel, thereby helping to prevent colon cancer (Stone & Papas, 1997). γ-tocopherol is present in significantly higher amounts in hemp seed oil than α-tocopherol (Leizer 2000).
- Terpenes -Another group of compounds that exhibit antioxidant activity.
- Methyl Salicylate -Present in trace quantities in hemp seed oil, methyl salicylate is closely related to aspirin and possesses its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
How do you use hemp seed oil?
An ideal fatty acid composition complemented by an amalgam of minerals and phytochemicals make hemp seeds and hemp seed oil incredibly rich, complete and well-rounded, nutritional food sources.
Cold-pressed, unrefined products are best, and should be kept refrigerated after opening. Compared with some other cooking oils such as coconut, hemp seed oil is low in saturated fat. Hemp seed oil has a low smoke point so it isn’t conducive to frying, however it makes a perfect base for salad dressings and dips, and may be added to soups. Adding a tablespoon of whole seeds or oil to a smoothie is also a great way to enjoy some extra EFA’s, protein and fiber.
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Wolf, G. (1997). y-tocopherol: an efficient protector of lipids against nitric oxide- initiated peroxidative damage. Nutrition Reviews 55(10): 376-378.
This article is written by Kevin McMahan, a Health and Wellness Educator for the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance. Kevin has had a lifelong interest in health and wellness. After graduating from Carmel High School he went on to get an associates degree in social sciences from Monterey Peninsula College, and a bachelors in kinesiology from California State University Monterey Bay. He is a certified personal trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine. “Your health is your wealth”, is something that he always likes to say. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at www.montereybayholistic.com.
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