Hemp Seed Oil and Its Beneficial Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Hemp seed oil is cold pressed from the seeds of the hemp plant, a tall seedy and fibrous Cannabis variety also used to make a number of industrial products such as textiles, rope, paper and biodegradable plastics.
All food grade hemp seeds come from the hemp plant and can be further processed to make oil or shelled to provide a nutritious protein-rich superfood.
About 35% of the total hemp seed weight is made up of this highly nourishing edible oil that when extracted produces a deep olive green coloured oil that is thick, rich and nutty tasting.
It is one of the good fats you want to consume as a regular part of a health promoting diet, often compared to flaxseed and sacha inchi oil for its high amount of omega fatty acid content.
These types of oils are a bit different than others like coconut or red palm oil which are the healthier oils to use for cooking purposes.
Hemp, flax and sacha inchi oils are extremely volatile to heat and light and can easily go rancid. It is therefore imperative that they be kept refrigerated to preserve their nutrient content and essential fatty acid structure. They are only beneficial when consumed as raw unheated oils on salads, drizzled over meals or as an ingredient in raw recipes. They should never be used for cooking or sautéing foods.
Most hemp oils are about 80% polyunsaturated fat, one of the highest of any plant, and provide a balanced 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids which is known to be helpful for lowering the "bad" cholesterol and reducing inflammation in the body. Taken in capsule form or ingested as hemp oil, it can be used in conjunction with algae-based oils to offer a vegan omega-3 supplement alternative to fish or cod liver oil.
These essential omega fats are vital for cardiovascular health, enhancing metabolism, decreasing arthritic conditions, relieving PMS and regulating hormone levels. In addition, some believe the omega-3 ALA fatty acid can convert to DHA, which is extremely beneficial for healthy brain, nerve and neurological functions.
Consuming hemp oil is excellent for the hair and skin as it helps to nourish cell membranes and provides antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. It is also high in the antioxidants vitamin E and beta-carotene and also includes the rare gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SDA).
The green pigment in hemp seed oil is from the small amounts of chlorophyll naturally present in the skins of the seeds. The oil has a strong but pleasant "sweet grass" aroma and is considerably more palatable than flax oil or other extracted omega oils.
All quality hemp seed oil is unrefined, cold pressed and always dark in colour. Refined hemp oil, identifiable by its light colour, is toxic to the body and should be avoided.
Hemp Oil History
The hemp plant, its food, oil and fibre, have been used by many civilizations all over the world since the last part of the Stone Age over 12,000 years ago. The hemp seeds and pressed oil were referred to as Ma Zi in China and were used medicinally for centuries by the Chinese Ming Dynasty to treat inflammation and degenerative conditions.
Hemp oil first became popular on the Western health food scene in 1993 when author Dr. Andrew Weil published an article entitled "Therapeutic Hemp Oil." In it he states, "Hemp oil has a remarkable fatty acid profile, being high in the desirable omega-3's and also delivering some GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) that is absent from the fats we normally eat. Nutritionally oriented doctors believe all of these compounds to be beneficial to health."
Does Hemp Seed Oil Contain THC?
All food grade hemp products come from Cannabis, the same genus as the THC containing marijuana plant used as a medicinal or recreational psychoactive drug. The hemp plant, although a distant cousin to this variety, is not the same plant but a more lanky, tall, fibrous variant known for its high yield of seeds.
Most quality hemp oil's do not contain any detectable THC constituents, however some oil brands have been proven, in urine drug tests, to exhibit trace amounts of THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol) as a by-product of the seed harvesting and extraction process. However, these quantities are only found in extremely low concentrations usually between 0.025% - 1% of the total oil profile.
One of the primary reasons for possible THC content can be attributed to occasional particles of resin on the outside of the seeds themselves as a result of leaf contact. Because of this, many companies now either wash or shell their seeds before pressing out the oil to avoid any potential THC contamination.
Hemp Oil Benefits
High in Essential Fatty Acids
Hemp seed oil is well known among health food enthusiasts for its high amount of beneficial essential fatty acids. EFA's are "essential" because they are needed by the body for proper neurological functioning, cell membrane stability, bone health, inflammatory regulation, immune response, metabolic processes and cardiovascular maintenance.
Hemp seed oil is high in EFA's called linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3). Other primary fatty acids present include gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SDA) as well as palmitic, steric and oleic acids.
It is very important that a health promoting diet include plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. Some of the top food sources for omega-3's are green leafy vegetables, micro-algae’s, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, sacha inchi seeds, raw fish with small amounts available in seaweeds, walnuts and sprouts.
Some of these foods, however, can also be concentrated into oils for supplementation purposes to ensure adequate dietary intake. The oil extracted from hemp seeds offers these beneficial fatty acid nutrients in a condensed form so you can easily meet your daily requirements.
Balanced Ratio of Omega-3's
One of the great attributes about hemp seed oil is that it provides the right balance of omega-6 to omega-3 in a 3:1 ratio, which is very unusual for a food or oil.
In a typical Western diet omega-6 is much higher than omega-3 at between an average 10:1 to 20:1 ratio. Too much omega-6 can cause inflammation in the body and other related health conditions.
Omega-3 fatty acids act as anti-inflammatory agents and help to counteract the pro-inflammatory effects of LA omega-6 fats and their derived oils. Omega-6's are especially concentrated in refined vegetable oils such as corn oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, peanut oil and sesame oil. They are also found in abundance in grain-fed meat protein and dairy products.
Omega-6 acids need to be consumed in proper proportion to omega-3's or ALA. The general standard for this is between a 4:1 or 1:1 ratio.
This means that for the amount of omega-6 foods you consume you would need to eat at least 1/4 of that amount in omega-3's. In addition, some also believe that when a greater overall balance is achieved that the body can effectively convert ALA into EPA and DHA.
The general recommendation for a healthy person eating a more balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 2g of ALA a day. This is about 1T of high quality hemp seed oil.
Hemp Oil Fatty Acid Content
- omega-6, linoleic acid (LA) - 55%
- omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) - 22%
- omega-9 - 15%
- gamma-linolenic acid - 4%
- stearidonic acid - 2%
- palmitic acid - 5.65%
- steric acid - 1.96%
- oleic acid - 9.85%
Do Omega-3 Hemp Oils Convert to DHA in the Body?
It is often suggested, and in some cases "scientifically proven", that we can only get DHA from cold water fish or their extracted oils. However, there are many people in the holistic medical community largely debating this often-stated theory. Some believe this varies from person to person and is chiefly dependent on what kind of foods individuals consume overall.
There are certain health authorities who say that we can indeed convert EPA as well as DHA out of plant-based ALA-rich foods and oils, such as hemp, but ONLY when the diet offers a balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, in at least a 4:1 ratio. This is, of course, largely debated by the scientific community who only test DHA levels of those eating a predominantly omega-6-rich diet who cannot effectively convert ALA to DHA.
DHA for Neurological and Brain Functions
Our brains are mostly composed of fat and 97% of the fatty acid components that make up our brain are DHA. DHA helps insulate nerve cells and feeds our brain serious nutrients needed for proper neurological functioning and needs to be replenished on a regular basis through dietary sources.
Cognitive illnesses such as Alzheimer's, depression, PTS disorder and other degenerative diseases have been associated with low levels of DHA in the brain tissue.
It is therefore important to provide adequate nutritional intake either through the foods we eat or through oil supplementation of some kind.
Shown to Help Reduce Inflammation
The concentrated EFA's in various omega oils, like hemp, when ingested also significantly influence the production of eicosanoids. These are groups of molecules that are deeply interconnected with regulating the body's inflammatory processes. Including appropriate amounts of omega oils in the diet on a regular basis can help arthritic conditions as well as reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, which are intimately linked to inflammatory disorders.
In a 2011 study analysing the effects of omega-3 supplementation on lowering inflammation and anxiety it states that "data suggest that omega-3 supplementation can reduce inflammation and anxiety even among healthy young adults. The reduction in anxiety symptoms associated with omega-3 supplementation provides the first evidence that omega-3 may have potential anxiolytic benefits for individuals without an anxiety disorder diagnosis. "
Omega oil's effect on Multiple sclerosis, one of the most chronic inflammatory diseases known, showed positive results in a 2013 study published in Complimentary Therapies in Medicine. Using both hemp seed oil and evening primrose oil, the results were stated to have "beneficial effects in improving the clinical score in Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients which were confirmed by immunological findings."
Hemp Oil Benefits for Cardiovascular Health
Evidence supports that the consumption of omega-3 ALA and its derived oils are extremely beneficial for reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. All the omega-3 fats, including flaxseed, sacha inchi, borage, evening primrose as well as hemp seed oil, are very beneficial for the health of the entire cardiovascular system and are particularly good for normalizing cholesterol levels, lowering blood pressure and maintaining artery health.
In a study conducted on dietary hemp seeds effects on cardiac conditions it states, "With our current understanding of the close relationship that infectious disease and inflammation has with atherogenesis, it is not difficult to predict that foods with an optimal LA-ALA ratio will reduce inflammation under ideal dietary conditions and it may thereby attenuate atherosclerotic heart disease." (Source)
It was also demonstrated in a study conducted by the Korean Society for Molecular and Cellular Biology that "hemp seed, as a prominent source of PUFAs, exerts protective effects against hypercholesterolemia. These results show that hemp seed may prove of great utility as a health food, with potential for the prevention of Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease."
Contains Gamma-linolenic Acid and Stearidonic Acid
Hemp seed oil also consists of two other essential fatty acid derived constituents called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SDA). GLA is easily converted to dihomo-GLA, from which the body can make anti-inflammatory eicosanoids. SDA helps to synthesize and convert EPA from ALA fatty acid molecules. The compounds gamma-linolenic acid and stearidonic acid both work together synergistically by inhibiting possible pro-inflammatory conversions.
Hemp Seed Oil Vs. Flaxseed Oil
Flax oil is another popular oil known for its high content of essential fatty acids and omega-3's. While we enjoy the benefits of flax oil on occasion, it has been shown to interfere with the production of GLA when used over a period of time. In addition, flax products may have estrogen-like effects which, in some hormone related disorders, is not beneficial to health. This is not true for the extracted oils, however, which don't contain lignans or phytoestrogens. Hemp seed oil can be an improved alternative for these reasons and is additionally much better tasting than flax oil, which tends to have a strong, less appealing, fishy flavour.
Hemp Seed Oil for Skin
Along with its fatty acid profile, hemp oil contains the antioxidants vitamin E and beta-carotene, two compounds that help maintain healthy skin.
Regular intake of hemp seed oil has proven to be beneficial as a natural internal moisturizer, lubricating and softening skin tissue. It has been shown to be helpful for conditions such as eczema or dermatitis.
A study performed in Finland at the University of Kuopio on patients with atopic dermatitis results showed reduced itching and dryness. "Dietary hempseed oil caused significant changes in plasma fatty acid profiles and improved clinical symptoms of atopic dermatitis. It is suggested that these improvements resulted from the balanced and abundant supply of PUFAs in hempseed oil." (Source)
Types of Hemp Seed Oil
- Gel Caps - This is gelatin encapsulated hemp seed oil designed to preserve valuable nutrients in an easy to take pill form.
- Liquid Oil - This is the pure liquid hemp oil extracted from whole hemp seeds.
We recommend high quality organic, non-GMO oils that are cold pressed and not heat processed in any way. The best oils are stored in dark containers, preferably glass, to inhibit oil degradation when exposed to light. All hemp oils should additionally be refrigerated after opening.
Hemp Oil Uses
Hemp seed oil can be added to a variety of raw recipes such as dressings, dips, hummus, sauces, pesto and raw soups. It is a particularly good addition to nut milk recipes, adding a thick rich quality and a greater balance of omega fatty acids.
One tablespoon of high quality hemp oil provides approximately 2g of omega-3 ALA.