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What do think about when you hear the words Cannabis sativa or hemp? Does your mind immediately go to marijuana, a hallucinogen with mind-altering effects?

While you're absolutely right to make the association, the Cannabis sativa plant gives us many other healthful products. Case in point: Hemp seeds.

Hemp seeds have only trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol or THC and do not share the psychotropic effects of marijuana, which comes from the dried flowers of the same plant.

In fact, if their long history and use in India and China are anything to go by, hemp seeds tick so many nutritional boxes that they can be easily described as good for health - in moderation, of course. So, although they are still illegal in many countries, hemp seeds and the hemp seed oil have become very popular for their health benefits.

Hemp seeds come from the Cannabis sativa or hemp plant. They are spherical in shape and light brown in colour. They have a rich, nutty flavour quite similar to that of walnuts. Plus, they have a high nutritive value with great quality protein, good fats and a lot of dietary fibre in the de-shelled variety (see picture).

The oil extracted from hemp seeds is usually dark to light green in colour. While China is the leading producer of hemp and all its products, France, Canada, Spain, Chile and South Korea also produce large amounts of it. India is also a producer of hemp items, with the states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh leading in government-supervised production of hemp products.

  1. Benefits of Hemp Seeds
  2. Side-Effects of Hemp Seeds
  3. Dosage and how to eat Hemp Seeds
  4. Doctors for Hemp Seeds

Studies show that hemp seeds have a high nutritional content. They are rich in healthy fatsproteinsvitamin E and minerals like magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. They are also a great source of plant-based protein. These are some of the science-backed benefits of hemp seeds:

  1. Benefits of Hemp Seeds for heart health
  2. Benefits of Hemp Seeds for people with high cholesterol, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes
  3. Benefits of Hemp Seeds for skin health
  4. Hemp Seeds nutrition
  5. Benefits of Hemp Seeds for the female reproductive health
  6. Benefits of Hemp Seeds for digestion
  7. Benefits of Hemp Seeds for cancer
  8. Benefits of Hemp Seeds for brain health

Benefits of Hemp Seeds for heart health

Hemp seeds are full of amino acids, particularly arginine which is a powerful neurotransmitter. Arginine helps in making nitric oxide in the body, higher levels of which have been proven to play a role in improving blood flow and promoting heart health.

Nitric oxide helps the body perform functions like hemostasis (the coagulation of blood into a gel as the first step of healing wounds) and fibrinolysis (preventing blood clots from growing). It also improves platelet and leukocyte interactions in the arterial walls, regulates the vascular tones and muscles and also helps control blood pressure. Normal vascular tone refers to the right diameter of the blood vessels to allow proper circulation.

Safe to say that hemp seeds are great for the heart and its upkeep, especially if you are at risk of contracting cardiovascular diseases.

Benefits of Hemp Seeds for people with high cholesterol, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes

You might think that 30% fat content, hemp seeds might be bad for people living with high cholesterol. The fact is, hemp seeds are rich in two essential fatty acids that are beneficial for keeping cholesterol in check: linoleic acid (omega-6) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3). These polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFAs can help lower the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, the bad cholesterol which can clog arteries and increase the risk of heart disease.

Hemp seeds also have some gamma-linolenic acids (also a type of omega-6 fatty acid) that helps to reduce inflammation. Hemp seed oil can also prove beneficial for people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

Research shows that reducing inflammation can also improve health outcomes for people living with diabetes: hemp seeds can be used for managing blood sugar in patients.

If you have any of these chronic (life-long) conditions, please do check with your doctor before taking hemp seeds or starting any therapy.

Benefits of Hemp Seeds for skin health

The high concentration of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in hemp seeds has an additional advantage: these fatty acids combine with the gamma-linolenic acid to work as an anti-inflammatory agent and can help with skin disorders like eczema and acne vulgaris too. This is especially true in the case of hempseed oil, which can relieve dryness of skin, itching and reduce the need for medicated ointments.

Hemp Seeds nutrition

Hemp seeds are 30% fat and 25% protein. Not only are they are a great source of plant-based proteins, but their protein quality is also equivalent to that of dairy, red meat and soybeans. What’s more, hemp seeds also have lysine, methionine and cysteine - all amino acids that are the building blocks of proteins. These factors make hemp seeds a great source of high-quality proteins for vegetarians and vegans. 

The seeds also have high dietary fibre, which helps to keep digestive disorders at bay.

Hemp seeds are also a rich source of minerals like iron, calcium and magnesium which helps you get better sleep.

Benefits of Hemp Seeds for the female reproductive health

Most women of reproductive age have to deal with symptoms of premenstrual syndrome or PMS as well as inflammation related to menopause at a later age. Hemp seeds, brimming with gamma-linolenic acids, help alleviate the symptoms associated with both PMS and menopause.

The symptoms of PMS and menopause are related to sensitivity to a hormone called prolactin. Gamma-linolenic acids help with the production of prostaglandin E1, which in turn reduces the effects of prolactin. Hemp seeds are, therefore, used to treat these symptoms in many cultures.

In some traditions, hemp seeds are also given to pregnant women because they are a rich source of vitamin E and minerals like iron, magnesium and calcium. Though, there isn't sufficient research on the use of hemp seeds during pregnancy.

Benefits of Hemp Seeds for digestion

Hemp seeds, especially the ones that have not been de-shelled, also contain large amounts of dietary fibre. Of this fibre content, 20% is soluble and 80% insoluble, but both promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Hemp seeds, therefore, work as a prebiotic, and when combined with their anti-inflammatory effects, work really well to aid digestion and alleviate digestion-related pain.

The high fibre content also makes hemp seeds beneficial for avoiding and relieving constipation.

Benefits of Hemp Seeds for cancer

There is a lot of new research on alternative approaches to fighting cancer. Though it is too early to say if science will approve the use of hemp seeds to prevent different types of cancer, there is already some support for the theory that regular consumption can help to avoid colorectal cancer and lung cancer specifically.

Benefits of Hemp Seeds for brain health

Hemp seeds are a rich source of healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are also important for the growth of brain cells, so getting them in one go via hemp seeds might be a good idea for your overall health.

Studies have also shown that hemp seeds can alleviate symptoms and aid in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

A 2011 study found that the PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) in hemp seeds have a huge antioxidant effect and can help treat patients of Parkinson’s as well as Alzheimer’s.

Another study, published in 2018, found that the phenylpropionamides (TPA) extracted from hemp seeds had an anti-neuroinflammatory effect (it reduced inflammation in the nervous system) on test subjects, which is again critical for understanding and treating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Despite these amazing benefits, hemp seeds should be consumed in moderation. The reason for this is simple: too much of a good thing can be bad too. Here are some of the side-effects of eating too many hemp seeds:

  • Hemp seeds have a high-fat content. And even though these are good fats, eating too many can lead to mild diarrhoea.
  • Despite being low on THC (which is what gives you a high when you smoke marijuana), hemp seeds can have a hallucinogenic effect when consumed in excess. This can also lead to nausea, vomiting, slowed heart rate and, ironically, high blood pressure.
  • Hemp seeds, in spite of their many health benefits, should not be taken along with prescribed medicines, especially ones which can have a psychotropic effect.

It is best to consume hemp seeds only when recommended by a doctor, or to let your physician know if you are adding them to your diet.

Since hemp seeds taste good, they can be eaten raw, fried, roasted or cooked. You can add them to everything from smoothies and salads to baked goods and curries. You can also use hemp seed oil as a cooking medium, and apply it topically on your skin as well.

As with any herbal or natural supplements, the dosage of hemp seeds should depend on your age and health conditions. It is best to ask a healthcare provider what amount of hemp seeds is okay for you.

Start consuming slowly, beginning with one teaspoon and then increase your intake to the recommended level. Never exceed the recommended level. Though rare, it is possible to overdose on hemp seeds.

Dr. Rachna Purohit

Dr. Rachna Purohit

General Physician
7 Years of Experience

Dr. Amit Joshi

Dr. Amit Joshi

General Physician
8 Years of Experience

Dr. Amit Kumar

Dr. Amit Kumar

General Physician
4 Years of Experience

Dr.Raghwendra Dadhich

Dr.Raghwendra Dadhich

General Physician
6 Years of Experience

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References

  1. Jin, Solee. et al. The ameliorative effect of hemp seed hexane extracts on the Propionibacterium acnes-induced inflammation and lipogenesis in sebocytes. PLoS One. 2018; 13(8): e0202933. PMID: 30148860
  2. Rodriguez-Leyva, Delfin and Pierce, Grant N. The cardiac and haemostatic effects of dietary hempseed Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010; 7: 32. PMID: 20409317
  3. Zhou, Yuefang. et al. Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) Seed Phenylpropionamides Composition and Effects on Memory Dysfunction and Biomarkers of Neuroinflammation Induced by Lipopolysaccharide in Mice ACS Omega. 2018 Nov 30; 3(11): 15988–15995. PMID: 30556022
  4. Lee, Min Jung. et al. The Effects of Hempseed Meal Intake and Linoleic Acid on Drosophila Models of Neurodegenerative Diseases and Hypercholesterolemia. Mol Cells. 2011 Apr 30; 31(4): 337–342. PMID: 21331775
  5. Girgih, AT. et al. Preventive and treatment effects of a hemp seed (Cannabis sativa L.) meal protein hydrolysate against high blood pressure in spontaneously hypertensive rats.. Eur J Nutr. 2014 Aug;53(5):1237-46. PMID: 24292743
  6. House, JD. et al. Evaluating the quality of protein from hemp seed (Cannabis sativa L.) products through the use of the protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score method.. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Nov 24;58(22):11801-7. PMID: 20977230
  7. Mamone, G. et al. Production, digestibility and allergenicity of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) protein isolates.. Food Res Int. 2019 Jan;115:562-571. PMID: 30599980
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