If you’re like many people, the mere mention of hemp seeds prompts visions of Woodstock-era flower children smoking marijuana and other banned substances. In reality, while hemp seed comes from the same plant species (cannabis sativa l.) as marijuana, it’s been bred to have virtually none -- less than 0.3% -- of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the active ingredient of its distant cousin. Still, hemp seed’s botanical links to its black sheep family member have overshadowed its potential health benefits, and may even have discouraged research into its possible beneficial effects on the heart, according to a 2010 paper in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism.
In fact, growing hemp seed is against the law in the United States, mostly because of fears associated with legalizing marijuana. Several other countries, including Canada, Australia, China and Great Britain, formally recognize the two strains as distinct, and allow the agricultural production of non-drug, or industrial, hemp. Dietary hemp seeds come from industrial hemp.
Here’s a look at what hemp seeds might do for your heart health, and your longevity.
Good fatty acids: Like most seeds, hemp seeds are high in fat, but rich in essential fatty acids and other polyunsaturated fatty acids. In particular, these seeds contain a healthy proportion of omega-6 fatty acid (linoleic acid) to omega-3 fatty acid (alpha-linoleic acid) –- in approximately a 2:1 ratio, which is believed to be beneficial in reducing the risk of many chronic conditions like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis and cancer. Other investigations found hemp seed reduces the “stickiness” of platelets in the blood (referred to as platelet aggregation). This discovery shows hemp seed may have the potential to reduce the incidence of heart attack and stroke, though an increased risk of bleeding may be a danger.
In terms of hemp seed’s effect on cholesterol, results have been promising, with some studies showing that supplementation with hemp seed oil led to a lower, and healthier, ratio of total blood cholesterol to HDL (or “good”) cholesterol (though not when consuming amounts below 2 grams/day). Results on the seeds’ effect on blood pressure, though, have been mixed, showing either a beneficial effect, or none at all.
High in protein: Containing almost as much protein as soybeans, hemp seed oil also boasts high levels of the amino acid arginine. Arginine is required for the production of nitric oxide, a chemical necessary for the function and maintenance of healthy blood vessels.
Other vitamins and minerals: Hemp seeds are rich in vitamin E, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, and longevity-boosting dietary fiber.
Hemp seeds have a nutritional profile that's potentially healthy for our hearts and for disease prevention. Despite this, they have not been as thoroughly studied as other heart-healthy dietary oil products, like flaxseed and fish oil, perhaps because of legal concerns and misconceptions about their safety or perceived mind-altering effects. Future research will reveal whether dietary supplementation with hemp seeds can prevent or treat conditions like hypertension, heart disease, and inflammation -– and which doses are required to do so.
Delfin Rodriguez-Leyva and Grant Pierce. “The Cardiac and Haemostatic Effects of Dietary Hempseed.” Nutr Metab 2010; 7:32. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-7-32
Frequently Asked Questions About Industrial Hemp. Health Canada Public Information Sheet.
Schwab US, Callaway JC, Erkkilä AT, Gynther J, Uusitupa MI, Järvinen T. “Effects of hempseed and flaxseed oils on the profile of serum lipids, serum total and lipoprotein lipid concentrations and haemostatic factors.” Eur J Nutr. 2006 Dec;45(8):470-7.