Hemp oil – the treasure of the North (1/2)

Hemp oil – the treasure of the North (1/2)

Hemp oil is considered to be the healthiest among oils because its essential unsaturated fatty acids (EFAs) profile is the most similar to the optimal composition for a human body. These acids are referred to as “essential” due to the fact that the body cannot produce them itself and therefore they must be regularly supplied with food. Moreover, the body doesn’t store them as their purpose is not to provide energy like other fats. Instead, they are raw materials for building cellular structures and are precursors for the synthesis of many biochemical substances, including hormones and prostaglandins, essential for the functioning of the organism.

As our brains are composed chiefly of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, it can be assumed that it is necessary to eat fish rich in such acids. However, as every vegetarian knows, there are also vegetable sources rich in omega-3 acids, such as hemp seed oil or flaxseed oil. Unlike long-chain fatty acids found in fish which need to be emulsified by the bile salts in the small intestine before being ingested, medium-chain fatty acids of plant origin are absorbed directly into the liver via the portal vein and are immediately available to the body.

Cannabis seeds are the only natural source of EFAs with the ideal 3:1 ratio of the two most important acids – omega-6 and omega-3. Linseed oil is also a valuable source of EFAs, however, it does not have the right proportion, quite the contrary: its omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is 1: 3. In result, several years of regular use of linseed oil can produce symptoms of omega-6 deficiency.

Composition-wise, hemp seed contains 30-35% of fat, 80% of which are polyunsaturated EFAs, in particular, the two most important ones – up to 60% of omega-6 type linoleic acid (LA) and up to 20% of omega-3 linolenic acid (LNA or ALA). Both are raw materials for the synthesis of long-chain acids. Linolenic acid is converted to DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) – the two most crucial EFAs, while linoleic acid is converted to AA (arachidonic acid).

However, it must be kept in mind at any time that the excess arachidonic acid level caused by too much omega-6 in diet, ultimately leads to health problems such as inflammation, and more importantly increases blood coagulation increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke and congestion. Unfortunately, a typical western diet based on high amounts of processed fats contains 50:1 ratio instead of healthy 3:1.

Other fatty acids in hemp seed oil include palmitoleic acid, heptadecanoic acid, eicosanoic acid, behenic acid, erucic acid, lignoceric acid and nervonic acid, as well as a number of other higher fatty acids. It is also one of few oils containing direct LA and LNA metabolites, the most noteworthy among them being GLA (gamma-linolenic acid obtained from LA) and SDA (stearidonic acid from LNA), which serve as intermediates for the formation of long-chain fatty acids and major hormones, including prostaglandins. For this reason, cannabis oil is able to fix the metabolic EFAs disorders and to solve problems arising from genetic factors, consumption of other fats, ageing or lifestyle.

GLA and SDA are not considered “essential” because the organism is capable of converting some compounds to GLA and SDA in an enzymatic reaction in the presence of delta-6-desaturase. However, there are many health conditions and nutritional deficiencies that can interfere with such process. Therefore, GLA may well serve as EFA for the elderly, diabetic patients struggling with excess cholesterol, zinc deficiency and also for those who suffer from viral infections, as well as for people consuming excessive amounts of saturated fats, refined oils, fried foods, alcohol and sugar. Finally, it is worth remembering that trans fatty acids may also inhibit the production of GLA and SDA.

GLA also finds use in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Its most important application is treating chronic skin disorders such as neurogenic dermatitis. GLA can be used both internally and externally. The absence of GLA dries the skin and makes it less elastic, which greatly accelerates the formation of wrinkles. This deficiency also weakens the natural skin resistance to the detrimental effects of external factors, in effect small slits, wounds and the cracks of the epidermis take longer to heal. GLA alleviating qualities are well documented and GLA preparations are often prescribed in the treatment of psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and mastalgia. GLA is also tested for its beneficial effects in cardiovascular diseases, mental and immunological disorders, particularly in rheumatoid arthritis, diabetic neuropathy, and premenstrual syndrome.

Small amounts of GLA can be found in most animal fats, as well as in oats, barley, wheat germs and even in human milk. The perfect source of GLA is cannabis seeds and hemp seed oil (2-6%), blue-green algae (spirulina), evening primrose oil, black currant seed oil, borage oil, and some mushroom oils. However, none of the latter is as delicious as cannabis oil.

LNA (omega-3) deficiency symptoms include dry skin, slow growth, weakness, learning disabilities, poor motor coordination, behavioural changes, eye disorders, high blood pressure, platelet aggregation, oedema, mood degradation, metabolism and immune disorders and many more.

As LA (omega-6) is present in our body in much greater quantities, and it is abundant in the modern western diet its deficiencies are rare, although they can occur. Symptoms of LA deficiency include skin erosion, hair loss, poor blood circulation, behavioural abnormalities, hepatic and renal impairment, degeneration, gallbladder problems, prostatitis, tremor, diarrhoea, vulnerability to infections, slower wound healing, men’s infertility, miscarriage, arthritis, cardiovascular diseases and growth retardation.

Such deficiency symptoms are in most part reversible with adequate EEG intake, but ignored for a long time can lead to serious health problems.

Saturated fatty acids

Although saturated fatty acids are generally seen as exceptionally unhealthy, they are also essential for proper functioning of the body. What is detrimental to us, though, is the excessive consumption (chiefly in meat and fried foods) of them, resulting in elevated LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. This excess contributes to the development of arteriosclerosis plaques in arteries, thereby increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Saturated fatty acids are an important source of calories, stored in the form of fat by our body as soon as its energy needs are met. Luckily, vegetable oils only contain small amounts of saturated fatty acids, quantities that are actually needed. Hemp seed oil consists of about 8% saturated fats.

Plants grown closer to the equator contain higher amounts of saturated fatty acids and less polyunsaturated ones. Consequently, plants that grow closer to poles, in colder climates, will be richer in beneficial polyunsaturated fats. The reason for this is that plants and seeds that have to survive at low temperatures store more fat that always remains in liquid form, whereas oils produced by tropical plants remain stable under in higher temperatures. This is the reason why, for example, palm oil containing mainly saturated fatty acids is solid at room temperature and hemp oil containing mainly polyunsaturated fatty acids remains liquid at low temperatures.

PhD Jarosław Szulfer