Hemp was vilified in the 1930's by the timber and oil interests who wanted to eliminate it from competing with their new petroleum-based textiles (nylon), paper (from wood pulp), not to mention that it didn't require the very lucrative pesticides and herbicides which were coming on the market for use in the cotton industry.
Today, Canadian growers of hemp (it is still illegal to grow hemp in the US) are strictly regulated by Health Canada through every step of the growing process, from the buying of certified seeds to inspections and testing throughout the growing season to ensure that the hemp crop is does not exceed the minute levels of THC (the psychoactive substance that is responsible for the "high" in marijuana) allowed by law.
Part 2 will now focus on the composition and health benefits of hemp.
Figure 1 - Hemp can be eaten as oil, which can be added to hot pastas, or mixed with salad dressings. The seed or hemp nut is what remains after the removal of the seed hull. Hemp nuts may be added to foods or incorporated in baking. Pressed seed cake, or hemp meal, is what remains after the oil has been pressed out. Hemp meal can be made into a powder or flour, and fed to livestock.
Looking at the charts and graphs below (see these charts and more at www.hemphasis.net ), we can see that the hempseed and nut (the shelled seed is called a hemp nut) are powerhouses of nutrition (Figures 1 and 2). It has been called by some the most nutritionally complete food source in the world. The following are some of the reasons why.
Essential Amino Acids
The main function of dietary protein is to supply amino acids for the growth and maintenance of body tissue. Protein is made up of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids of which 8 are considered essential. Essential amino acids (EAAs) are those which the body cannot make and therefore must be supplied by diet. Hemp protein, from the hemp nut, has all 20 of them and the EAAs are in significantly higher amounts than its closest competitor (Figure 3). Even more significant is that hemp protein is made up of globulin edistin and albumin (Figure 4), both considered to be among the most easily digestible of all proteins.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are fatty acids which also cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained from food. They are known as the "good" fats. There are two closely related families of EFAs: omega-3 and omega 6.
Omega-3 consists of three major types: alpha-linolenic acid (LNA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Once ingested, the body converts LNA to EPA and DHA, the two omega-3s most readily used by the body. They are important for good health and normal growth and development. Many studies have shown that DHA plays an essential role in the normal development of the brain, eyes and nerves while EPA provides an anti-inflammatory benefit. Together, EPA and DHA aid in the maintenance of cardiovascular function.
Omega-6 is primarily linoleic acid (LA), which the body converts to gamma linoleic acid (GLA). GLA is thought to reduce inflammation and regulate blood pressure. Preliminary research indicates that GLA can aid in fighting rheumatoid arthritis, PMS, skin disorders and cancer.
Studies indicate that EFAs are "good" fats as long as the body gets balanced amounts of both. The optimum ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is between 1:1 and 4:1. Once again, hemp with a LA:LNA ratio of 3:1 is at the top of the heap (Figure 5).
Flavonoids are compounds found in fruits, vegetables and certain beverages that have antioxidant effects. Recently, flavonoids have aroused considerable interest because of their potential beneficial effects on human health. They have been reported to have antiviral, anti-allergic, antiplatelet, anti-inflammatory, antitumor and antioxidant activities.
Antioxidants are compounds that protect cells against the damaging effects of reactive oxygen species. An imbalance between antioxidants and reactive oxygen species results in oxidative stress, leading to cellular damage. Oxidative stress has been linked to cancer, aging, atherosclerosis, ischemic injury, inflammation and neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson's and Alzheimer's). Flavonoids may help provide protection against these diseases by contributing, along with antioxidant vitamins and enzymes, to the total antioxidant defense system of the human body. Epidemiological studies have shown that flavonoid intake is inversely related to mortality from coronary heart disease and to the incidence of heart attacks.(excerpt from Antioxidant Activities of Flavonoids by D.R. Buhler and C. Miranda, Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, Oregon State University).
Some flavonoids unique to hemp are called cannaflavins. Very little work specific to cannaflavins has been done. However, the flavonoids that they are most closely related to have positive vascular properties which are protective against heart disease and cancer.
Hemp also contains a related class of compounds called cannabinoids. The non- psychoactive cannabinoids (cannabinol, cannabidiol and cannabinolic acid) are thought to produce certain beneficial effects such as cell protection, immuno-suppression and anti-inflammatory properties.
The characteristic odor of the hemp plant is due to the abundant terpenes, none of which are psychoactive. Many terpenoids have potent anti-inflammatory activity or serve as neuroprotective antioxidants. Of the 16 main terpenes found in hemp, the most abundant, Caryphyllene, is most well-known as a non-toxic anti-tumor chemical. In addition, terpenes are known to have antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory anti-hypertension and analgesic activities.
In summary, hemp has 489 known components of which 20 are amino acids, 23 are fatty acids, 70 are cannbinoids, and 120 are terpenes. Hemp has been consumed for over 5,000 years by both people and animals and has a long history of being generally accepted as a safe and useful and eco-friendly plant.
Sources for the facts listed in captions under the charts and graphs:
Benhaim, Paul; A Modern Introduction to HEMP - From Food To Fibre: Past, Present And Future, Australia (2003).
Conrad, Chris; Hemp for Health, Healing Arts Press. Rochester, VT, (1997)
Dalotto, Todd; The HEMP Cookbook: From Seed To Shining Seed, Healing Arts Press Rochester, Vt (2000).
Essential fatty acids in health and disease; Journal,Assn of Physicians, India (1999 Sep; 47(9)), pp 906-11. Erasmus, Udo; Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill, Alive Books. Burnaby, B.C. (1996).
Horrobin, David F. Essential fatty acid metabolism and its modification in atopic eczema, American Society for Clinical Nutrition (2000).
Leson, Gero; Petra Pless; and John Roulac; Hemp Foods and Oils for Health, Hemptech, Sebastopol, CA (1991).
Miller, Carol, and Don Wirtshafter; The Hemp Seed Cookbook, Hempery, Athens, OH (1994).
About the author: Letizia Gasparetti is a freelance writer and owner of a Parelli Level 2 Missouri Foxtrotter, who loves Hemp for Horses. For more information: Letizia Gasparetti
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