Hemp has been grown for thousands of years by humans, both for its fibrous stalks and for the nutritional value of its seeds: hemp seed benefits include high levels of both essential fatty acids and all 9 essential amino acids. Although the cannabis industry is still in its infancy, hemp seed benefits have been capitalized on for the better part of 2 decades in the US. Since 2000, hemp seeds have been marketed in health food stores, and more recently generic grocery stores, for their many healthy characteristics. So what makes hemp seed benefits so great?
Hemp seed benefits from protein content
One of the most useful hemp seed benefits is the abnormally high protein content found in hemp seeds. Hemp seeds contain similar protein-to-weight and protein-to-calorie ratios as beef and lamb. About one third of the dry weight of hemp seeds is protein. Hemp seed protein is about ⅔ edestin, and ⅓ albumin. Edestin and albumin are two common storage proteins found in eggs and nuts, and albumin is the primary constituent in both egg whites and in blood serum. Both of these proteins can contain all 20 amino acids, and both are readily digestible by humans (most other forms of edestin and albumin don’t contain all 20 amino acids, but the functional cysteine peptides that define them as “edestin” and “albumin” remain unchanged even though their composition may technically be different). Edestin is also a precursor to several potent antioxidants, and one of the medical benefits of CBD is its ability to prevent the breakdown of these hemp seed protein-derived cellular protectors.1,2,3,4
Why is protein so important?
Protein is necessary for the health and function of every single cell in every single living organism. Our DNA is comprised of around 25,000 individual genes: each of these genes codes for a specific protein that serves some purpose in the growth or function of that specific cell. Even eye color is determined by which protein is found in the muscles which contract and dilate our pupils. Proteins are large and functional molecules that serve thousands of biological purposes, and some can even physically change their shape, like myosin in muscles, which allows muscles to contract thanks to the shortening of its shape in the presence of sodium ions.
Proteins are comprised of amino acids, which are small molecules that link together to form short chains called peptides and long chains called polypeptides. Polypeptides make up proteins, and some proteins have 2 or 3 polypeptide chains. DNA, which is essentially a really long, microscopic zipper, is separated and one side is used like instructions by RNA, which takes amino acids and assembles them into peptide chains to match the other side of the zipper.
Although there are 20 different amino acids that make up peptides, humans can only synthesize 11 of them; this means 9 amino acids are essential to our diet, because we can’t create them in our bodies. While most sources of protein don’t contain all 20 amino acids, the greatest hemp seed benefit is its status as a “complete protein” because it possesses all 20 amino acids; one of the only natural sources of protein with this characteristic.1,3
Hemp seed benefits from fat content
The other primary hemp seed benefit is the high fat content found in hemp seeds. While some fats (lipids) are unhealthy and can lead to obesity, fatty acids are as necessary to our health as amino acids. Similar to amino acids forming peptides, fatty acids combine in groups of three with a glycerol molecule to form what we commonly think of as fat; triglycerides. However, fatty acids have hundreds of other purposes in our body in addition to the efficient energy-storage capacity of the triglycerides they form.
You’ve probably heard of omega-3 fatty acids, but hemp seeds contain a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. This is actually more conducive to human health and digestion, as omega-6 fatty acids have more uses and require less energy for their manipulation. These are both essential fatty acids, again similar to essential amino acids, because we cannot produce them within our bodies: it’s essential that we obtain them in our diet. Fatty acids are important signalling molecules in our immune system, and they are the precursors of all of the endocannabinoids, so without essential omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, our entire body can be thrown out of balance.
Benefits for PMS?
Additionally, hemp seeds have received acclaim over the last few years thanks to studies of their impact on the 80% of women who experience PMS, or premenstrual syndrome. The female monthly hormone cycle is very complex, but one hormone in particular is peculiarly implicit in the creation of the mood and pain-related symptoms of PMS: prolactin. This hormone, as its name implies, triggers the production of milk in mammary glands. This function causes tenderness for many women.
Moreover, when prolactin is injected into women who are not in the premenstrual portion of their cycle, and also both women who have undergone hysterectomies and also men, nearly all participants report mood changes and irritability, and increased sensitivity to pain: all common symptoms of PMS. Here’s the interesting part: when diet alone was modified to include a full daily serving of essential fatty acids, the symptoms subsided. This is due to one of the primary metabolites of omega-6 fatty acids, prostaglandin E, which blocks prolactin receptors and prevents many of the symptoms caused by prolactin binding.
- “Full Report (All Nutrients): 12012, Seeds, Hemp Seed, Hulled.” Food Composition Databases Show Foods -- Seeds, Hemp Seed, Hulled, USDA Agri Research Center, May 2016, ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3614?man=&lfacet=&count=&max=&qlookup=&offset=&sort=&format=Full&reportfmt=other&rptfrm=&ndbno=&nutrient1=&nutrient2=&nutrient3=&subset=&totCount=&measureby=&Qv=1000&Q6777=3.0.
- Callaway, J.C. Euphytica (2004) 140: 65. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10681-004-4811-6
- Dispensable and Indispensable Amino Acids for Humans, J. Nutr. 2000 130: 7 1835S-1840S
- J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Nov 24;58(22):11801-7. doi: 10.1021/jf102636b. Epub 2010 Oct 26.
- Rocha Filho, E. A., Lima, J. C., Pinho Neto, J. S., & Montarroyos, U. (2011). Essential fatty acids for premenstrual syndrome and their effect on prolactin and total cholesterol levels: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study. Reproductive Health, 8, 2. http://doi.org/10.1186/1742-4755-8-2