Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are the seeds of the hemp (Cannabis sativa) plant. Technically, the hemp plant is the same as the cannabis (marijuana) plant. Despite being the same genus and species, hemp doesn’t have the same effects as cannabis, but it still shares a similar history.

In 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act made hemp production illegal throughout the United States. In the 1970s, it was classified along with cannabis as a Schedule 1 federally controlled substance. It wasn’t until the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill that industrial hemp became legal again. It’s a versatile plant that many people use to make fabrics, plastic and paper bag alternatives, pet bedding, biofuel, and food. The seeds of the plant are edible as well, and the FDA lists them as a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) food. 

Unlike the cannabis plant, hemp plants only contain trace amounts of THC. The seeds cannot get you high.

Health Benefits

Hemp seeds, which are also often called hemp hearts, are a highly nutritious food. They’re over 30% fat and are rich in two essential fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6). The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is typically 2:1 or 3:1 in hemp seeds, which is considered excellent for human health. 

In addition to the essential fatty acids, hemp seeds are a great source of protein, which makes up approximately 25% of their calories. These small seeds provide many important health benefits, including:

Healthy Digestion

Hemp seeds are an excellent source of dietary fiber. They contain soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which are necessary for healthy digestion. Healthy digestion is important for avoiding issues such as constipation. Getting enough fiber in your diet is also linked to a lower risk of developing certain health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer

Keep in mind that while hemp seeds are high in fiber, their hulls are what contain a majority of the nutrient. Hulled hemp seeds (hemp hearts) don’t have the outer layer, making them much lower in fiber. 

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Improves Heart Health

Fiber plays a role in lowering your cholesterol levels, which is important for a healthy heart. Hemp seeds also contain various other nutrients that can aid in the health of this vital organ, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as the amino acid arginine

Arginine is responsible for producing nitric oxide in your body. Nitric oxide helps blood vessels to relax, which lowers your blood pressure and reduces your risk of developing heart disease. Arginine may also help to reduce C-reactive protein levels, which further helps your heart. 

Reduces Inflammation

In addition to alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, hemp seeds also contain gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Some studies on animals suggest that GLA may help to reduce inflammation in the body. More research is needed to confirm the results for humans. Reducing inflammation may help to lower your risk of developing many conditions, such as:

Aids in Skin Health

Inflammation can contribute to skin conditions such as acne and atopic dermatitis. Acne may also occur as a result of too little omega-3s in your diet. Some research suggests that increasing your omega-3 intake can help to reduce the symptoms of skin conditions and improve your skin’s health. 

May Help with PMS and Menopause Symptoms

The gamma-linolenic acid in hemp seeds produces prostaglandin E1, which helps to reduce the effects of prolactin, particularly those that cause the side effects of premenstrual syndrome. GLA may help to reduce breast tenderness, irritability, and water-retention. 

The fatty acid may also help to reduce symptoms of menopause. Studies show that GLA may help with the hormone imbalances that occur during menopause, as well as inflammation.  

Nutrients

Hemp seeds are a highly nutritious food. They contain many important nutrients, such as:

Nutrients Per Serving

In 3 tablespoons hemp seeds, you’ll find:

  • Calories: 170
  • Protein: 10 grams
  • Fat: 12 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 5 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 1 gram

Things to Watch Out For

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While hemp seeds are a healthy addition to your diet, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, they are high in calories and fat. Eating the seeds in moderation can be beneficial, but eating too many may lead to high caloric and fat intake. 

You should also avoid eating hemp seeds if you take certain medications. The seeds may interfere with cardiac glycosides, such as digoxin. These medications help to maintain a healthy heart rate, and hemp can do the same. Combining the two may lead to bradycardia.

Hemp seeds may also enhance the effects of certain diuretics. They can trigger your body to flush out too much potassium, which can lead to dangerously low potassium levels.

How to Use Hemp Seeds

You can find hemp seeds for sale in most grocery and health food stores, and you can use them in a variety of different ways. Some of the most popular applications include:

  • Blending them into smoothies
  • Topping salads or yogurt
  • Baking hemp seeds into muffins
  • Making homemade hemp milk 
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 07, 2020

Sources

Sources:

US Food and Drug Administration: “FDA Responds to Three GRAS Notices for Hemp Seed-Derived Ingredients for Use in Human Food.”

Journal of Analytical Toxicology: “Evaluating the Impact of Hemp Food Consumption on Workplace Drug Tests.”

Euphytica: “Hempseed as a Nutritional Resource: An Overview.”

Nutrients: “Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits.”

Mayo Clinic: “Dietary Fiber: Essential for a Healthy Diet.”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Cholesterol-Lowering Effects of Dietary Fiber: A Meta-Analysis.”

Current Atherosclerosis Reports: “Dietary Nitrates, Nitrites, and Cardiovascular Disease.”

Nutrition: “Association Between Dietary Arginine and C-Reactive Protein.”

European Journal of Pharmacology: “Gamma-Linolenic Acid, Dihommo-Gamma Linolenic Eicosanoids, and Inflammatory Processes.”

Skin Therapy Letter: “Skin and Diet: An Update on the Role of Dietary Changes as a Treatment Strategy for Skin Disease.”

Reproductive Health: “Essential Fatty Acids for Premenstrual Syndrome and Their Effect on Prolactin and Total Cholesterol Levels: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study.”

The Journal of Reproductive Medicine: “The Role of Essential Fatty Acids and Prostaglandins in the Premenstrual Syndrome.”

Aging: “Calcium, Gamma-Linolenic Acid, and Eicosapentaenoic Acid Supplementation in Senile Osteoporosis.” 

USDA FoodData Central: “Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Hulled.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Seeds, Hemp, Living Harvest.”

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