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If you mention hemp in mixed company, you’re likely to get some odd looks. Why? It’s simple — Many people still think a reference to “hemp” means marijuana or a narcotic substance. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Hemp can also refer to the seeds of the cannabis plant, Cannabis sativa. This hemp plant is the same species as cannabis (marijuana) but is a different variety that doesn’t contain significant amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component of cannabis. Hemp seeds are highly nutritious and an excellent source of protein. For that reason, hemp is a popular plant-based protein. 

Six Potential Benefits of Hemp as a Protein Source

Hemp protein powder has a nutty, earthy taste and sometimes a slightly gritty texture compared to other protein powders. So, for those especially sensitive to texture in their protein supplements, that’s something to keep in mind. Can you benefit from adding hemp to your diet? If it’s not on your allergy list, hemp offers several systemic health benefits. 

1 – Hemp Supports Digestion

Hulled hemp seeds have approximately 1.2 grams of fiber for every 3-tablespoon serving. The whole seeds (also called hemp hearts) have more fiber because they retain their fibrous outer shells. However, they’re much tougher to eat. [1 

When you eat hemp seeds, you’re getting both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber can help make you feel full longer, which may help prevent over-eating. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool and moves food through the digestive tract more quickly, allowing for healthier elimination. In a 2011 study of hemp seed pills, researchers found that taking 7.5 grams of hemp twice daily for eight weeks improved constipation. [2] 

Hemp is also easier to digest than most grains, legumes, or nuts due to its high levels of certain storage proteins called edestin and albumin. These proteins themselves help with digestion and are rapidly broken down in the gut. [3][4] 

Dietary fiber is essential not only for digestion but for the heart and skin (more on both below). A high-fiber diet can also improve blood sugar, an important marker for everyone but crucial if you’re one of the many people dealing with diabetes or prediabetes. 

2 – Hemp Aids Heart Health

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), heart disease is still the number one cause of death in the world today. Hemp seeds and hemp products, like hemp oil and hemp protein, offer several health benefits for cardiovascular health. They may be able to lower some of the risk factors. Here’s how: 

  • Hemp seeds contain an amino acid called arginine, used to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide makes your blood vessels dilate and relax, which in turn can help to lower elevated blood pressure. [5]
     
  • Arginine may reduce levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker often linked to heart disease. Since CRP is a general marker of inflammation and inflammation is a major contributing cause to virtually every disease, it can be said that getting adequate arginine may help to reduce chronic disease in general. [6]
     
  • Hemp seeds are a good source of essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3s and omega-6s in a favorable ratio. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to reduce inflammation, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. They can also lower levels of triglycerides, reduce blood pressure, decrease blood clotting, and decrease the risk of heart failure and arrhythmias. [7]
     
  • Hemp also contains a special omega-6 fatty acid called gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is known for its ability to lower inflammation levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions. [7]
     
  • Animal studies show that hemp can decrease the likelihood of blood clots forming and assist in heart repair following an attack in addition to lowering blood pressure. [8][9][10]  

Incorporating hemp seeds into the diet can help support cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of heart disease. However, everyone is different, and there are many contributing factors behind the development of heart disease. 

3 – Hemp May Ease Symptoms Associated with PMS and Menopause

Ladies, this one’s for you! The GLA in hemp helps to produce prostaglandin E1, which can reduce the effects of prolactin, a potential contributor to PMS symptoms, both emotional symptoms and physical symptoms. [11][12] GLA may also help alleviate discomfort associated with menopause. [13] 

4 – Hemp May Promote Healthy Skin

Eczema (atopic dermatitis), thick, callous-like skin and dry, cracked heels are common, especially in the winter months, for both men and women. The answer isn’t toxic, smelly creams, but essential fatty acids. [14] Again, hemp delivers. Hemp seeds are a great source of polyunsaturated and essential fatty acids. The 3:1 omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is considered the optimal range. It can also relieve dry skin and calm the itchiness that sometimes comes with it.

In a 20-week clinical trial comparing hemp seed oil to olive oil, those taking hemp had significant improvement in symptoms associated with atopic dermatitis (eczema). [15]  

5 – Hemp is an Amazing Source of Nutrition

As stated earlier, hemp contains arginine, GLA, and essential fatty acids. It’s also a great source of certain vitamins and minerals. You’ll find vitamin E, phosphorus, sodium, sulfur, potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc in hemp. It’s also an excellent source of antioxidants.  

It’s no wonder hemp seed oil has been used as a food and medicine in China for over 3000 years. [16] 

6 – Hemp is A Great Protein for Those Following a Plant-Based Diet

On average, adults need at least half is or her body weight in protein each day. Hemp is an excellent choice among vegan protein powders. It’s a high-quality vegan protein that contains all nine essential amino acids (protein building blocks) that the human body cannot produce on its own. This makes it particularly valuable for vegetarians and vegans who cannot get their protein through meat. So, if animal protein is off the menu, hemp is an excellent substitute. According to the USDA, hemp seeds are 32% protein.  [1] 

Hemp protein has a similar amino acid profile to soy and eggs, which are excellent vegetarian sources. However, both soy and eggs tend to be allergenic foods. Many patients who complete a food allergy test will have soy or eggs (or both) listed as a restricted food. Hemp may be a good substitute. [17] 

Fun fact: Hemp seeds are actually not seeds at all. They’re nuts. So, it should come as no surprise that they have a mild, nutty flavor that can enhance many of your dishes. 

Reach Out to The Wellness Way for Personalized Nutrition

Protein sources are getting a lot of attention these days, and with the wide variety of options, it’s easy to get confused.  If you ask what our pick is for a plant protein powder, we’ll pick hemp. It’s a great dietary supplement that has many health benefits. It has healthy fats, plenty of protein, and a variety of minerals that make it a true superfood. You can even combine it with other superfoods in a fresh smoothie to easily up your protein intake. Need personalized nutrition guidance? Try our online protein calculator and reach out to a Wellness Way clinic today!

Originally published January 6, 2017. Updated April 18, 2024.

References

  1. FoodData Central (usda.gov) 
  2. Efficacy of a Chinese herbal proprietary medicine (Hemp Seed Pill) for functional constipation – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  3. Physicochemical and functional properties of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) protein isolate – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  4. Protein Mass Fingerprinting and Antioxidant Power of Hemp Seeds in Relation to Plant Cultivar and Environment – PMC (nih.gov) 
  5. Dietary nitrates, nitrites, and cardiovascular disease – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  6. Association between dietary arginine and C-reactive protein – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  7. The cardiac and haemostatic effects of dietary hempseed – PMC (nih.gov) 
  8. Cholesterol-induced stimulation of platelet aggregation is prevented by a hempseed-enriched diet – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  9. Preventive and treatment effects of a hemp seed (Cannabis sativa L.) meal protein hydrolysate against high blood pressure in spontaneously hypertensive rats – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  10. Effect of dietary hempseed intake on cardiac ischemia-reperfusion injury – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  11. Essential fatty acids for premenstrual syndrome and their effect on prolactin and total cholesterol levels: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  12. The role of essential fatty acids and prostaglandins in the premenstrual syndrome – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  13. The effects of Cannabis sativa L. seed (hempseed) in the ovariectomized rat model of menopause – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  14. Omega 3 Fatty Acid and Skin Diseases – PMC (nih.gov) 
  15. Efficacy of dietary hempseed oil in patients with atopic dermatitis – PubMed (nih.gov) 
  16. Safety and efficacy comparison of polyethylene glycol, hemp seed oil, and 5% sugar brine for bowel preparation in older patients: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial – PMC (nih.gov) 
  17. Physicochemical and Functional Modifications of Hemp Protein Concentrate by the Application of Ultrasonication and pH Shifting Treatments – PMC (nih.gov) 

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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