The Cardiac and Hemostatic Effects of Dietary Hemp Seed
Hemp is a plant that is cultivated for fiber and for its edible seeds. A wrong notion prevailed that hemp was psychoactive, just like marijuana and hashish. However, its utility as a healthy alternative to synthetic plastics is now well understood. Besides, hemp seed offers great physiological benefits. Let us look at some of the effects of Dietary Hemp Seeds in this article.
The blood in our body has to flow continuously for us to be healthy. At the same time, it must avoid spilling in situations where we get a cut or an injury. To prevent such spilling, clotting of the blood becomes necessary. However, clotting of the blood can cause problems too, because if the blood doesn’t flow to the heart, it could lead to severe complications like heart attack, stroke, etc. The clotting of the blood is known as hemostasis.
Cardiac issues or heart-related problems are the highest contributors to human death. It’s not hard to see that hemostasis and heart attacks are closely related, the former leading to the latter. Thus, controlling hemostasis is important for preventing heart attacks.
We also know what conditions typically contribute to heart problems. Fortunately, hemp seeds seem to have a positive impact on all of these, though to varying degrees. In this article, let us try and understand the effects of hemp seeds on hemostatic and cardiac issues.
Hemp Seeds – Rich in Nutrients
Hemp seeds are found to possess great nutritional value, being very rich in essential fatty acids and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. They also contain vitamins and minerals. In addition, hemp seeds are known to contain omega-3 and omega-6, that too in a healthy ratio. Hemp seeds are also rich sources of components that are known to reduce inflammation.
Why does the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio matter? A lower ratio is known to reduce the risk of chronic diseases that are prevalent in Western societies. So, lower the ratio, the better it is for health. For perspective, let us compare the above ratio in hemp seed oil with other commonly used oils:
Sunflower oil: >100
Corn oil: 57
Soybean oil: 6.2
Hempseed oil: 2.5
Research on Hemp Seeds
Even though hemp seeds have been part of our diet for very long, the amount of research on their efficacy has been surprisingly limited. This is partly because of legal restrictions and partly because of insufficient knowledge. Further, there has been a confusion between marijuana and fiber hemp that has contributed to the inadequacy of research. However, based on the limited research data available, there is enough evidence to suggest that hemp seed oil can potentially contain heart diseases.
Hemp seed contains high levels of the amino acid arginine which aids in the production of nitric oxide (NO). This molecule is known to actively contribute to the control of hemostasis of blood pressure. A study that was conducted with 13,400 participants suggested that an arginine-rich diet may help individuals to control the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Multiple tests have been conducted on the effects of hemp seeds on animals and human beings. They have yielded mixed results from which no concrete conclusion can be drawn. However, the results are good enough to provide enough motivation for conducting further research on the benefits of hemp seeds.
Hemp seed is a rich source of LA (Linolenic Acid) which aids in reducing the bleeding time. A study was conducted on rats fed with a 5% – 10% hemp seed for 12 weeks. This resulted in a significant increase in LA and ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid) levels and a considerable inhibition in platelet aggregation. This is a major positive finding as the clotting of blood plays a significant role in increasing the risks of heart attacks and strokes.
Rabbits that were fed with high cholesterol diets for 8 weeks showed enhanced platelet formation. However, when 10% of hemp seed was added to the diet, the same animals displayed normal platelet aggregations. This was attributable to the increased levels of plasma Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA). This finding has major implications for preventing/ treating cardiovascular diseases.
Ischemia is a condition in which the heart muscles receive insufficient blood. Rats fed with a 5 to 10% hemp seed supplemented diet for twelve weeks displayed significantly better recovery from the ischemic conditions. However, a similar study performed on rabbits failed to throw any positive results leading to a suspicion that the results may be species-dependent.
Study on Humans
A study has been conducted on humans to determine the right dose if hemp seed were to be administered to them. It appeared that, in order to achieve significant increases in fatty acid species, a higher dosage of hemp seed oil is required. If someone takes 2 large capsules of hemp seed oil, it would still be insufficient to achieve the desired levels of LA and GLA levels in the plasma. To obtain the optimal amount of omega 3 fatty acids, in addition to hemp oil capsules, one would need to consume tablespoons of hemp oil too.
Hemp seed is a rich source of LA. LA has beneficial effects of hemp seeds on cardiovascular circumstances. However, more research is needed to determine the specific conditions and pathologies in which it can be used.
Now, let us look at the effects of hemp seeds on some of the factors known to contribute to cardiac conditions.
Effect on Cholesterol Levels
In a test, it was determined that an LA-based diet decreased total cholesterol by 15% and LDL-C by 22%. In another study, it was found that LA supplemented diets decreased LDL-C levels and increased HDL-C levels, both of which are positive results. It has also been shown that healthy individuals supplemented with hemp seed have achieved a lower total-to-HDL cholesterol ratio, again a positive result.
However, the jury is still out. There seem to be quite a few variables that are at play and influence the results of such studies. To name a few:
- The population studied (healthy or having a clinical condition)
- The manner in which the seed is administered (whole hemp seed or milled one or oil etc.)
- The dosages given to the subjects
- The duration of the study
Hemp seed vs High blood pressure
High blood pressure or hypertension is another significant contributor to cardiac issues. The various studies conducted to determine the effect of dietary LA intake have produced conflicting results. While some determined that LA intake could prevent or control high blood pressure, there were others that could not establish a correlation between the two.
Atherosclerosis and Coronary Heart Disease
Atherosclerosis is defined as a disease of the arteries characterized by the deposition of fatty material on the walls. Per our current understanding, foods with an optimum LA to ALA ratio do reduce inflammation and are therefore good for the heart. However, there have been no completed studies of the effects of hemp seed supplements on atherosclerosis.
It is believed that while reducing LA intakes to less than 5% may increase the risk of coronary heart disease, increasing the intake would be beneficial.
Clearly, our knowledge of hemp seed vis-a-vis cardio-vascular diseases is limited. We need more evidence of the usefulness of hemp seed in controlling or preventing CVD. However, the data available with us give us the confidence to pursue the investigation of hemp seed as a way to control heart problems.