28 February 2016

Hemp for Optimal Brain Health

There are over 400 phytonutrients that exist in hemp (Cannabis sativa L.), the same plant as Cannabis. Optimal brain health is achieved when linoleic acid (LA) and alpha linoleic acid (ALA) are consumed in a ratio only naturally found in hemp. The brain also has a requirement for cannabinoids, which regulate most of the major functions of the body including alertness, emotions, inflammation and cancer defences. The brain can make a small number of its own cannabinoids, but as 4,000 years of history and decades of scientific research indicate, it operates optimally when supplied with dietary cannabinoids, such as those found in hemp. The brain can build itself from saturated and monounsaturated fats but it has a preference for Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Research on humans and animals suggests that optimal brain health is achieved when linoleic acid (LA) and alpha linoleic acid (ALA) are consumed in a ratio of between 3.5:1 and 4:1, a ratio only naturally found in hemp. 

The fruit of hemp is not a true seed, but an 'achene', a tiny nut covered by a hard shell. But, like other oil seeds, hemp consists mainly of oil (typically 44%), protein (33%) and dietary fibre and other carbohydrates (12%, predominantly from residues of the hull). In addition, the nut contains vitamins (particularly the tocopherols and tocotrienols of the Vitamin E complex), phytosterols and trace minerals. Hemp’s main nutritional advantage over other seeds lies in the composition of its oil, i.e., its fatty acid profile and its protein, which contains all of the essential amino acids in nutritionally significant amounts and in a desirable ratio. More and more people are discovering the nutritional benefits of hemp seed, nut and oil.

However, confusion among the public on exactly how hemp oil differs from cannabidiol, or CBD oil, prompted the non-profit Hemp Industries Association in the United States (US) to issue a statement explaining the difference between the oils in order to ensure consumers, specifically medical Cannabis patients, were not misled about intended use. Confusion between hemp and Cannabis oil spiked as states in the US passed laws that allowed use of strains of Cannabis low in THC and high in CBD. Consumers often confuse hemp oil with CBD oil because both are low in THC and contain CBD. “With hemp research and development pilot programs taking off ... and the hemp retail market growing at an incredible rate, it’s crucial consumers and retailers alike understand the difference between hemp oil and CBD extracts”, Eric Steenstra, Executive Director of Hemp Industries Association, said.

Though hemp oil does contain low levels of CBD, typically less than 25 parts per million (ppm), CBD extracts “are produced either directly from Cannabis flowers that are up to 15% CBD (150,000 ppm), or indirectly as a co-product of the flowers and leaves that are mixed in with the stalks during hemp stalk processing for fibre”. Because of this distinction, the Association says, “It is important for American farmers and processors of hemp to understand that most CBD in products mislabelled as ‘hemp oil’ is a product of large-scale hemp stalk and fibre processing facilities in Europe where fibre is the primary material produced at a large scale. CBD is not a product or component of hemp seeds and labelling to that effect is misleading and motivated by the desire to take advantage of the legal grey area of CBD under federal law”.

The reason hemp is illegal is not because of any negative impact to the environment or human health, but exactly the opposite. It is so environmentally friendly, nutritionally and medicinally beneficial, that it provides too many abundant resources which would make it impossible for powerful corporations to compete. Although hemp was once the most important cash crop in the US, more so than corn and wheat combined, hemp was banned and classified as a Schedule I 'drug' under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. While classification under Schedule I meant hemp could no longer be grown in the US, products containing hemp, such as lotions, fabric and food, are legal for purchase in the US and are found at natural and health food retailers and grocers.

According to scientific and clinical studies, hemp oil has the potential to help a range of conditions including epilepsy, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, alcoholism, schizophrenia, PTSD, antibiotic-resistant infections and various neurological disorders. In addition to trying an alternative energy source, what if it were possible to address the underlying source of the brain’s energy problems? It has been shown that glucose receptor dysfunction in the brain is related to membrane instability from dietary essential fatty acid (EFA) deficiency. Restoration of adequate membrane EFA content increases glucose uptake and utilisation in brain cells. 

One of the functions of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids is to act as oxygen magnets and transporters. It is known that haemoglobin carries oxygen around the body; however, before oxygen can bind with the haemoglobin in red blood cells, it first has to be attracted to and released into the cell. This is exactly what Omega 3 and 6 do. Research in cystic fibrosis has shown that as cell membrane levels of linoleic acid (Omega 6) decrease and levels of oleic acid increase, the amount of oxygen entering the cell decreases. Linoleic acid, as found in hemp seed oil, undergoes “reversible oxygenation” much more easily than oleic acid. Researchers concluded that a diet overly rich in oleic acid and too low in linoleic acid can impair the oxygenation of cells.

The brain can produce its own cannabinoids, all of which are made from metabolites of linoleic acid as found in hemp seed oil. The receptors cannabinoids interact with are also made from Omega 3 and 6. Research shows Omega 3 deficiency leads to destruction of cannabinoid receptors resulting in various mental, emotional and physical dysfunctions. The entire Endocannabinoid System is best fuelled by hemp seed oil. Hemp seed oil’s unique content of Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids may be capable of addressing a number of medically neglected metabolic issues as well as optimising the function of the Endocannabinoid System.

Hemp seed oil is a great source of high-quality nutrients and has a long history of use in Eastern culture as a multi-purpose natural remedy. Despite its widespread popularity, prejudice related to its association with Cannabis has kept it from common use in the West. Thankfully, education is prevailing and the market for hemp seed oil is growing in the US, with an increasing number of people seeking it out for its reported health benefits.

Hemp seed oil contains essential fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), that are required for brain development. DHA is crucial to the health of the brain as well as the retina of the eye, particularly in the first year of life as described in the study,
The effects of n-3 fatty acid deficiency ... and function of the brain and retina. Mothers who supplement with hemp seed oil during pregnancy may provide brain- and eye-protective benefits for the developing baby.

Taking a fish oil supplement can be a helpful way to increase Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet, a nutrient that is essential for brain development, immune system health, and mood regulation. Expectant mothers certainly want to include these nutrients in their diet; however, fish contains a great deal of
mercury which can hinder neurological and developmental mechanisms in the unborn baby. Fortunately, hemp seed oil works as a terrific alternative to traditional Omega 3 fatty acid supplements and doesn’t carry the same risk of mercury ingestion.

Adapted from The Brain Needs Cannabinoids And Dietary Hemp Is The Answer, with Hemp Oil Versus CBD Oil: What’s The Difference?, Dr Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM, Roles of unsaturated fatty acids (especially omega-3 fatty acids) in the brain at various ages and during ageing, n-3 fatty acids and the immune system in autoimmunity, Omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of psychiatric disorders, Maternal Fish Consumption, Hair Mercury, and Infant Cognition in a US Cohort, 5 Health Benefits of Hemp Seed Oil

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