Over the centuries, hemp seeds and their oil have been recognized by various cultures as an effective herbal treatment for a variety of ailments, from constipation to PMS.
Today, research shows that hemp seed oil can have therapeutic benefits, including possibly reducing heart disease and cholesterol.
"Hemp seed oil is starting to take its place as the most beneficial of all natural oils available today," says Tim Neal of Ferndale-based Great Lakes Hemp.
Whether or not thats true, hemp seeds do offer some extremely important "good" fats: They contain essential fatty acids (EFAs), which is another term for the "good" polyunsaturated fats, says John Staines, vice president of Hempola, a hemp company near Toronto.
The three main EFAs are Omega 6 (linolenic acid), Omega 3 (alpha linolenic acid) and GLA (gamma linolenic acid). One hemp seed contains as much as 60 percent Omega 6, 25 percent Omega 3 and 4 percent GLA.
These "good" fats have reported therapeutic effects in treatments for acne, arthritis, some cancers, cholesterol, PMS and some heart conditions.
While there are other sources of EFAs, such as flax and canola oil, hemp seed oil provides the body with a broad spectrum of EFAs, says Dr. Joel Casman, a naturopathic doctor based in Southfield. "Hemp has a nice equal division of the Omegas, which is one advantage that hemp seed oil has over the other oils," he says.
Hemp seed oil also has high amounts of vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and potassium.
Staines suggests taking a tablespoon of the oil every day to ward off osteoporosis and to help clean out the arteries. "Think of hemp seed oil as the anti-cholesterol oil," Staines says.
David Klurfeld, chair of the nutrition and food science department at Wayne State University, agrees. "Hemp seed oil has a very good ratio of Omega 3s and 6s, and these offer some of the better fats for reducing cholesterol," even if science doesnt quite understand how, he says.
One problem with hemp seed oil, Klurfeld notes, is that "hemp seed oil is like poppy seeds on a bagel consuming it can get a false-positive drug test."
Essential fatty acids are sorely missing from most American diets, says John Roulac, co-author of Hemp Foods and Oils for Health (Hemptech, $6.95, 62 pp.). Since human bodies cant make EFAs, we need to eat them. Hemp seed oil and seeds can be combined into many foods and supplements, Roulac says.
One of his projects is Nutiva, a hemp food line of his California-based company, Hemptech. The company has had a good response to its first food venture, a candy bar made with hemp, flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds held together with honey. In the first 90 days, they sold more than 30,000 bars. A new Nutiva organic hemp chocolate bar will be coming out soon.
"Hemp seeds and their oils are going to be the vitamins of the 21st century," predicts Roulac.
According to Morton Genser, co-director for the Great Lakes region of the Institute for Plant-Based Nutrition, hemp will be a major food product in the next millennium.
"I have no doubt that hemp is the tree of life," he says.
Hemp seed oil can be found at Good Food Company, Troy, Nutri-Foods in Royal Oak and various Merchants of Vino-Whole Foods locations. Great Lakes Hemp, Ferndale, 248-546-6117, carries hemp seeds, oils and hemp snacks.