It has acquired an unsavoury reputation for being related to cannabis but hemp could turn out to be a remarkable cure for many ailments. Mary Salmon reports.
Hemp has the unfortunate claim to fame of being a relative of cannabis, making many people wary of its properties but hempseed oil, a cousin of the cannabis plant with very little narcotic content, can give relief to sufferers of arthritis, eczema and premenstrual syndrome. In fact, cold-pressed hempseed oil is described as “the most complete source of vegetable nutrition known to man”.
Until recently, there was very little scientific evidence to back up these bold claims, but a new study done by research scientist, Dr Jace Callaway, found the plant is an excellent source of essential fatty acids (EFAs). It also contains several minerals, antioxidants and protein.
“Hempseed oil is rich in both omega-3 and omega- 6 fatty acids and is the single most balanced source available,” says Dr Callaway, who is based at the University of Kuopio, Finland.
EFAs are important for the proper functioning of the immune system, brain health, wound healing and for insulating nerves. They’re found in every cell in the body but as we can’t make them ourselves we need to get them from food.
In contrast to the saturated fat in meat and dairy produce, EFAs are also beneficial for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.
In the Finnish study, a group of four healthy volunteers took the oil for four weeks, followed by an identical period on linseed oil.Both oils were found to increase levels of EFAs in the blood but researchers were surprised to find that linseed oil actually lowered levels of a fatty acid called GLA, an important anti-inflammatory, while hempseed oil increased the levels.
“GLA is often seen as a miraculous cure for allergic diseases such as eczema, because it helps the immune system function better,” says Dr Callaway.
As well as helping with skin conditions, GLA is the same active ingredient in evening primrose oil that helps to control the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
While evening primrose oil is a richer source of GLA than hempseed oil, it has very little omega- 3 fatty acids. Hemp has omega-3, omega-6 and GLA, making it one of the best cold-pressed oils available.
According to London-based nutritionist, Lorraine Perretta, hemp is also a useful beauty aid. “Skin looks better after taking it for a few weeks, as does hair and nails, which become stronger and healthier,” she says.
Nutritionist Amanda Geary – who heads the Food and Mood Project, a nutritional education programme – says hemp products may help ease mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. “These conditions are often linked to low levels of omega-3 fatty acids,” she says. “These acids are mostly found in oily fish, including mackerel, sardines and salmon, but many of us don’t get enough as we don’t eat the recommended two portions of fish a week. Hempseed oil is a good alternative.”
Hemp has a long history of use around the world, and was used for centuries as a folk remedy in Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe. The plant fell out of favour in the early 1900s because of the bad reputation of its relative, cannabis.
Hemp is now enjoying a revival, but growers still have to get a licence from the Home Office to grow it in the UK. The products do have a small narcotic content but you would need to consume around a litre of the oil to get a cannabis high. The taste is pleasant and slightly nutty – and for those who aren’t keen on the idea of drinking a tablespoon of oil a day, there are many other ways that you can consume the product.
A company called Mother Hemp has produced a line of hemp-containing foods, including ice cream, pasta, pesto sauce and toasted whole seeds, which can be eaten as a snack or sprinkled on food.
The crushed seeds can also be used to make bread, cakes and biscuits, or even hemp milk. Oil capsules are also available. Sainsbury’s Wellbeing sections stock the products.
While the foods can be cooked before eating, the oil should not be heated to a high temperature (more than 150C) or it will lose its valuable properties. Ideally, it should be eaten raw or poured on salads or pasta, and stored in an opaque bottle in a refrigerator.
Hempseed oil and hemp foods can be ordered from the Nutri Centre on 0800 587 2290 or from Goldshield on 0870 8877000. Mother Hemp’s website is motherhemp.com or see www.goldshield.co.uk/hemp
HELP: Gail Williamson gave hempseed oil to her son Ross for his eczema
Ross had bad eczema since he was a month old. It started out in his creases but soon spread all over his body so he was very uncomfortable with the dry itchy skin. Ross was treated with hydrocortisone cream, a steroid prescription drug for eczema but it can have the side-effect of thinning the skin, so I set about finding an alternative.
A neighbour told me about a magazine article she had read about hempseed oil and eczema, so I decided it was worth a try.
Ross takes three 1,000mg capsules a day. The change in him has been gradual since he first started taking it last October.
His wellbeing has now greatly improved as the eczema is much less prolific. He still has a bit on his face but it’s not bad enough to need the steroid creams.
It’s also a great comfort for Ross that he doesn’t have the itching any more and he’s no longer embarrassed to wear short sleeves.
MOBILE: Hempseed oil helped Wendy Goodman treat her arthritis.
I first heard of hemp oil from a nutritionist who recommended it for the arthritis, which I’ve had for years. I also suffered from a prolapsed disc in my back two years ago. The pain of both was too much for me.
I noticed a difference within just a week. At first, the changes were subtle, such as feeling less stiff. My prolapsed disc has now healed by itself, and I attribute this to the oil. As I was not very mobile, I was using a walking stick for a while. Two months ago, I was finally able to throw it away.
I am now able to enjoy doing all the things I used to do which include dancing, walking and exercise.