The term “hemp” describes the fiber and seeds taken from the Cannabis sativa L. plant species, and hemp has long been applied to food, fiber, and medicine production ever since it originated from Central Asia. Hemp is rich with essential nutrients and bioactive phytochemical metabolites that nurture the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a rather unknown system of the body with a heavy influence on human health and well-being.
Hemp contains beneficial amounts of bioactive phytochemical metabolites and essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), polyunsaturated meaning two or more double bonds between carbons within the fatty acid chain. PUFAs are essential because they must be obtained from the diet. Of course, hemp also contains phytocannabinoids, which likely strengthen endocannabinoid tone.
PUFAs are precursors and homeostatic regulators of endocannabinoids (eCBs), lipid signaling molecules of the ECS that bind cannabinoid receptors like CB2. Thus, PUFAs represent a key step in maintaining the health of the ECS, which plays an important role in the human body: restoring homeostasis via various physiological and regulatory mechanisms.
There are two major types of PUFAs:
- Omega-3s (ALA, EPA, DHA)
- Omega-6s (linoleic acid, arachidonic acid)
PUFAs promote brain and overarching systemic health, aligning physiological balance in the human body. Omega-3s specifically are abundant in the brain and retina, providing an energy source and aiding in signal transduction. These PUFAs also regulate various mechanisms in the cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune, and endocrine systems. Studies have shown that dietary supplementation with fish and/or fish oil containing DHA and EPA promotes specific modulation of the CB2 receptor.
There are potential health consequences of omega-3 deficiency, as many research studies have suggested that adequate consumption of omega-3s decreases risk of coronary heart diseases, mental abnormalities, and growth and developmental disorders.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), about 7.8% of adults and 1.1% children in the United States use supplements containing fish oil, omega-3s, and DHA or EPA. The recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) and Adequate Intake (AI) for omega-3s vary based on age, sex, and reproductive status. See the following table from the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements:
Unhealthy inflammation is a common underlying cause for all systemic imbalances in the body, including in the ECS:
- Unhealthy inflammation can be induced by tissue stress and systemic malfunction
- Chronic inflammation can be triggered by disrupted homeostasis
- Inflammation is also associated with the negative effects of oxidative stress
However, along with natural antioxidants and fiber obtained via phytonutrients and other parts of a healthy, whole-food diet, omega-3s support healthy inflammation.