Can Arachidonic Acid (ARA) work as a Bodybuilding supplement?

Effects of Arachidonic Acid Supplementation on Acute Anabolic Signaling and Chronic Functional Performance and Body Composition Adaptations

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the superstars of the essential fatty acid world, and are found primarily in fish and seafood. A tremendous amount of research has investigated the impact of these fatty acids on health and exercise performance. They have been previously discussed in ERD #12 for their potential beneficial role in increasing strength and muscle protein synthesis.

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Less researched is arachidonic acid (ARA, depicted in Figure 1), the omega-6 cousin to EPA that the body synthesizes from linoleic acid, the plant-based omega-6 found in nuts, seeds, and their oils. It can also be obtained in the diet from meat and eggs, albeit in small amounts.

Despite its lesser-known presence in the nutrition world, ARA is an incredibly important and prominent fatty acid in cell membranes. It is found at a level comparable to that of DHA in neural membranes, including in the brain, where it comprises 10-12% of total fatty acids. In skeletal muscle, ARA has been found to make up 15-17% of total fatty acids.

The body relies on ARA for inflammation, a normal and necessary immune response to repair damaged tissue. Specifically, ARA is the precursor to various leukotrienes, prostaglandins, and thromboxanes, collectively known as eicosanoids. While the majority of ARA-derived eicosanoids act to promote inflammation, some also act to resolve it (i.e., are anti-inflammatory).

Scientists hypothesize that ARA plays a central role in the adaptive response to strength training. After all, strength training causes an acute inflammatory response that’s necessary to build bigger muscles. For instance, two prostaglandins produced from ARA are PGE2 and PGF2α. Test tube studies performed with skeletal muscle fibers indicate that PGE2 increases protein breakdown while PGF2α stimulates protein synthesis. Other test tube studies have also found PGF2α to increaseskeletal muscle fiber growth.

In support of these test tube findings, research in young adults has shown that consuming non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) after exercise blunts the normal increase in muscle protein synthesis through suppressing the normal increase in PGF2α. In contrast, administration of NSAIDs to older adults has been shown to enhance strength and size gains in response to resistance training by suppressing other forms of inflammation in addition to the beneficial PGF2α. Regardless of outcome, this research does clearly indicate a role of ARA-derived prostaglandins in the adaptive response to exercise.

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If blunting ARA-derived prostaglandin formation attenuates adaptations to resistance training in young adults, then perhaps the reverse is also true (as shown in Figure 2)—that increasing prostaglandin formation enhances adaptations to resistance training. Supplementation with ARAincreases the ARA content of serum phospholipids. This increased availability is associated with increased prostaglandin formation. Accordingly, the current study was designed to examine whether ARA supplementation affected body composition and muscle function in strength-training individuals. This study also used rats to evaluate the effect of ARA supplementation on anabolic signaling mechanisms.

Arachidonic acid is an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid synthesized in the body from linoleic acid and consumed in the diet from meat and eggs. The body relies on ARA to promote and help resolve inflammation, and some research suggests that blunting ARA-derived inflammation may attenuate skeletal muscle adaptation to resistance training in young adults. This study sought to test the opposite—whether ARA supplementation would enhance adaptations to resistance training.

Who and what was studied?

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This study included two phases. Phase 1 is shown in Figure 3. It constituted an eight-week, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial involving 30 healthy, young males with a minimum of two years of strength training experience. Each participant was randomly assigned to consume two soft gels containing 1.5 grams total of ARA or placebo (corn oil). Instructions were given to maintain usual dietary habits and consume the soft gels about 45 minutes before training sessions, or whenever convenient on non-training days. Compliance via pill count was above 99% in both groups.

The supervised strength training program was performed three times per week on alternating days. Monday was lower body (leg press, leg extension, leg curls, and hyperextensions), Wednesday was back and biceps (bent over rows, lat pulldown, and barbell curls), and Friday was chest, shoulders, and triceps (bench press, military press, skull crushers, and barbell shrugs). Each exercise was performed for four sets of eight to 12 repetitions, and the weight was increased when a given weight could be lifted 8-12 times for all four sets with proper form. Participants were allowed to rest for two minutes between sets and three minutes between exercises. Repetitions were performed with a 3:1 concentric to eccentric tempo.

Before and about 48 hours after the last training session, participants were assessed for body composition via DXA scan, muscle thickness of the vastus lateralis (a muscle of the quadriceps), muscle strength (one rep-max bench press and leg press), and muscle power (cycle ergometer Wingate test).

Phase 2 of this study was an eight-day experiment involving rats who were fed once daily with either 1.2 milliliters of tap water or 44 milligrams of ARA dissolved in 1 milliliter of tap water. This dose of ARA is roughly equal to that used in phase 1 based on species conversion calculations. After eight days, the rats were subjected to electrical stimulation of one of their hind legs in order to mimic an acute strength-training stimulus (the other leg served as a control). Therefore, there were four groups: exercise or no exercise, plus either ARA or placebo. Anabolic and inflammatory signaling of the hind leg muscle tissue was analyzed three hours following exercise stimulation.

Partial funding for this study came from Molecular Nutrition, a company that holds the patent for and currently markets the ARA supplement used in the study, called X-Factor Advanced.

Resistance-trained males underwent an eight-week resistance training program while supplementing 1.5 grams per day of ARA or corn oil placebo. Body composition, muscle strength, and muscle power were assessed before and after the intervention. Additionally, rats were fed either plain water or ARA dissolved in water for eight days, and then had their right hind leg subjected to electrical stimulation to mimic strength training. After that, muscle tissue from both legs was analyzed for anabolic and inflammatory signals.

What were the findings?

Lean body mass significantly increased in the ARA group only (+1.6 kilograms; 3%), with almost no change in the placebo group. Similarly, while both groups significantly increased muscle thickness compared to baseline, the increase was marginally greater in the ARA group (8% vs. 4% increase; p=0.08). Neither group showed a significant change or difference from one another in fat mass.

Leg press 1RM was significantly increased in both groups without significant difference between them. In contrast, bench press 1RM (+8.7%), Wingate peak power (+12.7%), and average peak power (+13.2%) significantly increased in the ARA group only, leading to a significant difference in performance compared to the placebo group, which experienced no significant changes. When bench press and leg press 1RMs were combined to represent total-body strength, only the ARA group showed a significant increase.

The rat experiment revealed numerous significant changes from baseline in anabolic and catabolic signaling pathways, muscle protein synthesis, inflammatory gene expression, and muscle tissue gene expression. However, only two of these were significantly different between the ARA and control groups. The first was a significantly greater reduction in AMPK activation when ARA was combined with exercise as compared to the other three groups. The second was a significantly greater activation of GSK-3β (glycogen synthase kinase 3 beta) in the non-exercised leg ARA group, as well as a significantly greater reduction in GSK-3β after exercise.

ARA supplementation led to significantly greater increases in lean body mass, bench press 1RM, and power output than placebo. The rat experiment showed that ARA led to a significant reduction in AMPK and GSK-3β activation when ARA was combined with exercise as compared to the other groups. Other markers of anabolism and catabolism were not affected by ARA treatment, although they were affected by exercise.

What does the study really tell us?

The primary findings of this study were that eight weeks of ARA supplementation in combination with a resistance training program lead to significantly greater increases in lean body mass, bench press strength, and muscle power output than placebo in young, strength-trained men.

These findings are somewhat in contrast to previous research. The only other study to date investigating the effect of ARA supplementation on resistance-trained young men found that consuming one gram per day of ARA significantly increased Wingate peak power output by about 13% compared to placebo, but had no effect on changes in body composition or strength. There are important methodological differences between this and the current study that may explain why no effect on strength and body composition was observed.

Both studies recruited young men with strength training experience and had them undergo a resistance training program while supplementing ARA or placebo for about eight weeks. However, the dose in the current study was 1.5 grams per day compared to one gram per day in the previous research. Additionally, the previous study used a split-body linear periodization routine performed four days per week, which meant that each major muscle group was being trained more frequently (twice vs. once per week) with greater volume (six vs. four total weekly sets). Finally, the previous study used food logs to ensure that the participants were consuming at least two grams per kilogram bodyweight of protein daily, whereas the current study did not control for or monitor dietary intake.

It is difficult to conclude that ARA has beneficial effects on body composition and strength in light of the conflicting evidence between these two studies. What was the rationale for the resistance training program used in this study, as opposed to the previous study? And why would this study not ensure adequate protein intake, or at the very least monitor dietary intake? Although the fact that Molecular Nutrition funded both studies doesn’t at all invalidate the results, it’s possible for a follow-up study to have a slightly different study design and thus have increased chances of finding a significant. The first study didn’t show as promising results, and unfortunately it isn’t known which study characteristics might affect the eventual outcomes.

Of note, the authors of the current study note in their discussion that “the training in the current study was intentionally stagnated (e.g. non-periodized regimen) in order to induce a training plateau in those strength-trained males.” Additionally, it’s widely agreed upon that a protein intake of 1.2-2.2 g/kg bodyweight is necessary to allow adaptation to training for individuals at or above their energy needs (Phillips et al; Tarnopolsky; Phillips & Van Loon; ISSN & ACSM position stands). However, requirements may increase to 2-3 g/kg to offset the loss of muscle mass when the athlete is in a caloric deficit. Without controlling for dietary intake, we have no idea what the protein requirements to optimize muscle growth were for the participants, and the possibility remains that dietary differences in both protein and calories had an effect on the increased LBM with ARA supplementation.

Future research will be needed to investigate if 1.5 grams per day of ARA also has benefit when the participants are known to be consuming adequate protein and undergoing a periodized resistance training program designed to promote muscle growth.

Muscle power output appeared to benefit from ARA supplementation in the current and previous research. The mechanism for this finding remains to be determined. It is possible that ARA modulates neuromuscular signaling through its incorporation into cell membranes, similar to EPA and DHA as discussed in ERD #12. At least one study supports the notion that ARA increases neurotransmitter firing from nerve cells. More research investigating why ARA supplementation increases muscle power output is warranted.

The rat experiment found largely null findings with regard to the effects of ARA supplementation on anabolic and catabolic signaling pathways, muscle protein synthesis, inflammatory gene expression, and muscle tissue gene expression. Additionally, the previously mentioned trial found no significant effect of ARA supplementation on muscle protein content or gene expression, supporting the findings of the current study.

Nonetheless, a significant baseline elevation was observed in GSK-3β with ARA supplementation. GSK-3β was originally named for its ability to inhibit glycogen synthesis and regulate glucose metabolism, but recent evidence suggests it also plays an important role in cell signaling, cell division and growth, and cell death. How ARA increased GSK-3β remains to be determined, as do the short- and long-term consequences of such an elevation. Notably, some evidence has found elevated GSK-3β in the skeletal muscle of persons with type-2 diabetes and insulin resistance. Similarly, selective inhibition of GSK-3β improves insulin action and glucose uptake into skeletal muscle tissue.

ARA supplementation also significantly reduced AMPK activation when combined with exercise. It is well-known that AMPK activates in response to a deprivation of cellular energy, leading to, among other things, a reduction in protein synthesis and inhibition of the anabolic mTOR pathway. Again, the implications of this finding remain unknown, although it is plausible that this played a role in the significantly greater lean body mass observed with ARA supplementation. Still, there were no significant differences in other anabolic signaling pathways.

This study tells us that young men with resistance training experience may benefit from ARA supplementation through increased lean body mass, muscular strength, and muscular power. However, with only a single other study conducted to date investigating these outcomes with regard to ARA supplementation, drawing firm conclusions is difficult, especially because the other study found a benefit for muscular power only, and not body composition or muscular strength.

The big picture

It is well established that an imbalanced intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is associatedwith many chronic diseases that have an underlying inflammatory component, such as obesity and cardiovascular disease. It has been estimated that humans evolved eating a diet containing a 4:1 to 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. This ratio is at least 15:1 in the modern Western diet. In light of this, one could speculate how long-term supplementation of ARA may impact health outside of potential changes in body composition. According to the USDA Food Database, the richest sourceof ARA is boiled beef kidney, which provides 0.37 grams per 100 grams of kidney. To obtain the 1.5-gram dose of used in the study under review, one would need to eat about 400 grams or 14 ounces of boiled kidney daily. The next richest source is braised beef brisket. Yet, at 0.06 grams per 100 grams of brisket, one would need to eat 2500 grams or 5.5 pounds daily. It appears safe to say that the supplemental dose of ARA used in the current study is not realistically obtainable through the diet, something that has been touched on before when discussing animal-based trans-fat research in ERD Issue 14 and when discussing gluten research in ERD Issue 18.

As mentioned previously, it has been shown that supplementation with ARA increases the ARA content of serum phospholipids and that this increased availability is associated with increased prostaglandin formation. Therefore, it stands to reason that long-term supplementation might increase inflammation in the body. Whether this would beneficial or detrimental over the long term remains to be determined.

Other health effects are also unpredictable. On the one hand, supplementing with ARA could potentially have a negative effect on the brain through increasing the production of beta-amyloid, which is one of the key events that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand, elderly Japanese adults (56+ years) have lower concentrations of ARA in red blood cell membranes than younger adults (in their 20s) after controlling for EPA and DHA content. And supplementation with 240 milligrams of ARA daily for one month among elderly people has demonstrated efficacy forimproving cognitive function while also increasing red blood cell membrane ARA content. Interestingly, elderly people who supplemented with 740 milligrams of ARA did not have increasedARA metabolites, meaning that it did not increase levels of inflammation.

The dose of ARA used in the current study is well above what anyone could reasonably expect to consume naturally in the diet. Evidence linking inflammatory diseases to an increased omega-6 to omega-3 ratio raises concern over the long-term effects of ARA supplementation. However, limited evidence has shown supplementation of ARA to benefit the cognition of elderly individuals despite a hypothetical plausibility for increasing Alzheimer’s disease risk. Clearly, long-term research on different health outcomes is needed.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does regular exercise interact with ARA metabolism?

Some evidence shows that the ARA content of skeletal muscle fiber membranes is similar between endurance-trained and untrained individuals, but the trained individuals have more DHA and a lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Additionally, both endurance training and resistance training do not appear to significantly alter the ARA content of skeletal muscle fiber membranes, but do significantly increase DHA content.

These findings give rise to more questions than they do answers. Why does exercise increase the proportion of DHA? Is this the result of increased usage of ARA, which is needed to stimulate inflammation and begin the recovery process? Or is this a protective adaptation that increases the ability to resolve inflammation through the anti-inflammatory metabolites of DHA?

What should I know?

ARA is a fatty acid that plays a central role in both promoting and helping to resolve inflammation. The current study showed that young men supplementing with 1.5 grams of ARA daily for eight weeks experienced significantly increased lean body mass, upper-body strength, and lower-body power output when combined with non-periodized resistance training program. However, the only other study investigating similar outcomes showed no effect on body composition or strength, but did support the findings of increased power output. Accordingly, it is difficult to draw conclusions until more research is conducted.

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Hemp Seed Oil does a power of good

by Thea Jourdan 

IsobelIsobel Darvill was only eight months old when she developed the skin condition eczema. Soon, her body was covered in weeping red sores. “It was terrible. I tried everything,” says her mother, Sarah Darvill, 32, cuddling her daughter, now aged three. “Isobel would wake up in the morning with bleeding, inflamed skin where she had scratched. We had some terrible nights with her.” Even steroid creams couldn’t help.

In despair, Sarah finally turned to an alternative treatment recommended by a friend – regular doses of Hemp Seed Oil. Within weeks, the itchy sores had vanished. “I noticed the change almost straight away. Her skin became peachy,” says Sarah, who lives in Oxfordshire with her husband, Mark, and their three children. Two years later, Isobel is fine, although she still needs to take a spoonful of the oil every day. “If she misses a day, the eczema flares up again,” says Sarah.

Joanna Peters has suffered from severe PMT since her early twenties. Unwilling to take hormone pills, she started on a regime of Hemp Seed oil last year. “It took about three weeks to make a difference, but it really has worked for me,” says Joanna, 41, who works in advertising in London. “I feel much more relaxed in the week before my period, and I even like the oil’s nutty taste.”

There are plenty of anecdotes like these that attest to the therapeutic power of Hemp. Packed with digestible protein, vitamins and essential fatty acids, Hemp has been described as one of nature’s most perfectly balanced foods. Grown throughout the world for thousands of years, it has enjoyed a considerable revival since the 1990s when it was reintroduced as a commercial crop in Europe. Hemp cultivation in Britain doubled between 1990-1997.

Although many people swear by Hemp, hard facts about its health-giving properties have been hard to come by until now. A team of scientists in Finland has conducted the first clinical trials, which show that Hemp oil can have dramatic effects.

The study, conducted at the Departments of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Kuopio, involved a group of 14 healthy volunteers taking a daily dose of Hemp Seed oil for four weeks. All kept detailed food diaries and were told to decrease their intake of saturated fats throughout the study so as to get clear results about levels of fats in the blood. After an appropriate break, they were asked to follow the same regime with linseed oil.

What researchers found was that Hemp Seed oil, as well as containing substantial levels of important essential fatty acids, considerably boosted the level of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) in the blood. GLA has a potent anti-inflammatory effect, which may help to explain why it eases the pain of eczema.

Dr Jace Callaway, who headed the Finnish project, believes that there is likely to be a link. “Increased serum levels of GLA might help explain some of the numerous anecdotal reports of seemingly miraculous cures from people taking Hemp Seed oil, particularly those suffering from chronic health problems such as allergies, dry skin, slow wound healing and even rheumatoid arthritis.” Linseed oil did not have the same effect, actually reducing levels of GLA in the body.

Hemp Seed oil contains the same potent essential fatty acids found in evening primrose oil, which is also used to relieve the symptoms of PMT.

Hemp does not have to be consumed just as cold oil. Like soybeans, Hemp Seeds can be made into many different food products. Crushed seeds can be used as flour to make bread, cakes, pasta, and biscuits. In addition, the soaked seeds can be made into “milk”, ice cream and non-dairy cheeses.

Confusion often arises about the difference between Hemp and illegal cannabis. Hemp is a variety of the plant species Cannabis Sativa, but it has negligible psychoactive properties. You would have to drink about a litre of Hemp Seed oil to feel any effect.

Nutritionist Lorraine Perreta recommends Hemp Seed oil to anyone who wants to make sure they have a balanced diet – and a glowing complexion. “It literally lubricates from the outside in,” she says. “Imagine having a moisturiser that works from beneath the skin.” It is also possible to grind up the seeds and use the mash as a skin exfoliant.

Hemp Seed is also easy to digest, making it ideal for people suffering from gut and bowel problems. A recent report, funded by the Canadian government, says that 66 per cent of Hemp protein is high quality, the highest percentage of any plant source. Hemp also contains three times as much vitamin E as flax.

While Hemp Seed is a powerful healer, it is fragile. The essential fatty acids it contains are easily damaged if exposed to light, air or heat. So nutritionists recommend that Hemp Seed should never be cooked at high temperatures and is best eaten raw.

Essential Fatty Acids

PerriconePromiseThis is what Dr. Nicholas Perricone has to say about Essential Fatty Acids in his book, “The Perricone Promise :

“Of the two dozen fats essential to human health, only two cannot be made by our body and must be obtained from foods. Accordingly these two nutrients are called Essential Fatty Acids. Omega-6 EFA, called Linoleic Acid (LA), is abundant in cooking oils. The other, Linolenic Acid (LNA), is an Omega-3 EFA. Among their many functions, each type of EFA is critical to immunity, brain function and the structure and integrity of cell membranes. Cell membranes are a key part of the body’s defense system and increased permeability – which can result from a diet deficient in EFAs – can have devastating effects, allowing free radicals and toxins a passageway into the cell, where they can wreak the kinds of havoc that weaken immunity and accelerate aging. The stiffening of the cell membrane results in decreased flexibility, which reduces nutrient intake and also desensitizes important hormone receptors for insulin and other hormones.

EFAs also nourish the skin, hair, mucous membranes, nerves and glands and help prevent cardiovascular disease. The polysaccharide peptide food that I recommend owes its wonderful skin-beautifying power to the fact that it is a very rich and very bio-available form of these Essential Fatty Acids. These Acids are the major building blocks of the fats in human bodies and foods and important sources of energy.

EFAs are also he precursors to the hormone-line compounds prostaglandins, which regulate many body function on a moment-by-moment basis”.

Hemp Seed Oil may benefit Eczema symptoms

Medical researchers at the University of Kuopio, Finland, have found evidence of the positive effects of Hemp Seed Oil on Eczema

Researchers, led by Dr. J Callaway, at the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Clinical Nutrition at the University, followed a group of patients with atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, which is a type of allergy that causes dry and itchy skin and often requires medical treatment.

“We are still processing some of the biochemical data,” said Dr Callaway, “but the subjective results from the patients are already in and they have been correlated with the diagnostic reports from the dermatologist.

“In short, we saw a remarkable reduction in dryness, itching and an overall improvement in the symptoms of these patients while they were using the hemp seed oil, and no significant change at all while they were using the olive oil. We also noticed a reduction in the frequency of influenza when these patients were taking the hemp seed oil,” continued the researcher.

The patients orally consumed two tablespoons of oil a day for two months in a randomised, double-blind crossover design. The other oil in the study was cold-pressed olive oil, and a two month washout period separated the two oil intervention periods.

Previously, these same researchers investigated the effects of hemp seed oil in a group of healthy volunteers and subsequently found elevated blood levels of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid; a naturally occurring fatty acid).

“This is a good thing because decreased GLA is thought to be associated with several chronic health problems, such as allergies and other disorders of the immune system,” said Dr Callaway. Over the last 10 years, numerous anecdotal reports have claimed that hempseed oil improves skin integrity, strengthens finger-nails and thickens hair. “In a way, this all makes sense because skin, hair and nails are all formed from the same line of dermal stem cells,” said Dr Callaway.

While hemp seed oil is relatively new to the modern Western palate, it has been used as an inexpensive substitute for butter in most Eastern European cultures in the past, particularly in Russia. Hemp Seed Oil is more than 90 % polyunsaturated and, for this reason, should not be used for frying.

“Hemp seed oil is an exceptional source of EFAs; the essential fatty acids that we must obtain from our daily diet because, like vitamins, we can’t produce them on our own. Judging from the fatty acid profile of hemp seed oil, the numerous anecdotal reports over the years and now the results of our initial clinical investigations, I’d have to conclude that this is probably the healthiest oil on the market,” said Dr Callaway.

“Clearly, this is an important and useful discovery that will need to be investigated further,” added Dr Callaway.

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Hemp Protein & Oatmeal

hemp-protein-powderIf you’re looking for a high-quality protein that’s not derived from animal sources, hemp protein powder might be for you. Mix the powder into smoothies or yogurt, but don’t stop there. Hemp protein powder may also boost the protein content of oatmeal, whether you cook it in the morning or make an overnight, soaked version. The powder contains multiple other nutrients to help you start your day right.

Not Complete

Some claim that hemp has all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein on par with whey or soy. This is not the case, as a study in the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” reported in 2010. Hemp protein lacks an adequate, digestible amount of the amino acid lysine. To ensure you get enough lysine, augment your meal of hemp protein and oats in the morning with a lunch that includes beans or lentils.

Adding Hemp to Breakfast

Hemp boosts your overall morning nutrition by providing you with essential fatty acids, iron, fiber, magnesium, potassium and calcium. Hemp-laced oatmeal also makes a quality post-workout meal to provide a combination of protein for muscle repair and carbohydrates for glycogen, or energy, restoration. One scoop of hemp protein adds about 10 grams of protein to the oats.

Mixing It In

Stir the protein powder in after you’ve cooked the oats. A tablespoon or two adds a nutty flavour and a greenish hue. Finish the oats with berries, milk and walnuts, or whatever other toppings you like. Alternatively, try the option of no-cook oatmeal by combining oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp protein, a little mashed banana and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Refrigerate overnight and enjoy the soft, puddinglike oats the next morning.

Quality Hemp

When shopping for hemp protein to add to your oats, go for organic varieties. Hemp readily absorbs pesticides, which may contaminate non-organic varieties. Freshness is also essential when purchasing hemp protein. If you don’t have ready access to hemp protein powder, you could add shelled hemp seeds to your oatmeal to gain the nutritional benefits of this seed.

Although hemp is related to marijuana botanically – just like broccoli and cauliflower are related, but not the same plant – hemp lacks the THC content that makes marijuana a psychoactive drug. You can’t get high from adding hemp protein to your oatmeal.

So, what is Hemp? And why should I include it in my diet?

Many people may react cautiously to the notion of hemp as food, based on its connection to the harmful illegal drug, marijuana. Upon further exploration, however, one will discover that although hemp is family of marijuana, it is in fact a different plant – like broccoli and cauliflower are of the same family, but different plants. So, not only is the hemp seed completely THC free, it is also nutritionally superior to most other sources of protein and essential fatty acids.

 

So What Make The Hemp Seed A Super Food?

Hemp seeds contain complete protein. They are a highly digestible balance of all 20 known amino acids (both essential and non-essential) and in higher quantities than most other plant sources of protein. Hemp seeds are 33-35% protein. A mere 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds contain approximately 11g of protein!

Hemp seeds contain the globular plant proteins Edestin (65-67%) and Albumin (33-35%). Globular proteins are responsible for enzymatic functions in the blood plasma and for antibody formation, making them critical for strong immune function. Edestin is considered the most easily digestible protein and is very similar to protein in the human body. Albumin is another highly digestible and quality source of plant protein. Hemp contains the highest known levels of Edestin in the plant kingdom, making it a superior source of protein. Hemp seed is also free of trypsin inhibitors and oligosaccharides, two factors that affect the absorption and digestibility of other plant sources of protein i.e. soy.

Hemp seeds have a near perfect ratio of Omega-3 (Alpha-Linolenic) to Omega-6 (Linoleic) essential fatty acids (EFAs). The ideal ratio is considered to be 4:1 (Omega-6: Omega-3) ; hemp  seeds have a ratio of 3.38:1.

These fatty acids are required by our body via our food; we cannot synthesize them ourselves, thus the term, “essential.” Most westerners consume far more Omega-6 and not nearly enough Omega-3; this imbalanced ratio seems to go hand in hand with the common degenerative diseases of today. EFAs have a critical role in growth and development, inflammation response, mood regulation, immune strength, cardiovascular and neurological health, cellular respiration and more. Hemp also contains the fatty acids Gamma-Linolenic Acid (Omega-9), Stearidonic Acid and Oleic Acid.

The fat in hemp seed oil is 75-80% polyunsaturated fat (also known as EFAs) and less than 10% saturated fat. Hemp seeds contain approximately 44% fat. This overall fat percentage is lower than most nuts and carries with it the extremely desirable abundance of EFAs.

Hemp seeds are a good source of iron and also contains significant levels of the antioxidant vitamin E.

Hemp seeds and Hemp Seed Oil contain chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is nearly identical in molecular structure to our blood and is thus extremely beneficial to building the blood, nourishing and detoxifying the body. While the quantity is not nearly as high as the chlorophyll content of other blatantly green foods, like wheatgrass or leafy greens, the more we can increase our intake of chlorophyll the better. Chlorophyll’s presence in the hemp seed is another testament to its amazingly balanced nature.

You are probably now wondering; “Does it taste good?” My conventionally trained culinary taste buds can honestly give you a resounding, “YES!”

Hemp seed is unique in its culinary compatibility and flavour. It has a deliciously nutty and rich, yet delicate nature. Unlike what most of us know as “nuts,” hemp is a tiny, cream-colored flat disk comparable to the size of a sesame seed. Its texture is soft and creamy, not hard and crunchy. In my opinion, the taste is akin to that of a peanut or sunflower seed, yet somewhat richer and more complex. I can taste the hint of chlorophyll that dots some of the seeds; it reminds me ever so slightly of the taste I perceive when chewing a mouthful of chlorella tablets. Hemp, however, melts in your mouth. This property lends itself extremely well to blending the seeds to create smooth and creamy sauces, shakes and soups.

Besides the hemp seed, other forms of hemp food are now more widely available. Powders, often marketed as protein powder, are quite popular, as are hemp seed oil, nut butter and milk forms. Hemp is even ground into flour and used in baked goods. The red flag gets thrown here, however and we need to apply our knowledge of the fragility of essential fatty acids and proteins before we dive head first into the hemp food market.

Essential fatty acids are very susceptible to the effects of light, heat and oxygen (as most plant foods are). This means that any hemp products (or any EFA rich food) should be stored in the refrigerator, in sealed. Light-impermeable containers and not heated in any way. Some products recommend refrigeration only after opening. And that is most likely fine; however shelf life is generally increased when these products are kept cooler. EFAs and proteins change drastically when they are heated. And can transform the fats and proteins from being extremely healthful. To extremely harmful. Any temperature over the enzyme threshold temperature of 115F will initiate these harmful changes. Here is the lowdown on the most popular forms of hemp available and how to use them:

 

Hemp Seed

This is the best form currently available to us and is the hemp seed in its most whole state. Hemp seed are widely available in health food stores, raw food product stores and on the Internet. Sprinkle them on your salads, eat a handful alone, or blend them into a creamy sauce, smoothie, or soup. Keep in mind that blending causes rapid nutrient destruction and oxidation, so you won’t get as much from them by blending them as you would eating them whole.

You can also make your own hemp milk by blending the seeds with three times as much water as nuts and then straining it (optional). Most people prefer to slightly sweeten their hemp milk by adding a few drops of stevia or honey. Without any sweetener, this milk makes a delicious base for a creamy dressing or soup. Because I’m a big believer in consuming the most whole form of a food in order to benefit from the synergistic nutritional effect it has to offer and to minimize nutritional losses and modifications caused by processing, this form is my favourite and comes most highly recommended.

 

Hemp Seed Butter

This is the finely ground form of the hemp seed, similar in consistency to almond or peanut butter. lt has a green tinge to it due to its chlorophyll content. While nut butters are delicious, with a consistency that makes them quite versatile and enjoyable, there is always a question that weighs on my mind: “How hot did the commercial grinder get?” Anyone who has attempted to make nut or seed butter in their own home, whether using a homogenizing juicer, food processor, or other equipment, knows what I mean when I say that homemade nut and seed butters are never as oily and smooth as commercially made ones, unless you process the butter for lengthy periods of time until it gets quite hot.

While I have no doubt that makers of “raw” nut and seed butters do not intentionally heat their product, the heavy and quick work of commercial grinders naturally generates a considerable amount of heat. That heat releases a lot of the oils causing a commercially ground nut or seed butter to seem much more creamy and oily than one made at home. What’s wrong with this deliciously creamy spread? Heat and oxidation can easily equal the damage of fats and proteins. There is no practical definitive way that we, as consumers, can tell how much damage was done in this process.

My suggestion has always been that if you aren’t going to make it yourself, look for the brand with the least amount of oily separation in the jar. This is not to say that all raw nut and seed butter are bad, just use caution and use whole hemp seed as more of a staple, saving the nut butters for more recreational use. They too can be used in smoothies or dressings/sauces and as a spread. Check ingredient labels; salt or other ingredients may be added.

 

Hemp Seed Oil

This is the oil which is obtained by pressing the hemp seed and it can be used in dressings / sauces, drizzled on your meal, in a smoothie, or ingested as a supplement. Again, the importance of cold-processing is extremely critical. This oil is should always be refrigerated. Like flax oil, it is highly perishable and should be purchased in small bottles so that it will not remain opened and unused in storage for a lengthy period of time. Never use hemp seed oil for cooking, as the healthy fats will be transformed into harmful fats. While this oil is certainly high quality, keep in mind that oils bring pure fat to the table and whether good or bad, too much causes distress in the body. Again, my first choice is always the whole hemp seed, because you get the whole balanced food and not just one aspect of it and in a less processed state. Use all oil sparingly and it can be a healthy addition to your daily intake.

 

Hemp Protein Powder

In a purely hemp form, this powder can be useful for boosting a blended mixture. Look for cold-milled brands, such as that from Hemptons, to ensure that processing has had minimal detrimental effect on the nutritional quality of the powder. My opinion is that the shelled hemp seed nuts blend in to a shake just as easily and are tastier, so unless you are looking for other ingredients that might be contained along with the hemp protein powder, it is better to just use the nuts.

 

Hemp Flour

Most of these products do not have a place in a raw food diet. Hemp flour is usually incorporated into baked goods using flour and other processed ingredients. While it is healthier than wheat flour, as it does not contain gluten, cannot be used as a substitute – as the baked goods won’t rise. It is good if you want to increase the protein percentage.

Essential Fatty Acids and Vitamin D

The art of functional medicine involves being able to spot key nutritional deficiencies and addressing them appropriately. As a clinician, I find that essential fatty acid and vitamin D deficiencies are two of the most common issues that are plaguing people’s health.

I was quite surprised when I first had this test done that despite a diet rich in healthy fats, I was still deficient in essential fats. Post-testing after using high doses of EPA/DHA and GLA showed that I had returned to sufficient levels. Since then, I have found the appropriate dosage I need for optimal cellular sufficiency.

Fatty Acid, Bloodspot

The Bloodspot Fatty Acid Profile measures key Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and determines key signs to establish your ideal balance. Trans fatty acids—the “bad” oils in processed foods—are also measured. Individual fatty acids are measured as a percent of the total measurable fatty acids.

Fatty acids are the fats we obtain from our diet. They may be monounsaturated, polyunsaturated or saturated. Fatty acids are found in oils and other fats that make up different foods. Balanced fatty acid levels are essential for ideal health.

Fatty Acids and Inflammation:

Chronic inflammation at the cellular and system level is the major underlying factor in all chronic disease. Fatty acids play a very critical role in cellular health as they make up the cell membrane and have an intimate role in the hormonal responses throughout the body. The ideal ratio of essential Omega 6 to Omega 3 fats is critical to cellular health and systemic inflammatory levels.

Various researchers have found that the ideal ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids is anywhere between 2:1 – 4:1. The average westerner has a range around 16:1. This is due to diets that are high in commercialized meat and processed corn, soy, peanut, sunflower, cottonseed and canola oils. These foods are very high in Omega-6 fats and low in Omega-3 fats. (Hemp Seed Oil has a natural Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio of 4:1).

Research is clear that Omega-3 fatty acids are key for good cardiovascular health and brain function. They are also important for reducing symptoms of joint pain and immune dysfunction as seen in cancer and auto-immunity.

Essential-Fatty-Acids

 

What Conditions Are Involved With Improper Essential Fatty Acid Balance:

Acne/Eczema Digestive Disorders
ADD/ADHD Heart Disease
Arthritis Hormonal Problems
Autism Neurological Disease
Cancer Thyroid Problems
Chronic Pain

  

Vitamin D, 25-OH

Vitamin D deficiency is a current epidemic in our society today affecting 90% of our world`s population. According to Vitamin D expert Michael Holick, “We estimate that vitamin D deficiency is the most common medical condition in the world”. It is clear that most people are not getting enough healthy sun exposure and vitamin D synthesis.

Vitamin D is best known for promoting healthy calcium metabolism and bone health but researchers have found that it is critical for all systems of the body. A vitamin D deficiency will impact the development and stability of the immune system, the nervous system and the endocrine system.

Vitamin D is known to play a central role in modulating the immune system and controlling inflammation. These are two vital processes that are tied to nearly every age-related disease condition. Vitamin D deficiencies are linked with an extraordinary amount of common health disorders.

 

Vitamin D Deficiency Increases Risk of:

Acne/Eczema Depression
ADHD Diabetes
Allergies Digestive Disorders
Alzheimer’s Fibromyalgia
Asthma Hypertension
Autism Multiple Sclerosis
Auto-Immunity Osteoporosis
Cancer Parkinson’s
Cardiovascular Disease Periodontal Disease
Cataracts Psoriasis
Chronic Pain Recurrent Infections
Common Cold Rheumatoid Arthritis
Dementia Systemic Lupus
Dental Carries

 

Vitamin D and Sun Exposure:

The major way we obtain vitamin D3 is through exposure to sunlight. However, most individuals in westernized countries are spending significantly less time outdoors and are not getting adequate sun exposure to produce sufficient levels of vitamin D3.

Additionally, most individuals in North America are living in regions where they are unable to obtain sufficient sun exposure for anywhere from 4-8 months out of the year. Due to the lack of proper sun exposure for optimal vitamin D synthesis, many scientists now strongly advocate supplementing with doses that are considerably higher than the RDA minimums.

 VitaminDSunshineChart

 

Vitamin D is more Hormone than Vitamin:

Vitamin D more resembles a hormone than vitamin by function.  Hormones are chemical messengers that interact with cell receptors to produce specific biological responses. Calcitriol, the active form of Vitamin D, is arguably the most powerful hormone in the body. It has the ability to activate over 1,000 genes which is roughly 5-10% of the human genome.

Vitamin D3 levels are most often understated. In the medical world, levels below 32 ng/ml are considered insufficient. However, much research has shown this level is only sufficient to prevent the development of rickets but not sufficient enough for optimal function. Maximized Living doctors use the following ranges for optimal vitamin D3 levels.

VitD

 

Vitamin D Boosts Brain Function: 

Researchers believe that vitamin D3 acts to protect an aging brain and boost overall memory and cognitive function.  This is thought to be done by increasing levels of protective antioxidants, increasing key hormones and suppressing a hyperactive immune system that can inflame the neurological circuitry.

A 2009 study led by scientists at the University of Manchester in England, looked at vitamin D levels and cognitive performance in more than 3,100 men aged 40 to 79 in eight different countries across Europe. The data show that those people with lower vitamin D levels exhibited slower cognitive processing speed.

 

Vitamin D Protects the Brain:

There are vitamin D receptors throughout the central nervous system and critical regions of the brain including the hippocampus.  Researchers have concluded that vitamin D activates and deactivates enzymes in the brain and cerebrospinal fluid that are involved in nerve growth, synaptic density and neurotransmitter synthesis.

Vitamin D3 is also shown to boost glutathione production in the neuronal cells protecting them from damage inflicted by oxidative stress.  Vitamin D also helps to modulate the immune system to reduce inflammation throughout the body.

 

Vitamin D Deficiencies Increase Brain Degenerative Processes:

A 2010 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that those who are classified as deficient in vitamin D were 42% more likely to have cognitive impairment.  Meanwhile, those classified as severely deficient were 394% more likely of having cognitive impairment.

“The odds of cognitive impairment increase as vitamin D levels go down,” says study author David Llewellyn. “Given that both vitamin D deficiency and dementia are common throughout the world, this is a major public health concern.”

As a clinician, I see very serious health problems associated with long-term vitamin D3 deficiencies. This is one of the most critical tests anyone can possibly have done.