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.


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.


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?


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.


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.

Therapeutic Hemp Seed Oil

by Andrew Weil, M.D.

hemp-seed-oilGThe nutritional composition of oil from the Hemp plant could be beneficial to your health. To most people, Cannabis sativa is synonymous with marijuana, but the plant’s Latin name means the “useful Hemp” and although part of the same genus, is not marijuana. Species designated sativa (useful) are usually among the most important of all crops. In fact, the utility of Hemp is many-fold: the plant has provided human beings with fiber, edible seeds, an edible oil, and medicine, not just a notorious mind-altering drug.

In our part of the world, these other uses of Hemp are no longer familiar. We rarely use Hemp fiber and know little about Hemp medicine. Hemp seed is sometimes an ingredient in bird food; otherwise, edible products from Cannabis sativa are virtually unknown.

This may all change. In many parts of the country, promoters of Hemp cultivation are working to educate people about the immense potential of this plant and to reintroduce it into commerce. They champion Hemp as a renewable source of pulp for the manufacture of paper, as a superior fiber for making cloth, and as a new food that can be processed into everything from a milk substitute to a kind of tofu.

Hemp seeds contain 25% high quality protein and 40% fat in the form of an excellent quality oil. Hemp Seed oil is just now coming on the market.

Hemp Seed oil contains 57% Linoleic (LA) and 19% Linolenic (LNA) acids, in the three-to-one ratio that matches our nutritional needs. These are the essential fatty acids (EFAs) – so called because the body cannot make them and must get them from external sources. The best sources are oils from freshly ground grains and whole seeds, but EFAs are fragile and quickly lost in processing. EFAs are the building blocks of longer chain fats, such as eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that occur naturally in the fat of cold-water fish like sardines, mackerel, salmon, bluefish, herring and, to a lesser extent, tuna.

Adding these foods to the diet seems to lower risks of heart attacks because Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the clotting tendency of the blood and improve cholesterol profiles. They also have a natural anti-inflammatory effect that makes them useful for people with arthritis and autoimmune disorders.

Health food stores stock many brands of EPA/DHA supplements in the form of fish oil capsules. I usually do not recommend them because I think it’s better to get your essential fatty acids in foods, and I worry about toxic contaminants in fish oil supplements. But what can you do if you choose, for one reason or another, not to eat fish? You can get some Omega-3s in expeller pressed canola oil, the only common vegetable oil that contains them.

A much richer source is Flax oil. Flax oil is pressed from the seeds of Linum utilitatissimum, the source of linen fiber and an oil better known in this country as linseed oil, the base for oil paints.

Flax  oil is usually classified as a “drying oil” rather than a food oil because its chemical characteristics cause it to combine readily with oxygen and become thick and hard. This tendency to harden on exposure to air quickly turns linseed oil rancid and unfit to eat, but makes it useful as a vehicle for pigment on canvas. (The word “canvas” by the way is a relative of “Cannabis,” because true canvas is made from Hemp fiber).

For dietary purposes Flax oil must be pressed at low temperatures, protected from light, heat, and air, stored at cool temperatures, and used quickly once the containers are opened. Most Flax oil is not delicious. There is great variation in taste among the brands currently sold in natural food stores, but the best of them still leaves much to be desired.

Flax oil is generally recommended as a dietary supplement to patients with autoimmune disorders, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, but about half of them cannot tolerate it. Some say it makes them gag, even when concealed in salad dressing or mashed into a baked potato. These people have to resort to taking Flax oil capsules, which are large and expensive.

Udo Erasmus (author of the classic book, Fats and Oils (Alive, 1986), [and Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, The Complete Guide to fats, oils, cholesterol and human health, Second Printing of Fats and Oils, (Alive, 1996). This book is a fabulous resource on nutrition.) says that the problem is freshness. Unless you get Flax oil right from the processor and freeze it until you start using it, it will already have deteriorated by the time you buy it. Hemp Seed oil contains more EFAs than Flax and actually tastes good. It is nutty and free from the objectionable undertones of Flax oil. I use it on salads, baked potatoes and other foods and would not consider putting it in capsules.

Like Flax oil, Hemp Seed oil should be stored in the refrigerator, used quickly and never heated. Unlike Flax oil, Hemp Seed oil also provides 1.7% Gamma-Linolenic acid (GLA). There is controversy about the value of adding this fatty acid to the diet, but many people take supplements of it in the form of capsules of evening primrose oil, black currant oil, and borage oil. My experience is that it simulates growth of hair and nails, improves the health of the skin and can reduce inflammation. I like the idea of having one good oil that supplies both Omega-3s and GLA, without the need to take more capsules.

One of the questions that people are sure to ask about Hemp Seed oil is whether it has any psychoactivity. The answer is no. The intoxicating properties of Cannabis sativa reside in a sticky resin produced most abundantly in the flowering tops of female plants before the seeds mature. The main psychoactive compound in this resin is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Strains of Hemp grown for oil production have a low resin content to begin with and by the time the seeds are ready for harvest, resin production has dropped even further. Finally, the seeds must be cleaned and washed before they are pressed. As a result, no THC is found in the final product.

Obviously, there is a political dimension to the appearance of this product. For many years, Cannabis sativa has been stigmatized as a satanic plant and its cultivation has been prohibited. As an ethnobotanist interested in the relationships between plants and human beings, I have always felt that making plants illegal was stupid, especially when the objects of these actions are supremely useful plants like Hemp. The plant is not responsible for human misuse of it.

If you have a chance to try Hemp Seed oil, a long forgotten, newly rediscovered food, I think you will see why I am enthusiastic about it.

Andrew Weil teaches at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, has a private medical practice, and is the author of Natural Health, Natural Medicine.

Nature’s Forgotten Nutraceutical

by Darrell L. Tanelian, M.D., Ph.D.

That the Hemp plant (Cannabis sativa) is used as a food source initially surprises and confuses most people. The public misinformation system has largely restricted knowledge of “Hemp” as it being Marijuana … which is actually derived from the Cannabis Indica plant (same family .. different plant – like broccoli and cauliflower, same family, different plant), with its leaf content of the psychoactive substance delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Oil, Shelled Seed, Flour, Hemp Cake, paint and more are made from the seed, while rope and cloth is made from the Fibre of the Cannabis Sativa plant and paper from the plant stalk.

Both the oldest Chinese agricultural treatise, the Xia Xiao Zheng, written in the 16th century BC and other Chinese records discuss Hemp as one of the major grain crops grown in ancient China.

Besides its propagation in China, the cultivation and use of Hemp has, since the beginnings of recorded history, also been documented by many other great civilizations, including: India, Sumeria, Babylonia, Persia, Egypt and other nations of the Near East and the Aztec and Mayan civilizations of South America; as well as by native cultures in North America and Europe. Indeed, it might be said that over these thousands of years, Hemp has always followed humankind throughout the world, or vice versa. Nutritionally, the key point about Hemp is that its edible portion – the meat of the shelled seed – resembles the seeds of other cultivated grains including wheat and rye and does not contain THC. Moreover, the strains of Hemp plant used for food have been naturally selected so as to produce little or no THC, generally. These nutritional varieties of Hemp plant grow in temperate climates to heights of 14 feet and as with many agricultural grains, their seeds can be harvested in a conventional manner with a combine. Since the most modern handling and shelling of the seed minimize its contact with leaf resins, the shelled seed itself and the oil, nut butter and other foods prepared from the seed have been made with THC concentrations as low as 1 ucg/g (ppm) to non-detectible. These modern Hemp products, when consumed in normally recommended amounts, should all but eliminate positive urine tests for THC.

Studies conducted on older versions of Hemp seed oil found some to contain THC concentrations that resulted in positive urine tests

Nutrients in Hemp Seed

The most basic Hemp seed product is the shelled seed, sometimes referred to as the “Hemp Nut.” The other major Hemp food products are Hemp seed nut butter – which resembles peanut- and other nut butters – cold-pressed Hemp seed oil and Hemp seed flour. These basic products can be consumed alone or used along with or instead of other grains, seeds, nuts and oils in any appropriate recipe. In terms of its nutrient content, shelled Hemp seed is 34.6% protein, 46.5% fat and 11.6% carbohydrate.

The most important feature of Hemp seed is that it provides both of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) needed in the human diet – GLA, Linoleic and Alpha-Linolenic acid -as well as a complete and balanced complement of all essential amino acids.

Fats in Hemp

As compared with most nuts and seeds, the 46.5% fat content of shelled Hemp seed is relatively low and Hemp food products have a low cholesterol content and high content of the natural phytosterols that reduce cholesterol levels. Hemp Seed Oil has on average the highest mono- and poly-unsaturated fat content of all oils, taken collectively, of between 80% and 89%.

The polyunsaturated Linoleic acid, an Omega-6 fatty acid, is present in Hemp seed oil in a content of 55.6g/100g and Alpha-Linolenic acid, a polyunsaturated Omega-3 fatty acid, is present at 17.2 g/100 g. The ratio of the two EFAs is 3.38, closely approximating the 4.0 average ratio recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), Sweden and Japan for the human diet.

Conveniently, Hemp Seed Oil is also one of the only food oils to contain the direct metabolites of Linoleic and Alpha-Linolenic acid – Gamma-Linolenic acid (GLA) and Stearidonic acid (SDA), respectively. Because of this, it can circumvent the impaired EFA metabolism and physical compromise that can result from genetic factors, intake of other fats, aging and lifestyle patterns.

By contrast with unsaturated fat, only 6.6% of the total calories in shelled Hemp seed come from saturated fat – a percentage that contrasts sharply with the 13 to 14% of saturated fat calories in the modern western diet.

This gives Hemp seed oil a polyunsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio of 9.7, in comparison to the current ratio of 0.44 in the western diet, 6 and indicates that consuming even a small portion of Hemp seed oil daily can contribute strongly to bringing this dietary imbalance back toward the World Heath Organisation recommended goal of 1.0.

Hemp Protein

Besides providing the human EFAs and having a favorable unsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio, Hemp seed is an excellent dietary source of easily digestible, gluten-free protein. Its overall protein content of 34.6 g/100 g is comparable to that of soy beans and better than that found in nuts, other seeds, dairy products, meat, fish, or poultry. Hemp protein provides a well-balanced array of the 10 essential amino acids for humans. An important aspect of Hemp seed protein is a high content of arginine (123 mg/g protein) and histidine (27 mg/g protein), both of which are important for growth during childhood and of the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine (23 mg/g protein) and cysteine (16 mg/g protein), which are needed for proper enzyme formation. Hemp protein also contains relatively high levels of the branched-chain amino acids that are important for the metabolism of exercising muscle.

Other Hemp Nutrients

The carbohydrate content of shelled Hemp seed is 11.5% and its sugar content is 2%. Of the shelled Hemp seed carbohydrate, 6% is in the form of fiber. The fiber content of Hemp seed flour is 40%, which is the highest of all commercial flour grains. In addition to containing the basic human nutrient groups, Hemp foods have a high content of antioxidants (92.1 mg/100g) in the form of alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-tocopherol and alpha-tocotrienol. Additionally, Hemp seed contains a wide variety of other vitamins and minerals.

Hemp in Health and Disease Prevention

The high content of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids and the relatively high phytosterol content of Hemp foods and oils, make them beneficial to cardiovascular health. Numerous human and animal studies have shown that substitution of polyunsaturated for saturated fats can reduce the risk of sudden cardiac arrest and fatal cardiac arrhythmia, as well as reducing blood cholesterol levels and decreasing the cellular proliferation associated with atherosclerosis.

A high polyunsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio, especially when it includes Linoleic acid, has also been positively associated with reduced arterial thrombosis.

Additionally, phytosterols, of which Hemp seed contains 438 mg/100g, have been shown to reduce total serum cholesterol by an average of 10% and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol by an average of 13%.

Poly-unsaturated fatty acids and especially GLA, have also been found beneficial in treating various human cancers, 13-17 and studies have shown that phytosterols may offer protection against colon, breast and prostate cancers.

Besides the importance of a proper dietary ratio of Linoleic to Alpha-Linolenic acid in maintaining the polyunsaturated fatty acid composition of neuronal and glial membranes, membrane loss of polyunsaturated fatty acids has been found in such neurodegenerative disorders as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and it has been suggested that a diet with a proper balance of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids may help delay or reduce the neurologic effects of these diseases. A fatty acid preparation with a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids of 4, which is practically identical to that in Hemp oil, has been shown to improve the quality of life of Alzheimer’s disease patients.

Additionally, GLA has been found effective for treating rheumatoid arthritis and active synovitis and the GLA and vitamin D content of Hemp foods may make them beneficial in preventing and treating osteoporosis.

Moreover, supplementation with products containing EFAs has been found capable of reversing scaly skin disorder, inflammation, excessive epidermal water loss, itch and poor wound healing caused by EFA deficiency and GLA has been shown to be beneficial for atopic eczema and psoriasis.

Hemp in Cosmetics and Processed Food Products

The critical importance of EFAs and especially GLA, for healthy skin makes Hemp seed oil a highly effective skin care and cosmetic product. Its lipid constituents allow it to permeate through intact skin and to thereby nourish skin cells directly while also carrying therapeutic substances with it into the skin. These properties have led to a multitude of soaps, shampoos, skin lotions, lip balms, conditioners and other skin-care products containing Hemp seed oil.

Among food products made from Hemp seed, oil and flour are beer, pasta, cheese, cookies, waffles, granola, candy, ice cream and others, with new products now being regularly developed.

In short, Hemp can constitute an important element in nutrition, health and cosmetics, with the prospect of playing a major role in preventing disease and reducing health care expenditures.



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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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Ain’t Hemp Great Bait!

EPSON DSC picture

Ever since the Belgians introduced English anglers to the miracle seed , Hemp has been revered for it’s magical fish pulling powers everywhere.

Hemp hasn’t lost it’s appeal with anglers. But what makes it so irresistible to certain fish? Some say that it drugs the fish and gives them an appetite while others say it looks like small snails that fish feed upon. Personally I believe that fish, like other animals, feed by instinct and know that the nutrients contained in Hemp are most beneficial for their diet.

You only have to look in the health food shops and on the net at Hemp products to see that you can get everything from Hemp nutria-bars to Hemp beer. The list is endless and I think that we will see a lot more developments in the industrial Hemp market in the future.

My only concern is that it pushes the price of the seed up so high and because of the demand that the anglers, are paying for it. In the fishing industry they have seen a shortage over the last 3 years and the price jump by 150%.

HEMP TIP … If you don’t have time to cook your Hemp, you can save time by putting the seed in a flask and covering it with boiling water (leave some air space at the top for expansion). Add a little sugar and a teaspoon full of backing powder to turn it a dense black colour. Next morning you will have perfectly cooked Hemp seed and a sweet smelling liquid for adding to your ground bait. If you are using cooked Hemp on a hot sunny day you can stop it from drying out by covering it with water in your bait tub or pour on a few drops of Hemp Seed Oil.

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.



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.



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.



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.