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Hempseed oil may be 'packed' with health-promoting compounds, finds new analysis

Hempseed oil from legal low-THC versions of hemp may be full of potentially beneficial compounds including plant sterols and omega-3 fatty acids, according to new research.

Writing in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers examined the chemical make-up of drug-free hempseed oil - finding that the seed oil could be a valuable source of bioactive compounds for the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry.

Led by Maria Angeles Fernández-Arche from the University of Seville, Spain, the team behind the study noted that for millennia, people around the world cultivated cannabis for textiles, medicine and food - however hemp products have since been stigmatized because of their 'high'-inducing cousins.

According to Fernández-Arche, however, hemp — derived from low-hallucinogenic varieties of cannabis — is making a comeback, not just as a source of fibre for textiles, but also as a crop packed with oils that have potential health benefits.

"Hempseed has been documented as a folk source of food throughout recorded history, raw, cooked, or roasted, and hempseed oil (HSO) has been used as a food/medicine in China for at least 3000 years," noted the research team - who added that the ever-increasing demand for vegetables oils, coupled with current awareness about the nutritional and functional roles of fats in human diets, "has made it essential to characterize additional vegetable oil through innovative uses of its components and/or byproducts. "

Study details

The Spanish team explained that the beneficial effects of HSO are thought to be due to its balance between linoleic and linolenic acid content, but noted that so very far little effort has been focused to investigate the unsaponifiable fraction of HSO - which account for between 1.5% and 2% of the oil, and is an important source of interesting minor compounds. 

"As part of ongoing investigations on bioactive secondary plant metabolites in medicinal and food plants, our aim of the present study was to conduct a detailed analysis and phytochemical characterization to correlate with those of literature reports to accelerate efforts to establish a global database for this valuable oilseed crop," explained Fernández-Arche and colleagues.

They found that the unsaponifiable oil fraction contains a variety of 'interesting' substances including sterols, aliphatic alcohols and linolenic acids.

"A yield (1.84–1.92%) of unsaponifiable matter was obtained, and the most interesting compounds were beta-sitosterol, campesterol, phytol, cycloartenol, and gamma-tocopherol."

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