Knowledge Base

Hempseed Meal

Written by Dr. Tom Shurlock for and on behalf of GWF Nutrition Limited.

Copyright: GWF Nutrition Limited - Not for Reproduction.

< Back to All Knowledge Base Articles

Earlier articles have concentrated on the role of hemp oil, both as a component of the Oatinol Delivery System and its unique fatty acid profile supplying a beneficial ω-6:ω-3 ratio as well as significant quantities of stearidonic acid (C18:4 ω-3 - SDA) and ϒ-linolenic acid. These characteristics have a significant impact in anti-inflammatory and immune-modulatory processes, and possibly diverts us away from many other positive benefits of using hempseed meal as a feed ingredient.

Hemp (Cannabis sativa) is a version of the cannabis plant where levels of delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol THC), the hallucinogenic portion of the plant, has been reduced. Other cannabinoids and phytochemicals are still present, as well as the major nutrients. The seed is dehulled and oil extracted through cold pressing, the resultant product being hempseed meal.

Hempseed protein: The protein level of hempseed meal is relatively high at around 33%, which is comparable to other feedstuffs such as oil extracted rapeseed and linseed, though lower than soya.

Albumin; a globular protein, and edestin; a legumin, are the two main proteins in hempseed, 35% and 65% respectively. They are rich in sulphur amino acids, and especially arginine and glutamic acid. However, they also have bioactive properties in their own right and have been linked to vitamin D metabolism (Hollis et al, 1977). Cholecaciferol links with α-lipoprotein to be transported via the lymph system, but can also link with α-globulin for vascular transport. More recent work has shown that albumins also improve D3 solubility; simplifies its transport; protects it from degradation and increases its bioavailability (Delavari et el, 2015). Not only does this optimise calcium and bone metabolism, through its metabolite 1,25 DHC, but the latest research suggests it helps improve lower limb muscle strength and lean mass in humans (Hassan-Smith, 2017). If this is true across species – and there is no reason to doubt it – it has implications for activity.

Additionally, these proteins are enzymatically broken down in the small intestine, where some amino acid sequences (of between 3 and 5 molecules) have bioactive properties. These include physical parameters (foaming, emulsion, etc. – Yin et al, 2008); physiological factors (water holding capacity and fat absorption capacity); bioactive systems such as anti-oxidation (The et al. 2016); other antihypertensive pathways (Chibuike et al. 2014) and anti-inflammatory factors (Gu & Wu. 2016).

When compared to other protein sources (soya and whey proteins, as % of total protein) there are some obvious differences in the amino acid profiles. Both soya and whey are regarded as being close to an ideal protein (though only for humans), and hemp protein bears a close similarity to that of soya. Although slightly lower in the first limiting amino acid, lysine, and higher in the second limiting, methionine, hemp has a substantially higher arginine content, and this is particularly important.

Like soya, hemp has a relatively high proportion of branched chain amino acids – leucine, isoleucine and valine, and these are implicated in generating energy in skeletal muscle, as well as increasing protein synthesis (Brestensky et al, 2015: Ohtani et al, 2006). This is further promoted by arginine which initiates the process (ShanMao & Yong, 2014); aids microvascular development (Zhan et al, 2008) and the high levels in hempseed meal are one of the reasons it is regarded as a health food for athletes. Hemp is also a good source of glutamic acid which energises the gut lining cells and helps promote more arginine biosynthesis.

Figure 1: Graphical Representation of Protein Amino Acid Profiles for Soya Bean Hempseed (cv Finola) and Egg White, Individual Amino Acids are Represented by Their IUPAC Abbreviation.

Callaway 2004

Hempseed meal protein, therefore, has a number of bioactive components beyond its nutrient profile. As well as providing quality protein, unlikely to be limiting, the relatively high sulphur, branched chain and pro-energic amino acids all indicate a positive support of hoof, hair and activity. The combination of albumin and α-globulin enable Vitamin D absorption and transport, both in the bloodstream and lymph system, again promoting muscle integrity, and other fat soluble vitamin uptake has been implicated (Reboul and Borel, 2011). Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and blood pressure modulation are also cited.

Hempseed Fibre: There is little definitive data on the composition of hempseed meal fibre. It has a dietary fibre level of 50%, which is divided into 10% soluble fibre, 10% hemicelluloses, 20% cellulose and 10% lignified material. As such it provides a slow source of energy release, generating volatile fatty acids. Butyate generation maintains the integrity of gut lining cells and helps combat endotoxin absorption in the hindgut. The soluble faction is based on galactans (Gorshkova & Morvan , 2006) which have prebiotic effect and aid the viability of fibre fermenting microbes. As such it helps improve fibre digestibility in herbivores, but also provides a platform for hindgut health and stasis in companion animals – cats, dogs – as well as production animals such as pigs (Cardarelli e al, 2016). One of the manifestations is an improvement in faecal characteristics. Additionally, galactan polysaccharides – galactomannans, arabinogalactans have been shown to support immunomodulatory function including lymphocyte proliferation and antibody production (Ramberg et al. 2010).

Hempseed Phytobiotics: Whilst hallucinogenic phytobiotics have been bred out of the industrial hemp, there still remains a wide spectrum of bioactives. Within the oil, there are significant amounts of polyphenols, especially flavonoids such as flavanones, flavanols, flavonols and isoflavones, and vitamin E in the form of ϒ-tocopherol (Smeriglio, 2016). This imparts high levels of antioxidative capacity, not only to the oil faction but also subsequently where absorbed nutrients support the antioxidative capability of the body.

Cannabinoids, the non-hallucinogenic faction of hemp, has been reported as having anti-tumour and anti-inflammatory functions, as well as a hypertensive effect on the cardiovascular system (Kopcyliska, 2011).

Hempseed Meal is the derivative of whole hempseeds after cold pressing to obtain hemp oil. Its nutrient profile makes it an excellent dietary inclusion across a range of species. It supplies high levels of the essential amino acids in ratios similar to those of an ideal protein, and also supplies branched chain amino acids – particularly important in supporting skeletal muscle activity, - and the non-essential but functional amino acids arginine and glutamine. The greatest utiliser of protein is the gastro-intestinal tract. As food passes along its length, it wears down the absorptive surfaces and regeneration is supported by those amino acids. Hemp, therefore, can support both structural and functional muscle types and can be regarded as an ideal protein source. Additionally, it has bioactive peptide potential. Having a role across a range of characteristics. Coupled with its role in antioxidation, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory function and possible prebiotic activity, hempseed meal is a powerful tool in gut health and nutrition, and this is in addition to the benefits of the hemp oil.


  • Brestenský M, Nitrayová S, Patráš P, Heger J, Nitray J. BRANCHED CHAIN AMINO ACIDS AND THEIR IMPORTANCE IN NUTRITION. jmbfs.2015.5.2.197-202.
  • Callaway JC. Hempseed as a nutritional resource: An overview. Euphytica 140: 65–72, 2004.
  • Cardarelli, H. R.; Martinez, R. C. R.; Albrecht, S.; Schols, H.; Franco, B. D. G. M.; Saad, S. M. I.; Smidt, H. In vitro fermentation of prebiotic carbohydrates by intestinal microbiota in the presence of Lactobacillus amylovorus DSM 16998. Beneficial Microbes 2016 Vol.7 No.1 pp.119-133.
  • Chibuike C. Udenigwe, Aishwarya Mohan, Mechanisms of food protein-derived antihypertensive peptides other than ACE inhibition, Journal of Functional Foods, Volume 8, May 2014, Pages 45-52.
  • Delavari B, Saboury AA, Atri MS, Ghasemi A, Bigdeli B, Khammari A, Maghami P, Moosavi-Movahedi AA, Haertlé T, Goliaei B, Alpha-lactalbumin: A new carrier for vitamin D3 food enrichment, Food Hydrocolloids, Volume 45, March 2015, Pages 124-131.
  • Gorshkova T, Morvan C. Secondary cell-wall assembly in flax phloem fibres: role of galactans. Planta (2006) 223: 149–158.
  • Gu Y, Wu J. The potential of antioxidative and anti-inflammatory peptides in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, Current Opinion in Food Science, Volume 8, April 2016, Pages 25-32.
  • Hassan-Smith ZK, Jenkinson C, Smith DJ, Hernandez I, Morgan SA, Crabtree NJ, Gittoes NJ, Keevil BG, Stewart PM, Hewison M. 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 and 1,25- dihydroxyvitamin D3 exert distinct effects on human skeletal muscle function and gene expression. PLOS ONE | DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0170665 February 15, 2017.
  • Hollis BW, Hibbs JW, Conrad HR, Vitamin D Binding Factors in Bovine Blood1, Journal of Dairy Science, Volume 60, Issue 10, October 1977, Pages 1605-1611.
  • Kopczyliska B. Cannabinoids' influence on cardio-respiratory response in an animal model. Medecyna Wet. 2011. 67 (9). 613-619.
  • Ohtani M, Sugita M, Maruyama K. Amino Acid Mixture Improves Training Efficiency in Athletes. J. Nutr. 136: 538S–543S, 2006.
  • Ramberg J, Nelson ED, Sinnott RA. Immunomodulatory dietary polysaccharides: a systematic review of the literature. Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:54.
  • Reboul E, Borel P, Proteins involved in uptake, intracellular transport and basolateral secretion of fat-soluble vitamins and carotenoids by mammalian enterocytes, Progress in Lipid Research, Volume 50, Issue 4, October 2011, Pages 388-402.
  • ShanMao R, Yomg T. Effect of arginine on intestinal health of weaner pigs and related mechanisms. 2014. Chinese J. An. Nutr. 26 (8). 2035-2039.
  • Smeriglio A, Galati EM, Monforte MT, Lanuzza F, D’Angelo V, Circosta C. Polyphenolic Compounds and Antioxidant Activity of Cold-Pressed Seed Oil from Finola Cultivar of Cannabis sativa L. Phytother. Res. 30: 1298–1307 (2016).
  • The S, Bekhit AEA, Carne A, Birch J, Antioxidant and ACE-inhibitory activities of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) protein hydrolysates produced by the proteases AFP, HT, Pro-G, actinidin and zingibain, Food Chemistry, Volume 203, 15 July 2016, Pages 199-206.
  • Yin S, Tang C, Cao J, Hu E, Wen Q, Yang X, Effects of limited enzymatic hydrolysis with trypsin on the functional properties of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) protein isolate, Food Chemistry, Volume 106, Issue 3, 1 February 2008, Pages 1004-1013.
  • Zhan Z, Ou D, Piao X, Kim SW, Liu Y,Wang J. Dietary arginine supplementation affects microvascular development in the small intestine of early weaned pigs. 2008. J. Nut. 138.1304-1309.