How Diet Affects Your Endocannabinoid System
It's obvious by now the endocannabinoid system plays a vital role in many aspects of human life. Whether it’s controlling our appetites and metabolism or regulating our moods and behavior, it’s constantly keeping our internal homeostasis in check. Scientists have known for a while that phytocannabinoids, such as CBD and THC, interact and influence the function of our endocannabinoid system, but now they are beginning to understand how our diet works into the equation.
What is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a vast signaling network spread throughout the body. In response to internal and external stressors, our body is triggered to release a variety of chemicals called endocannabinoids. These compounds disperse where needed and bind with their endocannabinoid receptor counterpart. Through this release and reception of chemicals, the endocannabinoid system keeps various systems in our body functioning smoothly. This process manages memory, mood, pain sensation, appetite, sleep and immune function.
The primary receptors in the endocannabinoid system are the CB1 and CB2 receptors. The CB1 receptor is concentrated throughout the brain and central nervous system, as well as scattered along the gut-brain axis. The CB2 receptor is found mainly in the immune and digestive systems.
After 30 years of study, the exact expression of the endocannabinoid system still is only vaguely understood. Researchers have put together some pieces of the puzzle, but much more still are missing. Some of the most recent theories evolving out of this field of study are how nutrition and diet play a pivotal role in the healthy function of our ECS.
Understanding Diet and the Endocannabinoid system
Even from birth, our diets have a hand to play in the development of our ECS. For example, it is not an evolutionary instinct that triggers a newborn to suckle. Instead, scientists have discovered that it is CB1 receptor activity. Breast milk contains naturally produced cannabinoids called anandamide and 2AG, which bind directly to these receptors. According to the research, through absorption of a mother's endocannabinoids, a baby's system is stimulated to develop vital tissues both pre- and postnatally.
What now is becoming clear to medical researchers is that too much or too little dietary fat can throw the delicate internal balance of the ECS completely out of whack. Some theorize this has become an increasingly serious issue due to the devolution of the Western diet into fat, sugar, and carbs. One illustrative study discovered significantly high levels of endocannabinoids in fatty tissues, triggered by hyperactivity of the ECS.
Many new theories are developing about what health issues hyperactive or underactive endocannabinoid systems can trigger and how our diets play into this. Some believe Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and more may be linked to imbalances within the endocannabinoid system, potentially caused by diet. The relationship between fats and the endocannabinoid system remains complicated and poorly understood, but the evidence suggests fat intake influences the activity of the ECS.
How to Nurture the Endocannabinoid System
If diet is linked to endocannabinoid disruptions, how best should we properly nurture our ECS system to prevent disease and illness? It all comes down to ensuring we nourish our bodies with the proper dietary building blocks that will allow it to synthesize its endocannabinoids properly.
As of yet, there is no consensus regarding exactly what foods to eat and in what combinations to provide sustenance to your ECS. However, a number of foods and supplements have been linked to ECS support.
Although not a food source, CBD oil can be considered an ECS-supportive dietary supplement. It interacts with your cannabinoid receptors just like your body’s own naturally-produced cannabinoids. The theory behind its connection to diet and ECS balance is that it can balance out an imperfect system.
If poor diet choices lead to deficiencies, your body will not be able to produce the cannabinoids needed. For example, it may not be able to produce enough dopamine or serotonin. In this case, CBD oil helps support the system and evens out the imbalance by increasing the neurotransmissions between the dopamine or serotonin receptors.
The body relies on essential fatty acids to produce its cannabinoids. Too few healthy fats (monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats), and your ECS will not be able to produce the cannabinoids required to maintain homeostasis.
If you consume too much processed and refined oils (saturated and trans fats), the endocannabinoid system can go into overdrive. Focusing on incorporating more sources of healthy fats into your diet will help the system remain well-balanced. Based on the current evidence, a well-nourished ECS seems to rely heavily on the consumption of healthy fats as part of a well-balanced diet.
Sources of Fatty Acids
- Salmon, tuna and other seafood
- Free-range eggs
- Flax seeds and oils
- Coconut meat and oils
- Olive Oil
One of the most exciting areas of research is the gut-brain connection. This link refers to the deep connection between the digestive tract’s microbiome and mental health (among other things). The microbial environment in our gastrointestinal tract was found to interact with the CB2 receptors located there. Through this interaction, there is a direct (although poorly understood) effect on mental health. An interesting theory is that certain bacteria reduce the expression of certain receptors. Depending on the bacterial makeup of your gut, your mood, and potentially your mental health, could be severely affected.
Sources of Probiotics
The body’s natural inflammatory response is regulated by the ECS system. If your body is unable to reduce inflammation, it may be time to consider incorporating anti-inflammatory foods such as curcumin into your diet. Another suggestion is reducing your consumption of inflammatory foods, such as sugar, grain, and trans fats, which are so common in the Western diet.
One of the most powerful natural anti-inflammatory agents is called curcumin. It is a bright yellow chemical produced by some plants and the principal curcuminoid of turmeric. It is the active compound found in turmeric, and study after study has shown its effects to soothe a hyperactive inflammatory system. By adjusting your diet to manage inflammatory responses, you potentially could avoid overwhelming your ECS further.
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