The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a regulatory system that allows our cells and organs to communicate with each other to balance overall activity and energy consumption. To put it simply, this system works tirelessly to keep us in good condition. This extensive system can be found in almost every part of our body, but especially the nervous system and immune system.
A healthy endocannabinoid system promotes homeostasis. Homeostasis is the process by which internal processes are kept stable despite any changes in the conditions around it.
The ECS is made up of three parts:
2. Receptors in the nervous system and around your body that endocannabinoids and cannabinoids interact with each other.
3. Enzymes that help break down endocannabinoids and cannabinoids.
Why Is the Endocannabinoid System Vital for Homeostasis?
To understand why the ECS is so vital for homeostasis, we’ll need to dive a bit deeper.
Essentially, homeostasis is your body’s efforts to keep everything in balance. It tries to keep your internal systems stable and optimal no matter what’s going on in the outside world. To help you better understand this process, think of all the command buttons in the dashboard of an airplane. Those are all indicators telling the pilot whether things are—or aren’t—operating as they should.
Just like the electronics in that imaginary airplane, your body works continuously to monitor important levels and functions in your body. Is your temperature too high, too low? Is your heart beating too fast? Do you need fuel or rest?
When something is not functioning as it normally would, your body activates the ECS to help find and correct it. So for example, when you’re really hot and begin to sweat, your ECS will work on cooling you down. When your stomach growls, that’s your ECS reminding you to eat because you need to recharge.
If you’re thinking ‘wow, the ECS is the ultimate caretaker of the body,’ you’re not wrong. The ECS does this “caretaking” via cannabinoid receptors found in the body. We have at least two types of cannabinoid receptors:
CB1, which is in the central nervous system (brain and nerves of the spinal cord).
CB2, which is in the peripheral nervous system, the digestive system, and specialized cells in the immune system.
Through these cannabinoid receptors, the ECS helps regulate many important functions, such as:
- Motor control
- Immune function
- Temperature regulation
- Memory etc.
Although the ECS acts more like an involuntary system, meaning it functions on its own whether you want it or think about it, there are some techniques one can engage in to support a healthy endocannabinoid system. Let’s look at five ways to support the endocannabinoid system.
5 Ways to Support the Endocannabinoid System
1. Exercise Daily
Do you ever get that ecstatic feeling after a crazy workout? Physical movement is the first and foremost way to enhance the ECS. New evidence shows that exercise increases the production of an endocannabinoid called anandamide. Anandamide often referred to as “the bliss molecule,” is released after exercise and provides a slightly euphoric feeling.
The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends at least two and a half hours of moderate physical activity per week.
2. Regular Sleep
The ECS influences circadian rhythm, the internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Research suggests that when you don’t get enough sleep, levels of the endocannabinoid 2-AG increase.
In a 2016 study, 14 participants got an average of four and a half hours of sleep per night over a four-day period. During this experiment, the participants’ levels of 2-AG increased, and so did their appetites. Consequently, the participants ate an average of 20 percent more with sleep deprivation.
Researchers concluded that chronic sleep deprivation contributes to obesity via the endocannabinoid system.
3. A Diet Rich in Healthy Fats
Endocannabinoids are products of fat, meaning that eating healthy fats is fundamental for the health of the system. Research shows that the intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can increase the expression of cannabinoid receptors.
Food sources of omega-6 fatty acids include poultry, eggs, whole grains, hemp, and seed oils.
Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish, shellfish, algae, walnuts, hemp, and pasture-raised eggs. The omega-3s found in fish and algae are easier for the human body to metabolize than the forms found in nuts and seeds.
People following a traditional Western diet generally have high intakes of omega-6 fatty acids. However, both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are needed to benefit the ECS.
4. Eating Dark Chocolates
Yes, you read that right. Chocolate actually helps in keeping us healthy. Dark chocolate contains anandamide, one of the cannabinoids that our body can produce on its own. In addition, chocolate also contains N-acylethanolamines which are thought to activate our body’s cannabinoid receptors.
5. Add CBD in Your Routine
Enhancing the endocannabinoid system by introducing external cannabinoids like CBD is another excellent technique to support a healthy ECS. Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the active cannabinoids in the hemp plant. It is non-intoxicating, but it can interact with the endocannabinoid system to keep us in peak condition. Research shows that CBD enhances the expression of CB1 receptors in the brain. In addition, it also increases levels of 2-AG by preventing it from breaking down.
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