The Importance of Balancing the Endocannabinoid System

Photo: Malou Palmqvist

How can triggering your body’s innate endocannabinoid system (ECS) help with your overall well-being? We know about the ECS and its regulatory effect on foundational processes like sleep, emotion and pain processing, stress, and cognition. Its presence in vertebrates is the reason that plants like cannabis produce a variety of effects when consumed, from relieving pain to reducing inflammation or inducing sleep. The stability and proper functioning of the ECS is vital to achieving homeostasis within the body.

In humans, the receptors of the ECS are seen in high concentrations in the brain, liver, GI tract, skeletal muscles, cardiovascular system, and reproductive system, implicating their relevance in the major functions associated with those areas: learning and memory, cardiac function, fertility regulation, sleep, energy, muscle formation, and more. It is this “umbrella-like” regulatory nature the ECS has on so many fundamental processes that indicates its role in our daily experience and overall well-being. We must sleep well, eat well, and problem-solve to truly live in balance, and because all of these processes are linked under the umbrella of the ECS, its proper functioning is crucial.

Integral to the discovery of the regulator that is the ECS was the observation that humans also produce endocannabinoids (the prefix endo- indicates origins within a body, as opposed to the phyto- affix for plant-based cannabinoids). Your body is an ecosystem, and the regulation of the ECS can be helped or hindered by how you maintain your body and live your life. One way to work towards homeostasis, where everything is running optimally, is by incorporating known balancing, adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms into your routines. These can be a powerful game-changer in nourishing your ECS, as poor diet can cause imbalance.

Another contributor to (im)balance: the intake of essential fatty acids Linoleic Acid and Alpha Linoleic Acid, both of which bind to endocannabinoid receptors and are associated with a host of neurological processes and development. However, due to overall shifts in the Western/ Standard American diet in recent decades, it is now commonplace for people to have an imbalance in these fatty acids, which can affect long-term brain function, often making their consumption crucial to combat this deficiency. Further botanical compounds that exert effects on the ECS, and are therefore functionally considered to be cannabinoids, are terpenes. As we’ve covered, terpenes are an abundant compound found throughout the plant kingdom, and for generations have been distinguished for their medicinal properties.

With emerging science, more focus is being paid to the ECS and its role in wellness routines for targeting issues like energy, stamina, pain relief, and sleep. Lifestyle, diet, and your level of mindfulness are locked into a reciprocal relationship with the functioning of your ECS, and identifying and targeting sources of imbalance will help you achieve your wellness goals.

References

Di Marzo, Vincenzo et al. “Endocannabinoid signalling and the deteriorating brain.” Nature reviews. Neuroscience vol. 16,1 (2015): 30-42. doi:10.1038/nrn3876

Katona, István, and Tamás F Freund. “Multiple functions of endocannabinoid signaling in the brain.” Annual review of neuroscience vol. 35 (2012): 529-58. doi:10.1146/annurev-neuro-062111-150420

Maccarrone, Mauro et al. “Programming of neural cells by (endo)cannabinoids: from physiological rules to emerging therapies.” Nature reviews. Neuroscience vol. 15,12 (2014): 786-801. doi:10.1038/nrn3846

Zamberletti, Erica et al. “Lifelong imbalanced LA/ALA intake impairs emotional and cognitive behavior via changes in brain endocannabinoid system.” Journal of lipid research vol. 58,2 (2017): 301-316. doi:10.1194/jlr.M068387

Zou, Shenglong, and Ujendra Kumar. “Cannabinoid Receptors and the Endocannabinoid System: Signaling and Function in the Central Nervous System.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 19,3 833. 13 Mar. 2018, doi:10.3390/ijms19030833

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