In our previous blog The Endocannabinoid System and Your Health, we explained why medicinal cannabis can be used to treat so many different conditions. If you haven’t read it yet, we recommend you start there to bring you up to speed with one of the most complicated signalling systems in your body and the influence it has on health and wellbeing.
Remember, your body is actually capable of making its own cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids (‘endo’ meaning originating within the body). The cannabinoids coming from the cannabis plant are called phytocannabinoids (‘phyto’ means plant). Phytocannabinoids are so effective for some people because something within their ECS is not functioning properly. But there may be other ways to treat an unbalanced ECS without turning to cannabis – which can be expensive and/or hard to get hold of.
This blog will explain how you can support your Endocannabinoid System (ECS) without medicinal cannabis, CBD oil, or any other cannabis products.
Essential Fatty Acids
A healthy ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can enhance the activity of the ECS. Endocannabinoids are produced from arachidonic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid. Having enough arachidonic acid is essential for endocannabinoid production, but having too much may lead to down-regulation of cannabinoid receptors. Omega-3 fatty acids are needed to balance the omega-6 fats so the ECS can function properly. These fatty acids are much harder to come by in the diet, and are also proven to have cardiovascular and neurological health benefits. An ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in the diet is 1:1, and the typical western diet often has a 1:10 ratio.
Sources of endocannabinoid-enhancing fatty acids:
- Hemp seeds and hemp oil
- Ground flax seeds and flax oil
- Chia seeds
- Sardines and anchovies
- Eggs (pasture-fed or omega-3 enriched only)
You’ll be pleased to know that chocolate makes the list – but only dark chocolate. Cacao powder contains three compounds that are structurally very similar to endocannabinoids. The content of cannabinoid-like compounds in chocolate varies widely and is highest in dark chocolate and raw cacao. Look for at least 70% dark chocolate (90% is better!), or try adding raw cacao nibs to smoothies or cereal.
Herbs, Spices, Teas
Numerous herbs and teas contain compounds that can enhance the ECS. For example, Beta-caryophyllene is a terpene found in black pepper, lemon balm, hops, cloves, cannabis, oregano, cinnamon, and several other herbs. It selectively stimulates the CB2 receptor, a sought-after property in the development of treatments for inflammatory disorders. Turmeric is another great example. It contains curcumin, which also raises endocannabinoid levels amongst numerous other health benefits. Remember, plants are nature’s medicines so include a wide variety of plant-based foods (including teas, nuts, seeds, fruit and veg) in your diet.
Studies have shown that DiNP, commonly used in a lot of plastic items, affected the genes that code for CB receptors and increased activity of a cannabinoid degrading enzyme in fish. Alarmingly, the result was a decrease in fertility. Avoid single-use plastics and heating your food in plastic where possible.
Some pesticides (e.g. chlorpyrifos and piperonyl butoxide) are known to disrupt the ECS and other systems within the body. Choose organic where possible.
We are becoming increasingly aware of the detrimental effect of stress on the immune system. Not surprisingly, stress also disrupts our ECS, which is strongly linked to the immune system. Whilst it is difficult to avoid stress in today’s busy lifestyle, we can get better at managing it. Here are some stress reducing activities:
- Exercise (but make sure you enjoy it otherwise your body interprets it as stress!)
- Social interaction
- Read a good book
- Unstructured leisure time
Overall, if you include a diversity of organic, plant-based foods, organic herbal teas, a source well balanced essential fatty acids (like hemp oil), dark chocolate, some social interaction, and some exercise in your daily routine you’ll be on your way to a more balanced ECS.