What is the ECS?
Inside every single one of us we have is what’s known as an endocannabinoid system. The ECS is a comprehensive neuromodulator system (a system that alters nerve activity through targeted release of a stimulus) that plays critical roles in central nervous system (CNS) development and synaptic plasticity which is essential due to directly affecting our brains' ability to change or adapt.
The ECS comprised of cannabinoid receptors, endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), and the enzymes responsible for the synthesis and degradation of these.
The endocannabinoids bind with the cannabinoid receptors like a lock and key, and in turn, this produces a physiological response that’s is necessary for keeping cells alive and healthy and helping to maintain balance and homeostasis within the body and mind. The cannabinoid receptors are located throughout the body and in the brain (see fig 1). Their ocations highlight the reason they are so important for mental health, immunity, digestive health, pain, and sleep.
Why is much of the scientific community becoming fascinated by the endocannabinoid system?
As you can see from figure 1, our cannabinoid receptors are located in a wide range of different areas in our bodies. We are showing that they affect a large number of different biological systems and functions. When we stimulate these receptors, we elicit many physiological processes that can potentially lead to improved sleep, memory, emotional responses, mood, appetite, and temperature, among others. It can even regulate the sensation of pain.
The scientific community, therefore, recognises the potential for the endocannabinoid to provide a route to wellbeing and a potential area to explore for new treatments and medicines for different ailments.
How can we ensure we have a healthy Endocannabinoid system?
You may have heard people who run describe a ‘runners high’, recent studies suggest that endurance training can activate our endocannabinoid system. The studies showed that endurance training at 70-80% of maximum heart rate (MHR) increased the levels of anandamide in blood plasma. Anandamide binds to cannabinoid receptors, triggering the physiological responses mentioned earlier.
While physical activity releases endocannabinoids, a diet rich in fats is responsible for producing endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are by-products of fat, to stay in peak health opt to consume healthy fats for a healthy endocannabinoid system.
Research shows that polyunsaturated fats, omega-e and omega-6, are essential for a healthy endocannabinoid system. Omega-3 increases the power of the cannabinoid receptors, which enhance the healing properties of endocannabinoids like anandamide.
Cannabidiol is a substance derived from the hemp plant that, unlike THC, does not cause any psychoactive effects. It does, however, help to create the right conditions for our CB1 and CB2 receptors to work efficiently, leading to a more effective use of serotonin supplies. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for wellbeing and a major player in coping with anxiety. Furthermore, as we use our endocannabinoids more effectively, it can help us manage our perception of pain as well as helping to bring balance to our neurotransmitters and hormones. When our levels of neurotransmitters and hormones are in balance, we become more healthy and our sense of wellbeing is stronger.
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