You balance your work with your family life, fatty foods with healthy ones, stress with happiness. But what about your endocannabinoid system? The endocannabinoid system is a pivotal body system that impacts a multitude of other health factors and, when it's improperly balanced, it can have a negative impact on your overall health. Here's what you need to know:
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) consists of a selection of highly specialized lipids and receptors within the brain. The system acts on the nervous system to produce things like hunger, pain, responses to stress, memory building, inflammation and muscle control. The ECS also has a direct impact on things like sleep, muscle control, energy and mood.
Cannabinoid Receptors 101
The ECS relies on a series of cannabinoid receptors to support its function. These receptors are actually cell membrane receptors that are shaped like an "S." Each receptor has seven parts that are designed to permeate cell membranes, where they couple with G-proteins.
This coupling is what produces a sensation response within the human brain. The compounds that couple with cannabinoid receptors are known as "lipophilic," or "fat-loving." These compounds include such naturally synthesized compounds as endocannabinoids, phytocannabinoids (these are plant-derived compounds such as Cannabidiol, which comes from cannabis) and synthetic cannabinoids.
Cannabinoid receptors are broken into two separate groups: CB1 and CB2. These groups are quite distinctly different, although they do share some similar traits. CB1 receptors, for example, are located predominantly in the brain, kidneys, liver, lungs, body fat, muscle tissue, bones and heart. These receptors are responsible for processing the psychoactive traits of THC. CB2 receptors, on the other hand, are located primarily in the immune system and bloodstream, and in lesser amounts in the gut, muscle, bone, nervous system and liver. These receptors provide pain relief.
Endocannabinoid Receptors and the Balance of the ECS
When we talk about the balance of the ECS, we're talking about the presence and activity of CB1 versus CB2 within the body. In this case, however, "balance" doesn't mean a 50/50 split between CB1 and CB2. Instead, optimal health can be achieved when people have slightly higher levels of CB2 than they do CB1. This is because research has shown that people with high levels of CB1 suffer from conditions associated with stress and anxiety, such as paranoia, appetite loss, nausea and vomiting, pain and improper immune function.
A high level of CB2, on the other hand, is associated with positive effects, such as decreased inflammation, rapid tissue reconstruction and healing, higher metabolic function, healthier levels of insulin, and healthy energy levels.
In light of this, researchers have been working to produce effective CB1 blockers that can decrease the negative impacts of excess CB1 while highlighting the positive aspects of CB2, such as increased metabolic function. These products aim to improve the symptoms associated with conditions like metabolic syndrome (such as elevated blood pressure and blood sugar, high levels of body fat, and high cholesterol levels), which is known to increase the likelihood of stroke, diabetes and various forms of heart disease.
While more research is needed on the topic of CB1 blockers, preliminary data has already shown that lowering CB1 levels in the body can help to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lower blood sugar, and aid in abdominal fat loss, which results in a decreased risk for conditions like type II diabetes and heart disease.
Balancing the ECS
Before you write it off completely, it's important to remember that CB1 does serve an important purpose. Recent research has suggested that maintaining the correct levels of CB1 within the body protects against depressive symptoms and helps lower stress in rodents. This proves the importance of maintaining balance in the ECS.
One of the most astounding functions of the ECS is that it helps control and enhance the function of the integumentary system, which includes hair and human skin cells. When the ECS is balanced, negative skin cell growth and various forms of inflammation immediately decline. Because of this, targeted manipulation of ECS balance has been posed as a treatment option for people suffering from painful or dangerous skin conditions such as acne, dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema and systemic sclerosis.
In addition to exploring CB1 blockers to help maintain a balance between CB1 and CB2 within the human brain, scientists are also studying the impact of diet. Currently, there is evidence that ample intake of omega-3s and omega-6s can support the proper function of cannabinoid receptors within the brain.
Perfect Balance Leads to Enhanced Function
Balancing the ECS is a delicate process but, when done correctly, it can have a marked positive effect on lives. People with excessively high CB1 levels often struggle with things like inflammation, increased risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. If CB1 is inhibited too much, however, it leads to conditions like infertility, depression and decreased immune function. At the same time, when CB2 levels are too high, decreased immune function and impaired tissue healing are the results.
In light of these findings, it's clear that, to obtain optimal health, people must focus more strongly on building and maintaining the proper balance between CB1 and CB2 through the responsible use of CB1 blockers and proper diet.