You balance your work with your family life, fatty foods with healthy ones, stress with happiness. But what about your endocannabinoid system (ECS)? The ECS is a pivotal system that impacts a multitude of other health factors and, when it's unbalanced, can have a negative impact on your overall health. Here's what you need to know:
What Is the Endocannabinoid System?
The 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:
- responses to stress
- memory building
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.
Cannabinoid receptors are broken into two groups: CB1 and CB2. These groups are quite different, although they do share some similar traits.
CB1 receptors are located predominantly in the:
- body fat
- muscle tissue
These receptors are responsible for processing the psychoactive traits of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
CB2 receptors are located primarily in the:
- immune system
They’re also found in lesser amounts in:
- the gut
- the nervous system
- the liver
These receptors provide pain relief.
What's a Balanced ECS?
When we talk about the balance of the ECS, "balance" doesn't mean a 50/50 split between CB1 and CB2 receptors. Instead, optimal health can be achieved when people have slightly higher levels of CB2 receptors than CB1. 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 receptors, 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.
How to Balance Your ECS
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.
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.
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’s evidence that ample intake of omega-3s and omega-6s can support the proper function of cannabinoid receptors within the brain.
Before you think about lowering your CB1 levels too much, it's important to remember that CB1 receptors do serve an important purpose. Research has suggested that maintaining the correct levels of CB1 protects against depressive symptoms and helps lower stress in rodents.
A Balanced ECS Goes Skin Deep
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 skin cells. When the ECS is balanced, negative skin cell growth and various forms of inflammation immediately decline. Because of this, a balanced ECS balance can be part of successful treatment for people suffering from painful or dangerous skin conditions such as:
- systemic sclerosis
ECS Balance Leads to a Healthier You
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.
Photo Credit: Ionel Pop