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Care & Feeding of Your Endocannabinoid System

 woman meditating by water

Your endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays an important role in regulating many processes related to your physiology and cognition. For instance, your ECS is involved in fertility, appetite, mood, pain and memory. It also helps mediate the impacts of pharmacological cannabis.

As you can imagine, it’s a good idea to do things that support a healthy and functioning ECS as much as possible. 

There are many ways to help stimulate your ECS, especially CBD, but you can also actually do it harm. Below are some of the most important factors to avoid to keep your ECS functioning optimally. 

Pesticides and Brain Development

The largest and most chronic source of pesticide exposure today is our food system. You may be surprised to learn how much of your diet contains chemicals used in agriculture that can be harmful to your ECS, and to your health. Pesticides like chlorpyrifos and diazinon have been found to be especially harmful by altering your normal ECS functions and impacting brain development.

The best way to limit your pesticide exposure through food is to choose organic as much as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to choose all organic foods, but understanding which ones are the worst culprits can help.

The Environmental Working Group releases a list of the 12+ most contaminated foods every year, called the Dirty Dozen. This gives you a helpful starting place when evaluating your diet and choosing which are the most important foods to buy organic. 

Excessive Alcohol Intake

If alcohol is a significant part of your life, you might want to consider reducing your intake due to its likely detrimental effects on your ECS.

You may be surprised to learn how much of your diet contains chemicals used in agriculture that can be harmful to your ECS, and to your health.

Research suggests that excessive drinking might actually lower the sensitivity of your CB1 cannabinoids receptors (located in your central and peripheral nervous systems) which can change the number of endocannabinoids in your body. Fewer endocannabinoids can lead to a less functional ECS.

Stress and Anxiety

Many studies have indicated that high levels of stress can increase oxidative damage and reduce the number of endocannabinoids in your body. This, in turn, leads to reduced ECS functioning. 

Some ways to combat this effect are to become more aware of your stress levels, and incorporate stress management techniques into your life. 

For example: 
  • Engage in regular physical activity, and get moving. This doesn’t mean you have to practice intense exercises on a daily basis. In fact, some studies have shown that exercise that’s too intense can have negative impacts on the ECS. In that regard, incorporating lower stress exercises like walking and yoga may be more beneficial than things like powerlifting or triathlons. 
  • Practice meditation and focused breathing techniques. These things have a high potential to raise your levels of anandamide — a fatty acid neurotransmitter derived from omega-6 fat — and positively stimulate your ECS. Anandamide binds to cannabinoid receptors in your brain and mimics the effects of plant-derived cannabinoid drugs.
    As you can see, many lifestyle changes recommended for overall health can also directly protect your endocannabinoid system.

    Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD, specializes in plant-based living and vegan and vegetarian diets. She writes about a wide variety of health, environmental and nutrition topics. 

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