By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD
When your endocannabinoid system (ECS) — which is responsible for many cognitive and physiological functions — is working at its best, your overall health is better supported too. What can you do to optimize the health and function of your ECS? Here are five top foods and activities that can do help you do just that.
1. Running and similar exercises. If you’re a runner, you’re probably familiar with “runner’s high.” This euphoric feeling occurs when the ECS releases a naturally occurring endocannobanoid, which triggers the endorphin rush during or right after a workout.
The name of this endocannabinoid, anandamide, is taken from the Sanskrit word “ananda,” meaning "joy, bliss, delight." This euphoria can actually be experienced from a range of activities — even meditation for some people.
2. Chocolate. Chocolate doesn’t just taste blissful, it actually contains a number of nutrients and compounds that are beneficial for your ECS. One of these compounds is anandamide.
Eating chocolate or other products made with cocoa is like fueling your body with more of its own bliss molecules.
If you’re a dark chocolate fan, you may reap even more benefits. Dark chocolate contains lots of compounds called flavonoids, which can help protect anandamide from being broken down. Some researchers even speculate that anandamide may play a major role in chocolate cravings.
3. Essential fatty acids. We’ve known omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids are beneficial for the heart, brain and skin. As it turns out, they also act as precursors for making endocannabinoids like anandamide, and another called 2-AG.
Many Americans who enjoy eating a typical Western diet consume too many omega-6 fatty acids, which can promote inflammation and down regulate endocannabinoid production. Omega-6 fats are found in things like processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise and salad dressings.
Some good ways to increase your omega-3 fatty acid intake are to incorporate foods like grass-fed beef, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, wild salmon, omega-3 enriched eggs and sardines into your regular diet.
4. Herbs. Adding herbs to your diet through cooking or brewing tea is another great way to boost your body’s production of endocannabinoids.
In addition to the hemp plant, herbs like echinacea, turmeric, black pepper, liverwort, rosemary, hops and coneflower support the ECS and act positively on CB2 receptors in the body.
5. Probiotics. People most often take probiotics to balance the gut microbiota, for reasons like calming an upset stomach, improving regularity and resetting the digestive system.
However, many people don’t know that probiotics can also improve the function of cannabinoid receptors in the intestines and brain. Animal studies have shown the ability of oral Lactobacillusprobiotics to upregulate cannabinoid receptors in the intestines.
You may already be incorporating some of these activities, foods and supplements into your lifestyle. If not, giving a couple of these boosters a try is a great way to start fine-tuning your endocannabinoid system.