by Dr. Will Cole
Everyone’s talking CBD. And as a functional medicine practitioner, I’ve seen a high-quality hemp extract help my patients with health issues ranging from chronic inflammation and migraines to IBS to anxiety.
But why does CBD seem to work so well, for so many different conditions? Cannabidiol (CBD) interacts with a larger system in the body called the endocannabinoid system, which explains the science behind many of its health benefits.
What’s the endocannabinoid system?
So what is the endocannabinoid system (ECS), exactly? It’s a network of receptors, enzymes, and compounds that the body naturally produces, called endocannabinoids. It’s often described as the body’s “master regulatory system” and is in charge of maintaining homeostasis, which is just another word for maintaining balance between internal and external environments.
The ECS has been connected to so many aspects of our health—including our moods, stress and pain response, and even seemingly unrelated factors like fertility issues and headaches. (Like I said, so many.)
How does CBD affect the ECS?
The two main endocannabinoids in the body are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglyerol (2-AG). Your ECS has receptors for each of these endocannabinoids throughout your body and when an endocannabinoid binds to a receptor, it prompts your ECS to keep various body functions running optimally. There are two main types of ECS receptors: CB1 receptors, located mainly in your central nervous system, and CB2 receptors, located mainly in your peripheral nervous system and immune system.
It’s thought that taking cannabinoids from plants—which are known as phytocannabinoids—can help restore balance to an endocannabinoid system that’s not working efficiently. Health experts have even coined the terms “low endocannabinoid tone” and “clinical endocannabinoid deficiency” to describe an endocannabinoid system that’s gone a little haywire. But what are the real consequences of a low endocannabinoid tone? Just to name a few, an unhealthy ECS has been linked to conditions like autism, migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome. We’ll likely uncover many more as the research surrounding the ECS expands and grows.
But taking cannabinoids like CBD isn’t the only way to support your ECS. As it turns out, your diet and lifestyle matter and matter a lot.
How do you support your endocannabinoid system?
We’re learning more and more that specific dietary and lifestyle changes can support the health of the ECS every day. But why would you want to change your lifestyle when you can just pop a CBD gummy and call it a day? As it turns out, the better you support your ECS, the more effective your hemp and CBD products will be.
Here are 10 quick and easy ways to improve the functioning of your endocannabinoid system:
1. Get some sun.
We all know that sun exposure is great for your mood and vitamin D levels, but it also enhances your ECS activity since the sun’s rays promote nitric oxide activity, which bolsters the expression of CB1 receptors.
2. Drink plenty of tea.
Who doesn’t love a cold glass of iced tea? Tea is chock full of antioxidants—like the compound epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) found in green tea—that enhance the endocannabinoid system. They do this by binding to cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system.
3. Eat plenty of healthy fats.
Good fats are a non-negotiable part of a healthy diet and a healthy ECS. The body’s endocannabinoids are actually synthesized from the omega-6 fatty acid arachidonic acid. Make sure you’re eating a healthy ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which you can find in foods like chia seeds, eggs, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, salmon, and wild-caught sardines.
4. Get chilly.
Cold exposure has been shown to stimulate the endocannabinoid system (and boost metabolism!). Try taking cold showers or swimming in cold water if you live near a body of water. Your ECS will thank you.
5. Go crazy on the vitamin A.
Studies have shown that vitamin A increases CB1 expression. And the good news is that you can find this vitamin in a variety of delicious, satiating foods, including wild-caught fish and ghee.
6. Get serious about reducing stress.
The stress hormone cortisol can reduce hippocampal CB1 receptors in the brain, which has been linked to low endocannabinoid tone. To combat this, get plenty of sleep, take time to wind down at the end of the day, and adopt a mindfulness practice like journaling, meditation, or yoga.
7. Make sure you’re well-hydrated.
Many people don’t realize it, but hydration involves way more than just water. It’s also crucial to get electrolytes, like magnesium, calcium, and potassium, to stay properly hydrated. These minerals have the additional job of keeping your body’s pH levels healthy and research has shown that calcium and potassium boost CB1 transport and activity.
8. Avoid ECS saboteurs.
It only makes sense that if some factors can improve the health of the ECS, others can hinder it. Pesticides and chemicals are on that list. Research has shown these pesky toxins can block the activity of the endocannabinoid system. To reduce your exposure, buy organic produce (especially when it’s on the Dirty Dozen list) and store your food and water in glass and stainless steel instead of plastic.
9. Move your body.
The ECS appreciates your efforts to work out as much as any other part of your body! Research suggest that exercise can both increase levels of your natural CB1 activator, anandamide, as well as your CB1 receptor sensitivity.
10. Treat yourself.
Dark chocolate can support the natural endocannabinoid anandamide, as well as compounds that slow the breakdown of this endocannabinoid, which helps stimulate your endocannabinoid system.
So there you have it! Ten easy ways to make sure your ECS is running as smoothly as possible and that your CBD is really able to do its job.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body. We do not aim to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness or disease. Information is shared for educational purposes only. You must consult your doctor before acting on any content on this website, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition.
Our articles may include products that have been independently chosen and recommended by Dr. Will Cole and our editors. If you purchase something mentioned in this article, we may earn a small commission.