A healthy life is all about balance. We all strive hard to maintain a balance between work and play because we know how it can greatly impact our mental and physical health. A balanced diet ensures we get all the nourishment we need to keep fit, prevent illness, and stay productive. But the most important “balance” that we need to maintain is within our body. If something in our body is “out of balance,” it can cause conditions within the body to deteriorate and organ systems struggle to function or, worse, possibly fail. In short, maintaining balance is essential to our good health and even our survival. That’s where our endocannabinoid system and CBD come in.
What Is The Endocannabinoid System?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is primarily responsible for regulating various functions in the body to ensure homeostasis. It consists of three main parts – endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. But before we get in deeper into how the ECS works, it is important to understand what homeostasis is.
What Is Homeostasis?
Homeostasis is an organism’s ability to maintain a stable internal environment in order to function optimally. Keeping a constant internal environment means adjustments are made in internal processes to stay within the proper range, no matter what’s happening in the environment around the body. Your blood sugar levels can’t be too high or too low. Your body temperature can’t be too hot or too cold. Your heart shouldn’t be pumping too fast or too slow. In short, everything in your body should be just right in order for your body to be at optimum health and performance.
How Does The ECS Work?
So, what does the ECS do to maintain homeostasis? When there’s a change in the conditions in the internal environment such as a change in body temperature or blood sugar level, the body activates the ECS. Endocannabinoids, which are cannabis-like compounds that are produced naturally by our body, are released. They bind to cannabinoid receptors located all over your body that transmit information to cells about the change that has occurred.
There are two endocannabinoid receptors that we know about – CB1 receptors which are mostly located in the central nervous system and CB2 receptors which are mostly found in the peripheral nervous system. The endocannabinoids are sent to activate only those receptors that are needed. For example, if there is inflammation in the body, the endocannabinoids might activate CB2 receptors located in the body’s immune cells to suppress the immune system’s response (inflammation). Once homeostasis has been restored, the enzymes are released to break down the endocannabinoids.
While there’s still a lot of research that needs to be done to determine exactly how the ECS regulates various physiological systems in the body, but studies have shown that it can affect various processes such as:
- chronic pain
- liver function
- temperature regulation
- immune function
- Skin and nerve function
Effects Of CBD On Overall Health Regulation
So, what effect does CBD have on our vital functions? Cannabidiol (CBD) is a plant-based cannabinoid, similar to endocannabinoids, that activates the ECS. How it does so is still up for debate in the scientific community. Some experts believe that CBD binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Others think that CBD prevents endocannabinoids from being broken down which means that it prolongs the effects. One study shows that CBD stimulates the receptors in order for the body to produce endocannabinoids. Regardless of how it happens, research has proven that CBD does influence ECS activity in various bodily functions. Below are some examples of how we can use CBD to help our body remain in balance.
Our digestive system contains both CB1 and CB2 receptors that play an important role in regulating GI health. Gut health plays a key role in our overall health. Research shows that the ECS acts as a link between our gut and our brain which allows the two to communicate with each other. The ECS is involved in digestive motility, gut permeability, and intestinal inflammation. Plant-based cannabinoids have also been found to stimulate CB1 receptors located in the gastrointestinal tract. The stimulation of the CB1 receptors can help calm nausea, reduce stomach acid, and regulate food intake1. Ingesting CBD can help activate the ECS to regulate digestion, reduce inflammation, and help treat irritable bowel syndrome.
According to preliminary research, CBD may be able to help boost metabolism and lessen your food intake2. In addition, a test-tube study found that CBD helped convert white fat cells (the ones involved in fat storage) to brown fat cells which are responsible for burning calories. It also showed that CBD helped promote the breakdown of fats. In fact, some researchers are proposing the use of cannabinoids as an alternative treatment for obesity3.
Stress and Mood
There’s no question that stress and mood have a huge impact on our overall health. When we get stressed, our cortisol (stress-response hormone) levels go up. This hormone makes your heart pump faster, increasing your blood pressure. It also makes your liver produce more blood sugar to give you extra energy. Your muscles tense up, readying for action. Those are just the basics.
Stress can also trigger headaches, heartburn, insomnia, and stomachaches. In addition, chronic stress can weaken your immune system, cause fertility problems, and even lead to depression.
The ECS plays a key role in regulating our body’s response to stress and our emotions. It’s like the “override” system, putting on the brakes when there is an absence of a stressor. CBD interacts with the ECS to reduce the stress response. It helps relieve the symptoms of stress – muscle pain, insomnia, elevated blood pressure, etc. In one study, a low dose of CBD relieved symptoms of anxiety experienced by people who were faced with the task of speaking in public. According to the scientists, it’s possible that CBD increased the transmission activity of serotonin receptors. In addition, the compound increased the availability of serotonin in the brain. This hormone is responsible for regulating mood, happiness, and anxiety. Anxiety has been linked to low levels of serotonin.
Aside from relieving symptoms of stress and anxiety, CBD has also been found to help increase the regeneration of neurons in the hippocampus4. This is the part of the brain that regulates the production of cortisol. Chronic stress can cause the rate of cell proliferation in the hippocampus to decrease. Ingesting CBD may help stop or even reverse damage in the hippocampus caused by exposure to chronic stress.
Quality sleep is important to overall health. It helps the healing and repair of our body. Poor sleep has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart problems, and poor immune health. Sleep also has an impact on memory consolidation, cognitive performance, growth and development, and mood.
Based on preliminary research on anxiety, CBD may be able to improve sleep. One review found that CBD may be able to help treat insomnia. It may also be able to help people with REM sleep behavior disorder and excessive daytime sleepiness.
The ECS is believed to be the primary regulator of the immune system. It is believed that it regulates the production of cytokines which are proteins that help coordinate the immune system responses of the body. The ECS is also involved in preventing the immune system from being overactive. Inflammation is a natural immune response, but it can become chronic when left unchecked which can lead to health issues.
CBD has antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties5. Research suggests that cannabinoids have the potential to be anti-inflammatory drugs because they have been found to downregulate the production of cytokine and chemokine production. Cannabinoids have also been found to inhibit the release of enzymes that break down endocannabinoids which led to the suppression of immune responses.
Other areas of health that CBD may be able to help regulate include bone health, fertility, heart health, and skin health.
While there’s still a lot of research that needs to be conducted on the health benefits of CBD, there’s no question that it has shown a lot of potential in helping us maintain balance. Results of past and current studies have shown that it may be a safe, natural, and non-addictive treatment for many health issues that we are suffering today. If you are interested in trying CBD to help regulate your vital bodily functions, we recommend that you start with a low dose and go from there.