What Controls You? The Endocannabinoid System - A Brief Explanation
Do people still debate on nature vs nurture? Or has this become an obsolete question? Do you believe your life is pre-determined and already mapped out? Do you believe you forge your path by your experiences and choices? It’s important to understand the difference between genetics and epigenetics (external influences that can turn genetic markers "on" or "off”). We are born with infinite possibilities and at the same time predispositions that can have a strong hold on us. It's possible that if an illness or condition runs in the family, you may face it too – but – you may also have the capability to ward it off. Can you control it? Yes and no. Nature and nurture do play a role.
The Endocannabinoid System - A Brief Explanation
The human body is equipped with a system that can help you manage these predispositions. The ECS or endocannabinoid system (EN–doh–cuh–NAB–inoid) was discovered around 1990. It's often referred to as the body’s regulatory system. It regulates the functioning of many processes in the human body: protection and adaptation of the brain, embryonic development, immunity, pain, carcinogenesis (cancer formation), sleep, memory, feeding and metabolism.
We make lifestyle choices including the foods we eat and the behaviors or practices we engage in. While genetics plays a role in how an individual’s ECS functions, we also have some control over this system in the same way we can turn the heat up or down with the thermostat in our house. Eating inflammatory foods such as unhealthy fats and refined sugars can put this system into an imbalanced state and “turn up the heat” in our bodies. Imagine having the heat in your house on all summer long. You’d feel pretty miserable and waste a whole lot of energy. By eating healthy fats, such as hemp seeds and hemp oil, grass-fed products, or even taking fish oil, we fuel this system promoting it to properly regulate processes in the body by regulating inflammation. It’s like using a “smart” thermostat in your house. The body can function efficiently if given the proper fuel or mode of control.
The ECS is a system of receptors, lipids (fats), and enzymes. The receptors act like baseball players in the field with their gloves open waiting for the balls to come to them. Lipids are the balls – some come from our own body (endocannabinoids) and some come from what we consume (including phytocannabinoids from plants). Imagine it's batting practice with 4 catchers in the field. Not every ball will make it into a glove. Let’s imagine half of those balls (or fats) are “healthy” and half are “unhealthy”. We have a 50/50 chance of catching a good one. Before it gets caught, an enzyme works to break down the lipid to fit into the receptor, but unfortunately, the healthy and unhealthy fats (lipids) compete for the same enzyme. If we are eating a standard American diet, that ratio gets skewed. We have a 20:1 ratio, more or less, of unhealthy to healthy fats. More unhealthy fats will reach receptors, get the enzyme and crowd out the healthy ones.
We can make choices to optimize the functioning of this system and when we do we realize that we can exert control over our health and our well-being. Consider this next time you have to make a choice. Would you turn on the heat in the summer? Is that going against your body’s rhythm? Would you put on the air condition to compensate? You don’t need a perfect score card. Find your rhythm and find your balance.
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A few ways to help balance the ECS:
1. Start by looking at your foods and asking 2 questions.
1: Where did you come from?
2: What will you do for me?
We are sold on taste though often times taste comes with a silent downside. The best analogy I can make here is to remind you of the last time you dated a girl or guy because of her/his good looks and eventually realized there was nothing fulfilling about this relationship. It may have helped pass the time but you found yourself back to square one and maybe even worse off then you were before you met.
2. Ditch the yellow oils. Cook with avocado oil or coconut oil.
Yellow oils have a high ratio of omega-6 and omega-3. Omega-6 is mainly inflammatory. We already get enough of this in our diet and for many Americans that ratio could look like 40:1 (omega-6: omega-3). Canola oil is in almost everything! If you are looking for snacks, you’ll start to see hummus, popcorn and other items made with olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil and ghee. So read your labels.
3. Make the switch from conventional dairy and meat to grass-fed. Kerry Gold butter is ECS approved!
4. Incorporate hemp foods into your daily diet. Seeds are a great place to start. Click here for an easy Hemp Seed Hummus Recipe.