For us to be healthy people, we need a healthy endocannabinoid system (ECS). But, what does the ECS actually need to stay healthy? Where do endocannabinoids come from, anyway? Nutrition is complicated enough already, but eating for ECS support can seem a little complicated. It doesn’t have to be. To keep you vibrant and thriving, here’s a how to enhance your endocannabinoid system with omega-3 fatty acids.
Functions of the endocannabinoid system
When you smoke a little cannabis, you tap into the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The endocannabinoid system is a large network of cell receptors spread throughout the body. The active compounds in cannabis, like psychoactive THC, connect to these receptors and trigger a wide range of effects. These
These plant cannabinoids take the place of very similar molecules that our body produces naturally. These human-made compounds are called endocannabinoids.
Endocannabinoids are like chemical messengers. Each time they bind to a cell, they give that cell important instructions. Endocannabinoids specifically control a few key functions in the body. These functions include:
- Immune response
- Temperature regulation
It’s safe to say that endocannabinoids are vital to our everyday health and functioning. They’re the triggers for larger interactions in our bodies, interactions that allow us to live our day-to-day lives. We could not survive without them. But, how do we make sure that we have enough?
Endocannabinoids and fatty acids
You may have heard that eating salmon is good for you. But, why? Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are the answer. Endocannabinoids come from fatty acids. Fatty acids are precursors for endocannabinoids. Meaning, our body cannot create endocannabinoids without breaking down fats first. So, all of those times when you heard that fats were bad for you? Turns out our bodies need them to perform basic functions.
There are two main types of EFAs, Omega-6 and Omega-3. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot make these fatty acids by themselves. Rather, we have to get them from dietary sources.
Sources of essential Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Luckily, there is a pretty long list of foods that contain EFAs. Here are some of the common ones:
- Omega-3: Fish (Salmon, sardines, tuna)
- Omega-3: Nuts and seeds (Flax, walnuts, hemp, chia seeds)
- Omega 3: Pasture-raised or supplemented eggs
- Omega-3: Supplemental fish oils (Cod liver fish oil, salmon fish oil)
- Omega-6: Animal meats
Plant vs. animal sources
Quality matters with essential fatty acids. Not all sources are going to give you the same benefits. Plant sources of omega-3s, for example, are more difficult for your body to use than those from fish. Plants contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), while marine sources contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (DHA).
EPA and DHA are vital to our diets, which is why vegans and vegetarians often have to supplement. There are vegetarian algae-based products which provide DHA. Supplementation with algal DHA is likely as effective as fish-based DHA, and can even improve cholesterol. However, more research is needed on this particular supplement.
It’s all about balance
Don’t overlook plant-based fatty acids, though. Westerners, in general, don’t get enough omega-3 fatty acids to begin with. For optimum health, aim for a good balance between marine and plant-based sources. To make matters a little more complicated, paying attention to the ratios of omega-3 and omega-6 in your diet is also important.
Foods high in omega-6 fatty acids are the most common in Western cultures. Animal meats, peanuts, and sunflower seeds are all good sources of omega-6s. However, eating too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 can get you into some hot water. Ideally, you want a 1:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s.
Right now, Westerners eat somewhere between 15:1 to 16.7:1. This is a problem since omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. Without the balance of omega-3s, eating too many omega-6 fats increase inflammation in the body. Just how important is this? Diets that are too high in omega-6 fats increase the risk of the following:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Autoimmune diseases (like arthritis)
- Alzheimer’s and dementia
When you swap out some of these omega-6 fats for omega-3s, the risk of these things goes down. So, instead of a hamburger try a salmon filet with some hemp seeds on top. Go for tuna salad over ham in your sandwich. Throw some flax seeds into a smoothie, or some walnuts onto your oatmeal. When possible, purchase pasture-raised eggs.
Role of fatty acids in the body
The endocannabinoid system controls all kinds of things in your body. So, you can probably imagine why it would be important to get enough essential fatty acids. Overall, EFAs have the following benefits when consumed in the right ratios:
- Healthy cell formation
- Thyroid and adrenal support
- Brain and nervous system development
- Hormone balance
- Regulation of blood pressure
- Support healthy liver function
- Regulation of blood clotting
- Healthy skin and hair
- Healthy cholesterol control
- Reduced inflammation
Risks of fatty acid deficiency
Without fatty acids, your endocannabinoid system cannot function properly. This creates a wide range of health problems. For example, low levels of omega-3 fatty acids can do a number on your mental health. A 2011 study found that omega-3 deficiency caused a breakdown in cannabinoid receptors in mice. As a result, the rodents’ behavior changed. Basically, they showed signs of a mouse with a mood disorder.
Dysregulations in the endocannabinoid system have also been linked to a variety of other conditions, including:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Mood disorders
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Chronic motion sickness
Funny thing, these are all conditions that benefit from omega-3 fatty acid supplementation.
The health of the ECS is vital to our long-term health and wellbeing. While cannabis can provide a nice boost to your endocannabinoid system, getting enough omega-3s will help you feel even better. Opting for fish over red meat a couple of times a week and incorporating more nuts and seeds into your diet will keep your ECS is healthy and strong. If you don’t like any of these foods, high-quality fish oil supplements are another great option.
If you don’t like any of these foods, high-quality fish oil supplements are another great option.
How do you enhance your endocannabinoid system? Do you use Omega-3 Fatty Acids? Share your story with us on social media or in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
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