It’s probably safe to assume that many humans currently are experiencing disconnect between how they feel and how their body functions. Emotions (fear, anxiety) influence our physical state (fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath). Impending emotional threat from chronic worry, pressure or panic contributes physically to increased food sensitivities, gut dysfunction, insomnia, and susceptibility to illness. These symptoms are not simply related to a weakened immune system but rooted in whole-body imbalance.
Incredibly, there is a bodily network that functions to bridge emotional and physical bodies: the endocannabinoid system. Thanks to an incredible fate of nature, this system relies on the undeniably unusual nourishment of Cannabis plants to function when the body is depleted of the nutrients we produce inherently.
Science has proven that emotions directly influence our organs, particularly the heart and the brain, thereby affecting our overall health. The heart contains nerves from both “fight-or-flight” and “rest-and-digest” nervous system responses, and the limbic part of our brain is the seat of emotions, directed by the heart-response.
When we exist at a heightened level of animalistic survival mechanisms (control, anger, stress, frustration and chaos) our heart’s nervous system emits hormones which, over time, deplete physical health.
There is a third factor connecting the role of stress/survival and immunity: the endocannabinoid system, regulator of homeostasis. This system “helps our body relax, eat, sleep, protect and forget,” according to researcher Vincenzo Di Marzo. With this insight, many scientists and health practitioners are discovering how humans can reduce stress and improve immunity by nourishing the endocannabinoid system.
With only a few decades of research, our understanding of the endocannabinoid system is limited. Nonetheless, we know it regulates inflammation (cytokines, mast cells and mediators); helps store and burn energy; is involved in immunology, neurology and metabolism; and more.
It makes sense, then, that disease states and conditions now correlated with endocannabinoid deficiency (Metabolic Syndrome, fibromyalgia, cardiovascular disease, dementia, etc.) will also put individuals at higher risk of weakened immune systems.
How can we, in our “normal” lives, balance our own endocannabinoid systems to offset risk of immune system depletion, especially while transitioning into flu season during a virus pandemic? Most importantly, improve our diet, digestion/absorption, the microbiome and virome, nutrient status (including medications), lifestyle (sleep, exercise, meditation) and therapeutic body work (acupuncture, etc.).
Botanicals may play a larger role in immunomodulation than we realize. For starters, we make our own cannabinoids (endocannabinoids), which are different structurally and functionally than exocannabinoids from Cannabis plants—THC, CBD and about a hundred others. Some cannabinoids stimulate receptors; some plant compounds—flavonoids, polyphenols, terpenes—and nutrients naturally present in plants such as hemp, whole foods and/or crafted supplements complement endocannabinoid system function.
Yes, it’s confusing! Please don’t let this information contribute to your worries. Instead, focus on actions that already help you feel better: high quality, nourishing food, beverages and/or supplements; sleep and rest; movement and stillness; deepening relationships with yourself and others; activities to increase heart warmth and mental clarity. You get the picture.
Jamie Truppi, MSN, is an integrative nutritionist focusing on functional foods and family wellness.