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Exercise and Endocannabinoids: Recent Study

Exercise and Endocannabinoids

It’s a new year and we all know that exercise should be on our list of resolutions. If you’re struggling to find motivation, check out this new study that finds a link between exercise and endocannabinoids.

A new study completed by a research team from the University of Nottingham School of Medicine in the United Kingdom has found that exercise stimulates microbes in our gut to produce pain and inflammation-relieving substances called endocannabinoids.

Probably for most of us, the word “cannabinoids” makes us think of cannabis plants and their components – like CBD, THC, CGB, etc. And, of course, that’s not wrong. Cannabinoids are components of cannabis plants that interact with the endocannabinoid systems of people and animals. (And when they come from plants, cannabinoids are called phytocannabinoids.)

But plants aren’t the only living things that produce cannabinoids. In fact, our bodies also create cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, that have much in common with the ones that come from plants.

The discovery of endocannabinoids is fairly recent and so scientists are very active in trying to nail down how they work in our bodies and what their functions are. So far, we’ve discovered that endocannabinoids (like the most common, anandamide) play a role in the regulation of mood, energy, memory, appetite, and pain. 

So they are actually a vital component in the proper functioning of our bodies – even though we rarely think about them.

The discovery of endocannabinoids is fairly recent, so scientists are actively trying to nail down what their functions are. Turns out, there's a link between exercise and the production of these anti-inflammatory compounds.

Generally, when we think of the activity of cannabinoids, we think of their production being stimulated by the central nervous system. But this new study shows that the gut microbiome can also stimulate the production of endocannabinoids. 

And further, the study shows that exercise plays a vital role in endocannabinoid levels.

For the study, researchers divided 78 people with knee arthritis into two groups. The first group of 38 people was instructed to perform 15 minutes of muscle-strengthening exercises each day for six weeks. The other group of 40 individuals did no exercise. 

At the end of the six-week trial, researchers examined the gut microbiomes of the participants. They found that participants who did exercise had more microbes in their guts that produce anti-inflammatory substances. They also found lower levels of cytokines (inflammatory markers) and higher levels of endocannabinoids.

These participants also reported lower pain levels after six weeks of muscle training.

Researchers report that the higher levels of endocannabinoids were strongly linked to the changes in the gut microbes and the presence of an anti-inflammatory substance, called SCFAS, that gut microbes produce. 

This is the first study that examines the link between the endocannabinoid system, exercise, and the gut microbiome, and researchers have admitted to being surprised by how pronounced the connection is. 

According to Dr. Amrity Vijay (a research fellow at the School of Medicine), “Our study clearly shows that exercise increases the body’s own cannabis-type substances. Which can have a positive impact on many conditions.”

Vijay also points out that, while many people are spending a lot of money on supplements that make use of phytocannabinoids like CBD, it’s worth remembering that our bodies have the ability to decrease pain and inflammation: “As interest in cannabidiol oil and other supplements increases, it is important to know that a simple lifestyle intervention like exercise can modulate endocannabinoids.”

So, give a gift to your gut microbiome and engage in some moderate exercise in 2022. Your endocannabinoid system will thank you.

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