Holistic Medicine Part 3: Balancing within

April 2022 by Sandy Yanez

In order to heal the self, you first must address the issues that need to be fixed or changed. Asking tough questions starts this process. In part one of the holistic healing series, you looked inward and ask some difficult questions. Part two gave a glance at some of the external holistic healing therapies used, and in this segment, we will start to look internally and learn about the importance of maintaining your endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Understanding what’s happening internally will help guide you towards the right tools for you to make the adjustments you need to strengthen your pillars.


The endocannabinoid system

The endocannabinoid system is described as “one of the most important physiologic systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health,” research professor Alger, University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The endocannabinoids system (ECS) is designed to maintain the body’s internal balance or homeostasis and is comprised of endocannabinoids molecules (Anandamide & 2-AG), cannabinoid receptors (CB1 & CB2), and the enzymes (FAAH & MAGL) responsible for synthesizing or breaking down the endocannabinoids once their role is complete.

Homeostasis is the ability to maintain a relatively stable internal state despite changes in the external environment. Common examples of homeostatic processes include the regulation of body temperature, blood sugar, and blood pressure.

The ECS plays a critical part in your metabolism, immune system, pain & inflammation, mood, sleep, cardiovascular system, learning & memory, nerve function, and so much more. It is recognized as the master system in the body. When the endocannabinoid system is not functioning properly, the body becomes unbalanced, which in turn can set off a chain of events that can bring about undesirable conditions. This unbalanced state is known as clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD or CED). You can read more on the endocannabinoid system here and endocannabinoid deficiency here.

Modulating the activity of the endocannabinoid system has turned out to hold therapeutic promise in a wide range of disparate diseases and pathological conditions, ranging from mood and anxiety disorders, movement disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, neuropathic pain, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injury, to cancer, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, stroke, hypertension, glaucoma, obesity/metabolic syndrome, and osteoporosis, to name just a few.”

Dr. Pal Pacher, M.D., Ph.D

Correcting you ECS

The endocannabinoid ‘tone’ or overall functioning depends greatly on your genetics, nutrition, lifestyle, and general health status. Considering the wide range of systems the ECS helps to regulate, supporting it and ensuring optimal functioning is essential to your overall health and wellbeing. Read more about balancing your ECS here.

Balancing from within

Building off the above-mentioned articles, let’s take a deeper look into one of the tools needed to balance and maintain the ECS for optimal health and well-being.

Nutrition is an important key in balancing your ECS, and within nutrition, omega fatty acids play a crucial role. Omega-3 & omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) that play a critical role in our development and throughout our lifespan as well.

In early life, these fatty acids play an essential role in fetal growth and development, including the development of the eyes and brain. Increased intake of Omega 3 & 6 fatty acids during pregnancy has been associated with decreased maternal depression, reduced rates of preterm birth, and reduced allergies, asthma, and ADHD in children.

In adults these fatty acids help:

  • Improve heart health

  • Supports mental health

  • Helps manage weight

  • Reduce nerve pain

  • Bone health

  • May help with asthma

  • Decreases liver fat

  • Fights inflammation

  • Brain health

  • Neurological disorders

  • Regulates metabolism

  • Maintain the reproductive system

These fatty acids are known as essential fats, meaning, we need them to survive. Unfortunately, our body does not make these essential fatty acids, so we must obtain them through our diet. Researchers have questioned whether consuming too much omega-6 is healthy or harmful for us. Linolenic acid (LA), the most common form of omega-6, is converted by our bodies into a compound that can promote inflammation and blood vessel constriction. However, new research indicates this impact is minor and is more likely linked to a diet low in omega-3s. Most that consume a Westernized diet take in about 14 to 25 times more omega-6s than omega-3s, which is one of the reasons for the high rate of obesity and cardiac disease in America today.

That doesn’t mean you must cut back on omega-6s as long as you’re eating healthy. You need to look at your omega-3 intake and balance them better for the best health results. The optimal ratio is individualized and may vary with the disease and state of health under consideration, but the general range recommendation is omega-3 to omega-6, 1:1 to 1:4.

Below is a chart of common fats and oils. Blue bars indicate Omega-6 and according to experts should be avoided in large amounts.

Other places to find omega-3 include:

  • Oily fish – salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring, tuna, trout
  • Plant base – flaxseeds/oil, walnuts/oil, butternuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, spinach, kale, winter squash, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Chia seeds have an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of 3:1.

Where to find healthy omega-6s:

  • Flaxseeds/oil, safflower oil, avocado oil, sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, cashews, peanut butter, tofu, and eggs. Hemp seeds have an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of 1:3.
  • Some unhealthy foods high in omega-6 fats include refined vegetable oils, processed snacks, fast foods, cakes, fatty meats, and cured meats.

More on why Omegas are important

The human body produces a variety of endocannabinoids, some of which are derived from omega-6s and some of which are derived from omega-3s. Two well-researched endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-AG, which come from the omega-6 fatty acid, arachidonic acid.

2-AG is the most prevalent endocannabinoid in the human body and is involved in functions such as emotion, cognition, energy balance, pain sensation, and neuroinflammation. There are high levels in the central nervous system (CNS), which controls most functions of the body and mind. It also enhances the effects of GABA neurotransmitters in the brain. The primary function of GABA is to block pain, help how the body reacts to feelings of anxiety, fear, stress, and it allows the nervous system to better process information. GABA also plays an important role in the regulation of the circulatory system.

Anandamide is Sanskrit for “bliss” and is known as our bliss molecule. This happy and uplifted feeling produced by anandamide is sometimes referred to as a “runner’s high.” It facilitates the transmission of signals between nerve cells, plays a role in the regulation of dopamine and calcium, which is crucial in nerve conduction, and influences motor function, perception of pain, memory, and more.

Do omega-3s interact with medications or other dietary supplements?

Omega-3 dietary supplements may interact with the medications you take. For example, high doses of omega-3s may cause bleeding problems when taken with warfarin (Coumadin) or other anticoagulant medicines. Talk with your healthcare provider about possible interactions between omega-3 supplements and your medications.

Final thought

Part of healing, whether it’s mental or physical, is knowing what’s going on inside your body. Many medical ailments are caused by poor and unbalanced nutrition. The Western diet is deficient in omega-3s and too high in omega-6s, leading to an unstable internal state.

The ECS is vital to our long-term health and wellbeing. Managing stress and eating a healthy balanced diet are key to achieving and maintaining optimal function.

If you experience mood disorders, chronic inflammation, pain, or other signs that your body is out of balance, addressing your nutrition and lifestyle choices should be first on the list.

A quick way to increase your omega 3 intake – simply add chia seeds and or flaxseed/oil to your diet.

Flax is best used in the form of flax meal, which is simply ground flaxseeds. It is important to use the meal because the seeds and oil do not absorb very well, and your benefits will be limited. Flax meal can be found at your local grocery store, or you can buy the seeds and grind them yourself. Their nutty flavor is appealing and adds texture, color, flavor and nutrition to the foods you eat and can easily sneak into your meals like chia seeds.

You do not have to grind up the chia seeds. They are ready as-is and can be used in the same manner as flax meal.

In the next article in the Holistic Healing series, we will be continuing to look at feeding the endocannabinoid system for optimal health and wellness.


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