Holistic Medicine Part 5a: Feeding the ECS – Lifestyle

June 2022 by Sandy Yanez

In the holistic series, parts 3 & 4, we took a look into maintaining the endocannabinoid system (ECS) through specific essential compounds. Here we will take a look into cannabinoid receptors and lifestyle choices that support the ECS and wellbeing.

Before we dive in, a quick recap on the ESC and its components. The ECS is designed to maintain the body’s internal balance or homeostasis and is comprised of endocannabinoid molecules (Anandamide & 2-AG – our body produces), phytocannabinoids or plant-based cannabinoids (e.g. THC & CBD), cannabinoid receptors (CB1 & CB2), and the enzymes (FAAH & MAGL) responsible for synthesizing or breaking down the cannabinoids once their role is complete.

Cannabinoids, whether they are plant-based or endogenous, are the ‘messengers’ that bind to the receptors to elicit an effect. A simple example would be THC, or the messenger, binding to CB1 receptors in the brain, and the response or effect results in euphoria or the high you feel with cannabis.

Why are CB receptors important?

The most essential function of the ECS is to maintain internal balance. This is done by endocannabinoids and the CB1 and CB2 receptors located throughout the body. When the ECS identifies a process that is out of balance, the endocannabinoids needed are made on-demand to interact with the receptors. This triggers a chemical reaction that targets and corrects the imbalance, restoring balance to the body.

CB1 receptors

  • Most abundant in the brain, specifically in the areas of memory and learning, motor control, behaviors and emotions, and movement and balance.
  • Also found in areas of reasoning and language, consciousness, fear and anger, body temperature, sleep, appetite, and thirst.
  • Within the liver, reproductive, cardiovascular, and skeletal systems, gastrointestinal tract, and immune system.

CB2 receptors

  • Play an essential role in immune function, pain management, and inflammation.
  • Mainly found on immune cells throughout the body, the tonsils, spleen, and in some bone and liver cells.
  • When CB2 are activated by inflammation, they respond like a switch, turning on an intracellular process that promotes balance.
  • Helps manage behaviors associated with reward and addiction.

Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The effects that result depend on where the receptor is located, and which endocannabinoid binds to it.

Influencing ECS and CB receptors

Everything you do and everything you eat affects your ECS, which affects your CB receptors. The day-to-day events like your job, taking care of family, shopping, exercising, gardening, and the meals, snacks, and beverages consumed, all affect your ECS. Think about this for a minute. What you take in becomes what you are. Just like that old saying, you are what you eat. If you take in toxic foods and drinks you will become toxic yourself. Toxicity brings on diseases and conditions that are undesirable and can cause us pain and emotional distress.


How your diet and exercise affect your CB receptors


As discussed in the two previous holistic medicine articles, diet is a big deal when it comes to the ECS. Here are a few foods and their role on specific CB receptors.

  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel’s sprouts, arugula, kale, cabbage, Bok choy, and watercress contain a molecule that binds to CB2 receptors = anti-inflammatory and antioxidant response.
  • Black pepper, cloves, broccoli, rosemary, basil, and carrots are a few foods that contain caryophyllene, a cannabinoid and terpene, which bind to CB2 receptors = anti-inflammatory and support the immune system. On some CB1 receptors = weight loss benefits.

  • Sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, and apple cider vinegar (with mother) are probiotic foods that impact the expression of CB receptors in the gut. Prebiotic foods like onions, garlic, and leeks, also increase the expression of CB receptors in the gut.

  • Echinacea binds to CB2 receptor = anti-inflammatory


Exercise is one of those things that can be hard to initiate, but once you do it and keep doing it, you feel so much better. Done regularly, it helps increase our brain’s cognitive reserve and lowers the risk of impaired functioning later in life. But did you know your CB1 receptors dictate your motivation to seek out exercising or not?

In a recent study, researchers devised a laboratory model for testing the degree of effort each mouse was willing to put into gaining access to voluntary wheel running versus eating a morsel of chocolate. To unlock the treadmill-like wheel and run freely, mice had to push their snouts against a mechanism that gradually required more and more effort.

They found that mice who had a greater amount of CB1 receptors preferred wheel running and would actively seek out running, whereas mice with lower CB1 receptors exerted about 80 percent less effort.

It is well known that exercise may influence the expression of CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. Several studies have shown that regular exercise may be associated with an increase in CB1 expression and density in mice, particularly in the hippocampus (learning and memory).

Another study on women with fibromyalgia found that a 15-week resistance exercise program increased CB1 receptors and led to an outcome of a significant increase in anandamide and 2-AG, subsequently providing both pain and antidepressant effects.

Here are some exercises that boost your ECS:

  • Yoga – focuses the mind & body with poses and breathing. Adds flexibility, strength and balance

  • Tai Chi – ‘meditation in motion’ combines movement and relaxation, mind & body connections

  • Swimming – ‘weightless workout’ cardiac support, helpful anti-inflammatory effects

  • Walking – mind & Body connection, mood, strength, cognitive-enhancing

  • Aerobics – cardiac support, endurance, strength, mind & body connection, improves sleep

  • Strength training – improves posture, builds endurance and strength, reduces the chance of injury

  • Running – mind and body connection, strength, endurance, cognitive-enhancing

  • Dancing – neuroplasticity, cognitive-enhancing, mind and body connection

Exercising is a valuable tool in the prevention and treatment of many medical conditions like cardiac disease and chronic pain. Exercise can also improve your mental and emotional well-being. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. That’s only around 20 min a day! Exercise not only helps you live longer, but it also helps you function better.

In the next holistic medicine segment, we will take a look into lifestyle choices – stress management and sleep.


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