According to a new study, vigorous physical activity triggers the human body to release endocannabinoids, which are naturally occurring, lipid-based neurotransmitters. These are very similar and in some instances the same as the cannabinoids found in cannabis. These substances help reduce inflammation and could potentially treat arthritis, heart disease, and perhaps cancer as well.
Literally runner’s high
Scientists have known for some time that exercising reduces inflammation, but little is still known about how exactly this happens. British researchers at the University of Nottingham are filling the gaps with a new study that involved 78 patients with arthritis. Half of the participants had to perform 15 minutes of muscle-strengthening exercises daily for six weeks while the other half didn’t exercise at all.
The researchers led by Professor Ana Valdes from the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham found that the patients who exercised reported less pain and had more microbes in their guts that produce anti-inflammatory compounds. They also had lower levels of cytokines, which are molecules that allow your cells to talk to each other, and are crucial for healthy immune system function. Cytokines are often responsible for triggering inflammation in the body, which can be critical to our survival when the body is infected but can cause a ‘pointless’ kind of inflammation when they go overboard.
Exercise also increased the levels of endocannabinoids, which was strongly associated with the changes in the beneficial gut microbes and the anti-inflammatory substances they produce. According to the study published in the journal Gut Microbes, at least a third of the anti-inflammatory effects of the gut microbes were due to endocannabinoids.
“Our study clearly shows that exercise increases the body’s own cannabis-type substances. Which can have a positive impact on many conditions. As interest in cannabidiol oil and other supplements increases, it is important to know that simple lifestyle interventions like exercise can modulate endocannabinoids,” Vijay said in a statement.
Both marijuana and exercise are known to elicit a feeling of euphoria. In the case of the latter, the feeling is often referred to as a “runner’s high” and a body of evidence points to endocannabinoids as the culprit.
The role of endocannabinoids has been widely documented in modulating inflammation, muscle strength, and energy metabolism. Other studies have shown that the gut microbiome and exercise are interconnected to regulate metabolism and homeostasis, independent of diet. With this latest study, scientists have connected the dots showing how endocannabinoids and gut microbes are connected and synergistically act to reduce inflammation in the body.