Exercising can leave us on a high and research is now getting to the bottom of that buzz – and its link to cannabis. We already know workouts produce our own opioids, called endorphins, the feel-good hormones that also numb pain and curb inflammation. But there are other hormonal benefits too.
Experts from the University of Nottingham have shown exercise also increases the body’s own cannabis-like substances. These, in turn, help reduce inflammation and potentially could help treat certain conditions such as arthritis, cancer and heart disease.
The latest study found when people with arthritis exercise, it doesn’t just lessen their pain, it also lowers levels of powerful substances called cytokines, which cause inflammation.
At the same time, workouts increased levels of cannabis-like substances that we produce within our own body, called endocannabinoids. And they are fascinating.
We have an endocannabinoid system stretching through our central nervous system and nerves in the limbs, hands and feet. They regulate the function of many organs and tissues, where we have cannabinoid receptors, which modulate pain. But what I find especially interesting about the new research is the way exercise brought about changes through altering gut microbes, the microbiome.
Exercise curbs chronic inflammation, and inflammation is at the root of many diseases, including cancer, arthritis and heart disease. But we know little about how exercise exacts its anti-inflammatory effect.
A group of scientists, led by Professor Ana Valdes from the School of Medicine at the university, tested 78 people with arthritis. Every day for six weeks, 38 of them did 15 minutes of muscle strengthening exercises. The other 40 did nothing. At the end of the study, participants who had been exercising hadn’t only conquered their pain, they also had more health-giving microbes in their gut – the kind of bacteria that produce anti-inflammatory substances, lower levels of cytokines and raise levels of endocannabinoids. Quite a spectrum for simple bacteria that nest in our intestines, all helping the body.
The increase in endocannabinoids was strongly linked to changes in the gut bacteria and anti-inflammatory substances produced by those bacteria called SCFAS. In fact, at least one third of the anti-inflammatory effects of the gut microbiome was due to the increase in endocannabinoids.
“Our study clearly shows exercise increases the body’s own cannabis-type substance, which can have a positive impact on many conditions,” said Doctor Amrita Vijay, who was behind the research.
“As interest in cannabidiol oil and other supplements increases, it is important to know that simple lifestyle interventions like exercise can modulate endocannabinoids.”