Is there a link between the Endocannabinoid System and our brain health? We asked clinical neuroscientist Dr Elisabeth Philipps to find out…
Being healthy doesn’t just mean being physically fit. A good measure of our biological age is how well each of the organs in our body function; and having a good memory, the ability to focus and concentrate and maintain a clear mind is a great sign that our brains are healthy.
Lifestyle plays a significant role in influencing how quickly the brain ages, regardless of the adult calendar years we celebrate. This means how well you sleep, what you eat and how you handle stress is all very important.
There’s no doubt it’s tough times right now for both our physical and mental health and whilst there’s no single “miracle cure” there are some things we can actively do to support brain health.
The brain’s immune system is key in keeping our brain fit. In a healthy brain, certain immune cells (microglia) keep up a patrol to seek out and remove any toxins or mediators that may damage brain cells. However, in conditions like dementias, anxiety and depression, the brain’s immune system becomes overactive and a chain reaction of inflammation is set in progress. This process of chronic neuroinflammation underpins a whole host of diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. But even before these illnesses are diagnosed, neuroinflammation is creating havoc for brain function.
So what can we do about neuroinflammation?
Anti-inflammatory diets, rich in vegetables and avoiding high sugar and processed foods, play an important role in reducing inflammation throughout the body. We should also look at exposure to environmental toxins, as well as how we manage stress.
But one of the most exciting areas of research currently investigating how to reduce neuroinflammation involves phytocannabinoids including cannabidiol (CBD). Research in animal models and humans has shown numerous therapeutic of CBD for brain function and protection, both by its direct effects on the endocannabinoid system and by influencing endogenous cannabinoids.
Specifically, CBD reduces neuroinflammation, but also concurrently strengthens the brain’s immune system response, improves brain cell growth (neuroplasticity) and increases blood flow. This has been shown in studies that mimic the loss of oxygen and blood supply in stroke (i.e. ischemia), as well as in neurodegeneration studies like Alzheimer’s disease. CBD has also been shown to reduce anxiety, improve depressive states and improve sleep – all crucial factors for preserving brain health.
So whilst there’s no single “miracle cure” for keeping our brains healthy we can practice a combination of stress management, healthy habits and plant medicine like CBD that – taken together – can help us preserve and protect our brain’s function.
This article was written by Dr Elisabeth Philipps, PhD. Dr Philipps is a clinical neuroscientist specialising in the endocannabinoid system. To learn more about the work of Dr Elisabeth, follow her on social media!