Natural cannabis could reduce cancer, arthritis and heart disease

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New study finds that exercise increases the body’s own “cannabis-like” substance which reduces chronic inflammation.

A natural high that also lowers inflammation seems like a double win. Research has found that exercise increases the body’s levels of endocannabinoids, which in turn help reduce inflammation and could potentially help treat certain conditions such as arthritis, cancer and heart disease.

Longevity.Technology: In a new study, published in Gut Microbes, experts from the University of Nottingham found that exercise intervention in people with arthritis, did not just reduce their pain, but it also lowered the levels of inflammatory substances called cytokines. It also increased levels of cannabis-like substances produced by their own bodies, called endocannabinoids. Interestingly, the way exercise resulted in these changes was by altering the gut microbes.

Exercise is known to decrease chronic inflammation, which in turn causes many diseases including cancer, arthritis and heart disease, but little is known as to how it reduces inflammation. Inflammation is one of longevity’s most popular double-edged swords; the body’s way of responding to injury, whether that’s physical trauma, or an infection or disease, inflammation triggers cascades of reactions and pathways that have both beneficial and harmful consequences. Inflammation signals that the body’s immune system has been summoned for duty and can be felt as swelling, heat, tenderness and pain.

Inflammaging is a chronic low-grade inflammation that develops with age. Featuring increased levels of proinflammatory cytokines, inflammaging accelerates the processes of biological aging, is considered a predictor of fragility and is a factor in the development of several age-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

New study finds that exercise increases the body’s own "cannabis-like" substance which reduces chronic inflammation.
Dr Amrita Vijay, Research Fellow in the School of Medicine, University of Nottingham

The anti-inflammatory effects of exercise training are well-documented, with aerobic exercise training dampening inflammaging [1]. However, research into what pathways are affected and how is shedding light on some interesting compounds that the body can make.

A group of scientists, led by Professor Ana Valdes from the School of Medicine at the University, tested 78 people with arthritis. Thirty-eight of them carried out 15 minutes of muscle strengthening exercises every day for six weeks, and 40 did nothing.

At the end of the study, participants who did the exercise intervention had not only reduced their pain, but they also had more microbes in their guts of the kind that produce anti-inflammatory substances, lower levels of cytokines and higher levels of endocannabinoids [2].

The increase in endocannabinoids was strongly linked to changes in the gut microbes and anti-inflammatory substances produced by gut microbes 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 that exercise increases the body’s own cannabis-type substances,” said Dr Amrita Vijay, a Research Fellow in the School of Medicine and first author of the paper. “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 [3].”

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6347267/
[2] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19490976.2021.1997559
[3] https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/news/exercise-increases-the-bodys-own-cannabis

Images courtesy of University of Nottingham
Eleanor Garth
Deputy Editor Now a science and medicine journalist, Eleanor worked as a consultant for university spin-out companies and provided research support at Imperial College London and various London hospitals in a former life.

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