Feeling great after hitting the gym? That’s because of the flood of endorphins released into the body after a bout of activity, molecules with similar neurological effects as morphine, triggering euphoric, blissful, and energizing feelings.
Now, new research by scientists from the University of Nottingham says that exercise also triggers the secretion of a cannabis-like substance with potent anti-inflammatory effects, potentially supporting the management of conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, and cancer.
We know that physical activity is linked to an overall reduction in inflammation, but we still aren’t clear how. As part of this study, scientists led by Ana Valdes brought together a cohort of 78 individuals with arthritis and divided them into two groups. One group did 15 minutes of strength training daily for six weeks, while the other remained sedentary.
Afterward, the researchers were surprised to find that the individuals who exercised experienced significant pain reduction. In addition, the scientists observed a noticeable shift in the composition of their gut microbiota (there were more bacteria that secreted anti-inflammatory molecules) and lower levels of cytokines, a key marker of inflammation.
The researchers also measured spikes in endocannabinoids (a cannabis-like chemical produced by the body), which was linked to the rise in anti-inflammatory gut microbes.
The endocannabinoid system, or the ECS, involves a complex web of multiple cell-signaling systems and was first discovered in the early 90s by researchers studying the biological effects of cannabinoids such as THC. Until now, many aspects of the ECS have remained elusive. However, we know that endocannabinoids can influence sleep, mood, appetite, and several other biological pathways. This study opens the door to exciting connections between endocannabinoids, the microbiome, and the immune system.
“As interest in cannabidiol oil and other supplements increases, it is important to know that simple lifestyle interventions like exercise can modulate endocannabinoids,” commented Amrita Vijay, one of the researchers involved in the study.