The gut, brain, immune and endocannabinoid system connection

Apr 27th, 2022

The term “gut feeling” is more than just a saying. There’s a gut microbiome and brain function connection which is the link between physical and mental health.

Through a collection of chemical messengers from each organ, neurotransmitters from the brain and neurotransmitters from the immune system forge this intimate communication pathway. New research has further solidified the relationship, as scientists now know of the existence of a lymphatic system in the brain. The lymphatic system is composed of tissues and organs and helps detoxify the body and transports white blood cells and other immune cells throughout the body.

70% of our immune system is located in the gut and the intestinal tract has over 100 million neurons (brain cells). Interesting fact: Your brain and gut develop from the same tissue during fetal development and are connected by the same nerve, which means your gut microbiome and mental health function in tandem. The wiring between the gut, brain, and immune system is therefore essential to consider when it comes to proactively addressing the links between digestive, immune, and neurological health.

That stress and anxiety you’ve been struggling with may not originate in your neurological system, but in your intestinal tract. Neurotransmitters that originate in the brain and immune system form an intimate communication pathway that’s essential for the homeostasis that provides an overall sense of wellbeing. In a sense, your gut is your second brain.

The digestive microbiome

Your digestive microbiome is comprised of about a thousand different species of bacteria in your small and large intestines that play an essential role in supporting the immune system. In fact, about 70% of your total immune activity occurs in your gut. These probiotic bacteria are responsible for dietary fiber absorption, key nutrient synthesis, metabolic efficiency, and healthy gut barrier maintenance that reduces the risk of digestive system issues. Because so much immune activity occurs in the gut, a deficient amount of beneficial bacteria (microbiome) often leaves the body vulnerable to various stresses.

We now understand that healthy microbiomes occupying our gut is vital for proper physiological functioning and overall well-being. We have more microbes in our body, compared to cells. This speaks to their importance in maintaining health and balance (homeostasis) in the body.

The endocannabinoid system’s balancing role

New scientific research has indicated that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays an essential role in regulating, balancing, and improving the gut microbiome by enhancing how it communicates with the rest of the body. We now understand that these bacteria activate receptors that are also targeted by the endocannabinoid system, and play a pivotal role in the tri-directional communication between the immune, nervous, and gastrointestinal system.

The brain and nervous system’s roles are to sense issues and alert the endocannabinoid system to maintain immune tolerance in response. Since the endocannabinoid system is widely distributed throughout the intestinal tract, it’s easy to see what an important role it plays in functions like bowel regulation, control of nausea and vomiting, hunger signaling, inflammation, and other digestive imbalances.

When needed for support and balance, the endocannabinoid system signals the body to create anandamide and 2AG. These endocannabinoids help promote the production of macrophages (crucial immune cells) that help the intestinal tract remove toxins and modulate inflammation.

Relaxing and supporting your endocannabinoid system is essential for balanced mental and physical well-being.

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