By: Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.
Is it possible that the very substance that leaves you high from running and working out is also getting you fat? No, I’m not talking about endorphins. I’m talking about what seems to be a form of the body’s self-created, cannabis. Read on before you get the wrong idea!
I’m not endorsing drugs, cannabis, a k a marijuana, ANYWHERE, ANYTIME, let alone our gym.
One test of what’s healthy and not healthy is simple: if I do this long-term, will it leave me feeling better or not? Exercise, eating healthy, thinking rationally, maintaining good relationships, accomplishing positive things, being engaged in life, finding meaning in the world—the more you do these things, the better you feel, right?
So what’s with the cannabis? Well, without complicating this with a bunch of science, researchers have found that the “body’s home-brewed opiates,” endorphins, are composed of large molecules which, according the one researcher at New York’s Rockefeller University, means endorphins are unable to pass the blood-brain barrier. Finding endorphins in our blood then, doesn’t mean they have an effect on our brain. Of course, the large molecules may be metabolized into smaller compounds that do cross the blood-brain barrier and there may be more than one mechanism involved. And it’s possible that endorphins can be produced directly in the central nervous system. We definitely need more science. Or there may be something else.
Enter endocannabinoids, based in an altogether-different neurochemical system in the mind/body connection. A study done at the Georgia Institute of Technology found endocannabinoid molecules in a group of subjects after they spent 50 minutes running or on a stationary bicycle. These cannabinoids are made up of lipids that do cross the blood-brain barrier, thus possibly explaining why cannabinoids could affect the brain, unlike what scientists are now positing about endorphins.
When mice, who love to run, were bred with no functioning endocannabinoid receptors, guess what happened to these lovely little creatures? They didn’t show up at their gym—er, their running wheels. Well, they used them only half as much as they ordinarily do.
Here’s where the bowl of chips and plate of fries comes into the equation. While these endocannibinoids may be the responsible for feeling so, well, high after a great cardio session, they also are the culprit in making those foods so darned irresistible—bye, bye carbohydrates as the culprit. Seems that the fats in chips and fries drives gluttonous eating behavior. UC Irvine scientists, along with researchers at New York’s Yeshiva University (supported by the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Disease and the National Institute on Drug Abuse)) found that tasting something fatty leads to cells in the upper part of the intestines producing…you got it…endocannabinoids.
These endocannabinoids act as a signal to eat, eat, eat more and more. But this finding, in turn, also drives researchers to better understand the role that obstructing endocannabinoid activity can play in better control of dieting.
It’s a complicated system this endocannabinoid system. For example, lack of endocannabinoids are implicated in migraines and irritable bowel syndrome. Scientists are just getting a better understanding of this system and the role it plays in our health and fitness.
So there you have it. Maybe it’s not your endorphins after all that kick in after a good spin class or run on the treadmill. And those “munchies” you feel for chips and fries? It’s possibly the same culprit, the body’s very own endocannabinoids. Mother nature is a mad scientist, indeed!
Live and learn.