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The Microbiota and the Endocannabinoid System
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the endocannabinoid system's role in gut health is its interaction with the gut microbiota. The gut microbiota can modulate intestinal endocannabinoid tone.48 A microbiota profile associated with obesity also correlates with an increased intestinal concentration of anandamide, which leads to increased gut permeability (leaky gut).48 In fact, the link between the gut microbiota and obesity may be mediated by the endocannabinoid system.48 The results of a study where the bacterium, Akkermansia muciniphila, was administered to obese and type 2 diabetic mice daily support this concept.49 In that study, the bacterium reversed diet-caused obesity. It accomplished this by increasing intestinal levels of endocannabinoids that control inflammation, the gut barrier, and gut peptide secretion.
On the other end of the spectrum, endocannabinoids from adipose tissue can also modulate the composition of the gut microbiota.35 This indicates there is bidirectional communication between the microbiota and the endocannabinoid system.35 Evidence of this cross-talk between the endocannabinoid system and the microbiota is reinforced by studies showing that the beneficial effects of probiotic supplementation on gut health may in part involve this system. The probiotic Lactobacillus given orally to rodents reduced visceral pain while simultaneously upregulating CB2 receptors in the intestinal epithelium.50 Inhibiting CB2 eliminated the beneficial effects of the probiotic. In a model of chronic colonic hypersensitivity, Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM resulted in analgesia.50 This study also indicated that CB2 receptors may be involved in the association between gut microbiota and visceral hypersensitivity. Furthermore, dysbiosis of the gut microbiota caused by antibiotics correlates with a general inflammatory state and alteration of certain endocannabinoids in the gut of mice as well as accompanying depression.51 However, in a human study of individuals consuming Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM over a period of 21 days, CB2 receptors were not upregulated in colonic mucosal biopsies.52
An abundance of evidence is pointing to the conclusion that the endocannabinoid system is involved in gut health and that it may even be an important mediator of the actions of the gut-brain axis. The damaging effects of chronic psychological stress on the intestinal tract may also be driven by the endocannabinoid system. Targeting this system by the use of CBD oil or other phytocannabinoids may be one way to reduce colonic inflammation and reduce the effects of stress on the gut. In my clinical practice I also use a specific high potency PEA that has helped many patients.
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Dr. Chris D. Meletis is an educator, international author, and lecturer. His personal mission is "Changing America's Health One Person at a Time." He believes that when people become educated about their bodies, that is the moment when true change and wellness begins. Dr. Meletis served as dean of naturopathic medicine and chief medical officer for 7 years at National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) and was awarded the 2003 Physician of the Year award by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
Kimberly Wilkes is a freelance writer specializing in health, science, nutrition, and complementary medicine. She has written more than 300 articles covering a variety of topics from the dangers of homocysteine to sugar's damaging effects on the heart. She is the editor of ProThera ® Inc.'s practitioner newsletter and enjoys scouring the medical literature to find the latest health-related science.