Anandamide — The Body’s Own Antidepressant And How To Boost It Naturally
Some people it seems are just born happy, while others have to seriously work at it.
I fall into the latter category. For years I’ve felt ashamed about not being one of those innately joyous folks. But in the same way that some people need to work at staying slim, I have to graft at staying happy. And, just like the calorifically challenged, I also sometimes fall off the glee wagon.
Of course we are all a messy mix of unique factors: our genes, our environment, societal norms, childhood traumas, and goodness knows what else.
The Happiness and Anandamide Link
However, the genetic cards we are dealt certainly do play a part in our happiness, and scientists have discovered that whole nations that score off the chart on the happiness barometer, share the same genetic mutation. They produce less of the enzyme FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase) which is responsible for breaking down a chemical in the body called anandamide.
Now, anandamide for the uninitiated is a type of endocannabinoid — the body’s own version of cannabis. In fact if it weren’t for THC, the psychoactive molecule in cannabis, anandamide might never have been discovered. Back in the late 1980s, scientists observed that THC fitted perfectly into special receptors in the brain and central nervous system. They theorized that if we have this complex network of receptors, we must produce some kind of endogenous chemicals that also act as keys to the receptors’ lock-like mechanism. It took a while, but eventually they discovered anandamide, which scientists named after the sanskrit for divine joy because of the blissful sensations it produces.
Endocannabinoid System — Regulates Mood
Anandamide is part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), alongside 2-AG, another cannabis-like chemical, and the endocannabinoid receptors found throughout the body. Present in all vertebrates, the system is classed as a homeostatic regulator, meaning it is constantly working to bring about a state of balance to our bodies and minds.
Not surprisingly, our mood, happiness, fear, anxiety, and ability to endure stress are all regulated by the endocannabinoid system, with out of whack anandamide levels associated with everything from schizophrenia to depression.
Anandamide is produced on demand by the body and then broken down rapidly by the same FAAH enzyme that is lacking in the genetic mutation. So in effect, scientists believe that the subjects’ enhanced levels of happiness are a direct result of having more anandamide in their system. So, sometimes it’s good to be mutated.
Scientific research has backed up the supposition. A study at the University of Calgary compared a group of genetically happy humans with rodents that had been injected with the same rogue gene, finding both mice and men had higher levels of anandamide and a greater ability to extinguish fear based memories.
Both groups shared greater connectivity between the cognitive planning centre, the prefrontal cortex, and the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for remembering emotions, in particular fear. The implication being that better communication between these two key centres leads to lower anxiety levels and increased emotional stability.
It would seem then that robust levels of anandamide in our bodies are inextricably linked to feelings of wellbeing and happiness, and a lack of them to depression and anxiety.
So what can we do to give this bliss provoking neurotransmitter a natural boost?
1. Enjoy a Runner’s High
Most people associate the buzz felt after running with what’s been termed as an ‘endorphin rush’. But that’s only part of the story. Scientists have found that after 30 minutes of exercise anandamide levels increase. Assistant Professor of Biology Greg Gerdeman describes how ‘in one study, we found that the increase of feelings of wellbeing in patients was tightly correlated to levels of anandamide in their bloodstream. So we started talking about anandamide as a neurobiological reward for running. It makes you feel good.”
2. Take CBD
It’s no surprise that one way of stimulating the endocannabinoid system is through the introduction of botanical cannabinoids into the body derived from the cannabis plant. As mentioned previously, THC fits perfectly into the endocannabinoid receptors found throughout the brain and central nervous system, creating the high or stoned effect. It’s a different story though when it comes to CBD or Cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive, second most abundant cannabinoid found in cannabis. CBD has very little binding affinity with the endocannabinoid receptors, and yet scientists have observed that its administration leads to increased anandamide levels.
They realised that CBD inhibits the FAAH enzyme responsible for breaking down anandamide in the body. So in a similar vein to our genetic variant subjects, less FAAH means more anandamide stays in the body for longer, with potentially mood boosting and anxiety reducing effects. This is backed up by research including a small pilot study on subjects with social anxiety that showed CBD could reduce feelings of discomfort and cognitive impairment during a simulated public speaking test.
3. Eat Chocolate
Turns out that chocolate offers a two pronged approach to boosting anandamide; by stimulating the endocannabinoid receptors, and like CBD, blocking anandamide’s metabolization. But we’re not talking any old chocolate here, only quality dark chocolate will do, without the sugar and rubbish that generally gets thrown in. But still, not a bad reason to crack open a chocolate bar.
4. Go Truffle Hunting
Perhaps not the most practical way to boost anandamide levels, and you may need to find a spare pig to go direct to source, but scientists have discovered that anandamide can be found in the culinary delicacy, black truffles. Curiously, unlike other vertebrates with a developed endocannabinoid system, truffles don’t possess any accompanying receptors, suggesting that the anandamide present doesn’t trigger any biological effect. Instead it might have developed as a way of tempting animals into eating the truffles, a process that releases their spores and allows them to propagate.
5. Get Cosy With Kaempferol
Kaempferol is a type of flavonoid present in a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables such as apples, tomatoes, grapes, potatoes, onions, and broccoli. Studies already point to Kaempferol as having potential anti-cancer action, but it has also been found to inhibit the production of our old friend FAAH — the enzyme that breaks down anandamide. So far, most research into Kaempferol has been done in test tubes, and scientists believe it is unlikely that this could be upscaled sufficiently to make FAAH inhibition occur through dietary intake. However, if it means we have an extra excuse to get our 5 fruit and veg a day, then what’s not to like.
Anandamide and Me
Since I first learned about anandamide and the endocannabinoid system, I’ve instinctively known that keeping my own ECS functioning optimally is key to my own health, both physical and mental. So, I try to incorporate as many anandamide boosting activities into my day as possible. So from now on, if you see someone who hunts truffles while out running, then follows it up with a bar of chocolate that’s washed down with some CBD oil, you’ll know like me, they’re also on a secret anandamide boosting mission. Perhaps you too would like to join us.
Originally published on Medium