Chased by an Enzyme
Recently, I felt like I was being chased by an enzyme. It started after reading about an endocannabinoid neurotransmitter called anandamide. It turns out that "ananda-" translates to "bliss," "joy," or "enlightenment" in Sanskrit, and who doesn't want more of that?
I had been talking with a doctor I know about the mood-regulating properties of the cannabis extract, CBD, which seems to be everywhere these days. Even my shampoo has CBD in it! Like CBD, anandamide also works via cannabinoid receptors in our brains. The difference is that we make anandamide ourselves, and don’t need to smoke, vape, or eat it to get it in our systems. Nearly every day a patient asks me about the potential healing properties of CBD, and I try to stay in the know about the latest research. I was looking into the research regarding the anti-anxiety properties of CBD when I bumped into anandamide.
During my research, I ran across this article on anandamide. It provided me with some interesting background on the molecule and a few of its uses within the body, such as inhibiting anxiety, pain reduction, motivation, pleasure, and even breast cancer inhibition. I also learned that anandamide is broken down in the body by an enzyme called FAAH, or fatty acid amide hydrolase. It's this FAAH enzyme that started to seem like it was following me around.
A few days after learning about anandamide I ran across this article talking about who the happiest people in the world are and why. These people were the happiest, and it wasn't because they lived in a place with nice weather, or because they enjoyed a high degree of economic stability, as those variables had been factored out of the equation. These people really were the happiest, and medical science wanted to know why. As it turns out, their happiness was a result of having some genetic luck with the gene regulating FAAH. The result was that they didn't break down anandamide quickly and higher levels were found in their brains, and this was the cause for the increased feelings of happiness.
Then, another interesting piece of information popped up on my radar. This article discussed the case of a Scottish woman who had never felt anxiety or pain in her life. What?! Childbirth? "Meh, no big deal..." Of course, medical researchers were really curious about what this lady's deal was. As you may guess, it had to do with that persistent enzyme FAAH. Apparently, she has no FAAH, and so no ability to break down anandamide. I can't even imagine what a life free of anxiety and pain would be like.
And finally, one day at lunch while enjoying a cup of cream of zucchini soup FAAH slapped me once again. This time the enzyme was thought to be responsible for extending lifespans. Now, it's important to point out that this research was done in roundworms, not humans. However, the researchers did state that "it seems at least plausible at this point that both worms and mammals have a cannabinoid-related signaling pathway that affects longevity and possibly aging-related disorders."
So, ok, as a review anandamide has quite a list of positive attributes: it has anti-anxiety properties, promotes happiness, decreases pain, and maybe helps to expand life span. That's enough for me; I'm interested. I started looking for a way to increase my anandamide levels. Turn out that cacao can do that. Cacao is the product of cold-pressed seeds from the plant Theobroma cacao, the plant that chocolate and cocoa are made from (I actually saw these trees once in Panama). While cacao and chocolate are made from the same seeds, they taste quite different.
Cacao has a slightly bitter chocolaty taste and is not at all sweet. As it turns out, cacao contains about 0.5 mcg/gram of anandamide. There are also a couple of other compounds found in cacao that may mimic the effects of anandamide, n-oleoylethanolimide and n-linoleoylethanolamide (say that five times fast...). Cacao also has some additional health benefits such as being a good source of magnesium, with roughly 27mg per tablespoon. Magnesium is one of the most frequently deficient minerals in people today, so consuming foods with magnesium can help to keep levels up. Cacao is also loaded with antioxidants, and in today's world where our bodies are seemingly always being put under strain, additional antioxidants can only be a benefit.
As you likely guessed by now, I've started using raw cacao powder a few times per week. I've found that if I mix it into a healthy protein shake with a big spoonful of organic peanut butter what I end up with is something that tastes a bit like a Reese's Peanut butter cup- without all the sugar and other crap. I've further tweaked my shake to help maintain and improve my joint function by using a bone broth protein powder, which supplies both collagen and hyaluronic acid. As a bonus, hyaluronic acid is great for the skin and helps me maintain my youthful glow. I also like to add a super greens formula to help make sure I get enough veggies every day. If you would like to see a recipe for this shake you can find it here.
I'm continuing to keep an eye out for the FAAH enzyme. It turns out that there is quite a bit of investigation into the possible ways that FAAH may be used for health benefits.
I'll keep you posted.