The study of the endocannabinoid system originated with the studying of the effects of cannabis on the body and the ongoing discovery of new receptors in the body. The main takeaway from studying the ECS is that it is our body main regulator of hormones, immunity, and neuronal functioning. Although the cannabis plant was crucial to the discovery of the ECS, cannabis is not the reason why we have an ECS! Nonetheless, studying the cannabis plant has brought to us knowledge that can be expanded in other
realms, specifically diet and health. Aside from the cannabinoids, cannabis among many other plants have terpenes, which are volatile substances that give various plants their unique smells. An example of terpenoids in action is when you smell a lavender flower and the strong smell it gives off, which in aromatherapy is associated with relaxation primarily due to the terpene linalool. This is primarily because of its effect on the ECS. Other terpenes which we are regularly exposed to are limonene which is found in high abundance in the peels of citrus fruits and pinene which we often smell in the forest where evergreens are present, both of these are slightly psychoactive and very healthy.
The several classes of terpenoids
There are several classes of terpenoids such as monoterpenoids, sesquiterpenoids, diterpenoids and various saponins. Many of these terpenes are gaining great interest in the pharmaceutical industry for their anti-viral, antifungal properties and have an impact on the ECS and therefore overall human health. In this blog we will focus primarily on the terpenes and terpenoids that are found in herbs and spices and how they can improve our health.
Monoterpenoids are found in plants, algae and even insects and have gathered considerable interest in the pharmaceutical companies because they often have expectorant effects, are antiseptic and can be used in agriculture to repel pests and even mosquitoes. These monoterpenes are often found in herbs like mint, oregano and thyme among many others. Other terpenes such as diterpenoids can be toxic with some exception such as Ginko Biloba’s terpenes, the sesquiterpenoids include some of the most bioactive such as beta-caryophyllene that is found in cinnamon,
cloves and other spices and is extremely good for immunity due to its effect on CB2 receptors, which modulate and regulate the immune system. For our purposes it is more important to understand the terpenes as a family and look at where we can absorb them from our diets.
Interestingly the Mediterranean diet which we consider the best for the ECS is often very rich in these types of herbs and along with good fats can be very helpful. Some common examples of herb terpenes include menthol which is a known antimicrobial and found in various mint species. Beta-Caryophyllene is one of the most active terpenes which works to modulate the CB2 receptor and is found in large amounts in spices such as true cinnamon, cloves and one of the most common kitchen table ingredients, black pepper. Beta-caryophyllene is also found in abundant quantities in chili peppers and recent studies have found that it can inhibit tumor cell growth, along with modulating our immune system. Other findings from terpenes have found that some like pinene have mood enhancing effects and thus even a walk out in the forest will be a healthy routine not just because of the physical exercise but also due to breathing in very health terpene compounds.
Although we are just scratching the surface when it comes to terpenes, the main takeaway is that terpenes are a key compound to a healthy diet and should be taken in as one of the pieces of healthy lifestyle in diet. We may add more herbs and spices to our diet and always remember that the key to health is a balanced ECS, which means good fats, moderate exercise, Vitamin D and the terpenes can be a great ingredient to our improving health.
I recommend each reader look into the topic of terpenes and which foods offer the most and add these whole food/herbs and spices to your diet. They are extremely tasty, too!