Our immune system is a complex network of cells and organs that covers the whole body and works to keep us healthy by fighting off diseases, viruses, and infections.
Think of the body like a medieval city, with strong walls and a few controlled gates in and out. The immune system is like the city guards that keep the city safe. On a daily basis, they make sure that good guys (farmers, merchants, townsfolk, etc.) can get in and out of the city to keep life flowing as normal while keeping out bad guys like robbers. The more vigilant they are, the more likely they will be to stop any trouble before it starts.
In times of war when the city is under siege, these same city guards come together and raise an army to fight off the invaders and keep the rest of the city safe. Once again, the stronger they are, the quicker they will defeat the invading forces and be able to return to normal. In the body, this means increased production of the antibodies and cells that fight off disease, like white blood cells.
In this way, the strength of your immune system doesn’t just impact how likely you are to get sick in the first place, but also how severe the illness will be if you do catch something.
What Is The Role Of The ECS In The Immune System?
The ECS (Endocannabinoid System) is another network in the body, and this one is mostly made up of cellular receptors. Its main role is to send signals throughout the body, helping to regulate and maintain balance during many important processes, from digestion to emotional responses. It sends these signals by using molecules called cannabinoids, which react with the receptors.
Your body can make its own cannabinoids, which are called endocannabinoids. Others can be found in certain plants, and these are called phytocannabinoids. Cannabinoids (including CBD, the most commonly known one) derived from the hemp plant are one type of phytocannabinoid. If our bodies do not produce enough endocannabinoids on their own, some studies suggest that phytocannabinoids can interact with the ECS in a similar way, helping to maintain functionality and balance.
A number of scientific studies suggest that thanks to its ability to maintain balance (known as homeostasis), the ECS plays a crucial role in maintaining a well-functioning immune system.
If we go back to the walled city: one of the roles of the city guards is to control who is coming in and out of the city. But what if the guards get over-protective, and start attacking innocent farmers coming to sell their wares at the market? Civil unrest would break out quickly, and the city would not be able to function. This is similar to the processes in the body that lead to allergies, inflammation, and autoimmune diseases, whereby immune reactions are overblown in relation to the threat.
That’s where the ECS comes in: by helping to regulate immune reactions and maintain balance (known as immune homeostasis), it is thought to help our immune system to be more adaptive, reducing the likelihood of immune-mediated injuries like inflammation. It’s like the city guards can communicate more quickly and know to stop attacking farmers and to focus on invaders and criminals instead.
The Effects Of Stress And Sleep On Immunity
Of course, our immune systems are hugely complex, and their strength is influenced by a whole host of factors, including our age, genes, diet, lifestyle, and more. Two hugely important factors in how well our immune system’s function are stress levels and how much sleep we’re getting. By improving these two areas of our lives, we can help to give our immune systems a better chance of functioning properly.
Interestingly, the ECS also seems to play a key role in our reactions to stress and our circadian rhythms (our natural patterns of sleep and wakefulness). Therefore, having a properly functioning ECS could also affect our immune systems by helping us to maintain a healthy balance in other areas of our lives.