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LET FOOD BE THY MEDICINE

Good bacteria in your gut put you on the path to greater health. Here’s how food—and cannabis—can lead the way...
By Eugenia Merkoulov
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The Greek physician Hippocrates, commonly called the father of modern medicine, famously said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” More than 2,000 years later, science confirms this ancient insight. 

The food that Earth produces offers vitamins and minerals the body needs to function and ward off illnesses, protein to help build muscle, and carbohydrates to give us energy. Drinking plenty of water helps it all work.

But the key to how food supports our health lies deep in our gut. 

 

What lies within

The human gut has microbes (bacteria, fungi, etc.) that reside within the entire gastrointestinal (GI) tract and play a crucial role in the body’s optimal physiological functioning. When in balance and strong in numbers, this microscopic army assists in major functions such as metabolizing your vitamins, breaking down carbohydrates, training the immune system to respond to the environment, and bolstering neurological performance. 

However, various disorders may develop when the gut microbiota army numbers get low or severely skewed. Most of these, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, anxiety, and allergies, are relatively common in modern times. The average modern diet, chemicals, toxins in our food and environment, and long rounds of prescribed antibiotics can all impede the strength of our gut bacteria.

 

Know your biotics

You may have heard two new buzzwords recently: probiotics and prebiotics. Though similar, they have distinct functions. Interestingly enough, cannabis and mushrooms both have roles to play in our gut biome.  

Probiotics are foods that contain live microorganisms and work to repopulate the gut microbiome directly. Probiotics include kimchi, pickles, tempeh, yogurt, and beverages like kombucha and kefir. Prebiotics are the provisions for our tiny but mighty army, containing certain types of fibers that help support the population of beneficial bacteria in the gut. 

Prebiotics are found in all edible mushrooms and certain foods from the plant kingdom, such as leafy greens, bananas, apples, cabbage, oats, flax seeds, and—you guessed it—cannabis.

Before highlighting the prebiotic benefits of these powerful plants and fantastic fungi, let’s mention another emerging corner of clinical research: the endocannabinoid system. This system was only discovered in humans in 1988. In short, your body is filled with receptors designed explicitly for cannabinoids—the molecules that are so abundant in cannabis (some of which are intoxicating, some of which are not). Though cannabinoids can be found in tiny doses in some other plant foods, they are most abundant in cannabis. 

New research also exists on the endocannabinoid system’s role in digestive health and its connection with the gut microbiome. This exciting new focus will undoubtedly lead to groundbreaking developments, especially in the area of immune function. In the meantime, we can be sure that cannabis consumption supports GI tract wellness and helps maintain a healthy gut microbiome.

Good versus bad

The big picture tells us that tailoring your diet is vital to maintaining gut health. However, we must eliminate the bad before including the good stuff. 

Unfortunately, the typical American diet consists of foods full of synthetic preservatives, saturated fats, and sugars, all of which feed the harmful microbes in the gut. Synthetic preservatives and saturated fats are found in packaged and fried foods. Sugar, however, isn’t just found in your favorite dessert or your late-night cheat snack. Processed sugars are often added to sauces, salad dressings, and even cured lunch meat. 

Anything made with processed flour, like slices of white bread or a bowl of pasta, breaks down into large doses of sugar so quickly that it not only stresses the gut but also exceeds the bloodstream’s capacity to hold the sugar molecules. While eliminating these three primary gut stressors might not be possible, minimizing their presence is a necessary first step. 

Now, onto the good stuff.

Adding prebiotics and probiotics to your diet doesn’t have to be challenging. In fact, it can be quite fun, especially if you boast an adventurous palate. As mentioned earlier, various delicious foods and beverages from multiple cuisines contain live probiotics. The most obvious are fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles. Health food stores often stock probiotic foods in their refrigerated section. Yogurt is a popular source of probiotics—look for the words “live cultures” on the label and avoid flavored yogurt, which contains high amounts of sugar. 

And if you have a picky palate, probiotic supplements are available at your local grocery store. (Make sure to check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter supplements.) 

Prebiotic foods are likely already part of your diet, and simply increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, and grains can improve gut health. 

And while not all mushrooms are edible, all edible mushrooms are a vibrant source of prebiotics. Consider exploring beyond the baby bellas and white buttons to include medicinal mushrooms, such as reishi, chaga, cordyceps, or lion’s mane in your culinary creations. Equally beneficial, whether eaten cooked or raw, these have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote total body healing and longevity for thousands of years and have just recently entered mainstream holistic wellness practices.

The cannabis-gut connection

Archeology and biology have revealed that cannabis has been a dietary and medicinal staple for a millennium. Now, science is discovering the benefits. One exciting discovery is that there are endocannabinoid receptors in the gut. So not only does eating cannabis increase prebiotics in your gut, but probiotics and prebiotics help to bolster your body’s endogenous cannabinoid system.  

How should cannabis be consumed for improved gut health? While enjoying meals cooked with cannabis delivers psychoactive effects along with digestive support, let’s not forget that raw cannabis is the new superfood on the block with its incredible nutrient density and notable levels of protein, fiber, and antioxidants. 

While you might not find yourself sitting down with a bowl of nugs as your salad course, medicinal cannabis experts are highlighting that cannabis leaves pack the same micronutrients as the buds. The leaves can join your favorite raw fruits and veggies in a highly nutritional and prebiotic-rich smoothie, be added to a salad, used as a garnish, or dehydrated and ground into a tasty superfood powder that can accent almost anything. 

The possibilities are endless, and while science uncovers new pathways to health in the labs, we can discover new routes to wellness in our kitchens.

EUGENIA

Eugenia is a fifth generation herbalist rooted in the wisdom of Traditional Slavic Medicine and Ayurveda.

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