Lifestlye Disease

Most people in western industrialized countries fall ill with lifestyle diseases like cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disorders, cancer, obesity and dysregulated immune responses due to an unhealthy lifestyle with too much stress and too little exercise. For instance, the excessive consumption of animal fats leads to increasing levels of arachidonic acid that is the initial substrate of pain and inflammatory mediators. However, the body also converts arachidonic acid into the endocannabinoid anandamide that can induce a feeling of happiness. Arachidonic acid can also be synthesized by the body from vegetable fats whose degradation products have anti-inflammatory properties.

It is known that most diseases in western industrialized countries are not primarily caused by parasitic, viral or bacterial infestation, but are a result of an unhealthy lifestyle: smoking, alcohol, poor dietary habits, lack of exercise, stress and pollution lead to cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, obesity and reduced or misguided immune function, only to mention a few. Such chronic and degenerative diseases weaken and kill more people than every war and ethical conflict combined.1

How can one then expect to find/invent a drug that cures us from ourselves?

Apparently, the challenge of our time is to change our priorities and behavior in order to restore our physical-mental balance: people with a stressful way of life and high psychological tension need to ensure sufficient sleep and relaxation. Predominantly sedentary work must be balanced with daily exercise (walks, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, riding the bicycle instead of going by car). Regarding diet not only an adequate calorie intake is important, but also the nutrient composition of the food itself. As an example, the body cannot form some essential amino and fatty acids and therefore needs to absorb them from the food. Moreover, the content of micronutrients like minerals and vitamins, but also the load of pollutants and pharmaceutical residues in the food, depends on soil quality and the living conditions of all the organisms in the food chain at the end of which the human being stands as consumer.

Ultimately, each cell in the body is made with the building blocks from the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, according to the “construction manual” that is encoded in our DNA. Our experiences and lifestyle then determine how these cells integrate and communicate with each other.

As an example, essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) play a fundamental role in many physiological processes (i.e. inflammation, cardiovascular diseases, immunity and neurotransmission). Here, a crucial factor is the correct ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The typical western diet contains many animal fats and hence usually shows an excess in omega-6 and a lack of omega-3 fatty acids. Arachidonic acid, an archetypical omega-6 fatty acid, can either be absorbed from animal fats or synthesized by the body from linoleic and linolenic acid (omega-3). Plant-based fats are good sources for the essential fatty acids linoleic and α-linolenic acid. Linseeds, walnuts and hemp seeds are especially rich in these PUFAs, amongst others. Arachidonic acid is the substrate to form pain and inflammatory mediators like prostaglandins, thromboxanes or leukotrienes, that cause chronic pain and inflammation when present in excess (this is why e.g. rheumatic patients are advised to cut their meat consumption). On the other hand, arachidonic acid is also the substrate to form the endocannabinoid anandamide (from ananda, Sanskrit for bliss). As a result, when feeling happy the semi-essential arachidonic acid is preferably metabolized into anandamide and consequently is less available for the synthesis of pain and inflammatory mediators. Moreover, the inflammatory metabolites from arachidonic acid are competitively replaced by sufficient dietary omega-3 fatty acids and their metabolites with anti-inflammatory properties.2

[1] L S. Civilization diseases and their relations with nutrition and the lifestyle. Physiol Res. 2009;58 Suppl 1:i-ii. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20049982. Accessed August 23, 2018.

[2] 1. McPartland JM, Guy GW, Di Marzo V. Care and Feeding of the Endocannabinoid System: A Systematic Review of Potential Clinical Interventions that Upregulate the Endocannabinoid System. Romanovsky AA, ed. PLoS One. 2014;9(3):e89566. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0089566