Women & CBD In Times of Stress

Written by Marilynn Karas, NP

As humans we are all feeling the effects of this pandemic. As women, we feel it acutely in our role as mothers, single parents, friends, daughters, caretakers, scientists and essential workers. We fear for our health and the health of our loved ones, our financial security and the state of our world; to name just a few big ones. This profound stress affects every system in our body but especially our nervous system. For some, this presents as anxiety. For others, depression. For many, it is both.

As a functional and integrative practitioner specializing in women’s health, I look at things like nutrient status, hormonal patterns, gut infections, emotional traumas, stress levels and chronic infections to understand the reason for symptoms. In working with my patients my goal is to get at the root cause to help stop the symptoms, not mask them. I always focus on these common problem areas to improve overall health, wellness and immune function: sleep, anxiety and gut health.

Sleep: that wonderful thing you look forward to at night, unless you can’t sleep. Enter, CBD. Sleep is more than the glorious thing your body craves at the end of the day. It is also an integral tool in healing and staying healthy. Sleep has many benefits, some we have only recently discovered. Two key things sleep can do for us: 1) Memory, deep sleep is necessary to encode information into our memory. It’s true, all those facts, experiences and images are waiting for you to go to sleep in order to be fully incorporated into your memory. 2) Cleaning, this is an amazing one, and only recently discovered! Deep sleep is necessary to clean the brain through a process called the glymphatic system. All day, as we are thinking, feeling and doing, our brain creates waste and when we go to sleep our brain does the dirty work of cleaning it up. If we don’t get deep sleep, those toxins can build up and lead to disease. Studies have shown CBD can help to decrease wakefulness and promotes the onset of sleep. Yay, CBD.

Anxiety, we all know the feeling: jittery, edgy, uneven breathing, impending sense of doom. That’s the nervous system on high alert. The nervous system is meant to react to things that are threatening. Our bodies were designed to aid our primal brains to keep us safe and vigilant for survival. Modern times have less life-threatening events or intruders, but our bodies are still encoded to respond this way to threats, perceived or real. Prior to CV19, the levels of anxiety in our society were sky high. Now, the threat is real and constant; real illness, real financial distress, real uncertainty. We need tools to help our body and mind cope with the anxiety this stress can bring. Meditation, walks in nature, talking with loved ones, epsom salt baths and supplements like CBD can help to tone down the overactive nervous system. The great thing about CBD is it acts quickly, improves other aspects of our health and has no psychoactive effects.

Next up: digestion, aka gut health. Our bodies need nutrients to do everything from making hormones to generating energy but a healthy immune system is especially nutrient depandant. We get our nutrients from a healthy gut, one that allows us to absorb the good stuff and keep the bad stuff out. The gut wall is like the wall around the castle, it needs to be thick, deeply rooted and without holes. Things that support the wall; good food, deep sleep and low stress hormone. Things that weaken the wall and cause holes; sugary foods, processed foods (inflammatory foods), lack of quality sleep, increased stress/anxiety, and alcohol. That’s called intestinal permeability aka leaky gut. Leaky gut can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, reflux, constipation or diarrhea, in addition to irregular hormones, mood issues and weakened immune function. Hence the need for good gut health, especially in a pandemic. Luckily, CBD has been shown to help improve gut health by decreasing the inflammation and improving the integrity of the gut wall.

A key part of my treatment philosophy has always been to improve the overall immune system to help the body deal with the viruses, toxins, traumas and bacteria that we are exposed to everyday. We are like sponges, we suck things up as we go through life, but if our nutrient status is good, our hormones are in check, the nervous system is balanced and our ability to detoxify is open and working, we tend not to get sick. In fact, we live in symbiosis (harmony) with many of these viruses and microorganisms. Illness happens when we are unable to keep our bodies in balance. As a functional medicine practitioner, I recommend trying your best to make healthy, immune-supportive choices and CBD can be a really important tool in our pandemic toolbox. 

A few words on supplementing with CBD

There are always lots of questions about CBD. A quick primer: CBD is derived from cannabis sativa, a naturally occurring cannabinoid that can interact with our endocannabinoid system in the body. The endocannabinoid system is a complex system in the body that naturally produces endocannabinoids (naturally made compounds in our body) to help with almost every cellular activity in the body from the immune system, to the reproductive system and everything in between. Essentially we produce our own endocannabinoids at times of stress to help our bodies heal, like when we deliver a baby, get injured or get sick. In other words, we have an entire system built into our body dedicated to keeping us in balance. CBD is a plant based endocannabinoid that has the same impact on the endocannabinoid system but you take it in tincture, pill or topical form. And, as women, we could really use some help finding balance right now!

CBD is an amazing tool but there are a few things to keep in mind. First, quality really matters. Avoid products from the deli, gas station or loaded with sugar. Always check that the product is third-party tested, preferably organic and free of mycotoxins(molds), pesticides, heavy metals, herbicides and solvents. Dosing is also really important, too. I always recommend starting low and going slow. Consistency is key, taking CBD every morning and night before bed is much more impactful to the body than one time dosing. Remember, everybody is different, working with a practitioner can help you to find the right product and dosing for you. 

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