Scientific Reports released two studies assessing the endocannabinoid system of dairy cows. In one paper, dairy cows given small quantities of anandamide drank sweeter water. But the second study on dairy cows published by Scientific Reports counters a common suggestion. The result suggests that specific fats might not directly boost the endocannabinoid system — at least not in cow moms during and after pregnancy.
Humans, like all vertebrates, produce chemicals known as enzymes that convert Omega-3 fats into special molecules. In the early 1990s, researchers called those endogenous (interal) molecules endocannabinoids because they target the same receptors as a cannabis-derived cannabinoid. The complete series of fatty acids, channels, and receptors comprise a network in the body called the endocannabinoid system (ECS) or endocannabinoidome (ECbome).
Omega-3 and endocannabinoids
Israeli and American researchers fed one dairy cow group an Omega-3-rich diet while a second group ate a regular diet. Later, they measured endocannabinoid system components in the two dairy cow groups. We commonly assume that dietary Omega-3 readily converts into anandamide or 2-AG, two primary cannabinoids. In reality, the conversion of fatty acids to endocannabinoids is far from direct. For example, intermediates, such as arachidonic acid, exist along several pathways used to make endocannabinoids. Plus, 2-AG competes with another ECS component known as anandamide.
Anandamide comes more directly from Omega fats. Researchers did, however, discover that alpha-linolenic acid reduces blood-bound 2-AG, OEA, and PEA without affecting majorly affecting endocannabinoids stored in the dairy cow’s fat deposits. The body makes PEA, a type of fat related to anandamide, from a saturated fat neglected by the test diet. But alpha-linolenic acid rich diets reduced insulin activity during acute glucose exposure. And dietary fatty acid composition might affect insulin activity due to lower PEA levels.
Additionally, cows fed a diet filled with Omega-3 fat produced fewer inflammatory cytokines. And this anti-inflammatory event may also contribute to an increase in insulin sensitivity. The Israeli and American researchers analyzed cellular processes in each group of cows using proteomics. And they found that Omega-3-rich diets affect cellular processes, often controlled by the endocannabinoid system, that relate to insulin sensitivity.
Anandamide on the taste buds
Researchers from the Research Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Germany dosed dairy cows with small amounts of anandamide and compared them with cows on a control diet. The results, published in Scientific Reports at the end of March 2023, concluded that cows preferred water sweetened with saccharin, compared to umami-flavored water when dosed with the blissful endocannabinoid.
The German scientists accounted for numerous variables. Regardless, cannabinoid receptors could not explain why cows given anandamide preferred sweeter water. Yet, they likely waited too long between the feed test and their receptor analysis to effectively measure ECS components and opioid receptors responsible for taste bias. Remember that the endocannabinoid system is transient and works on demand, which means an effect lasts for a short duration of time.
Omega-3s and cow cannabinoid receptors
Cows fed diets high in alpha-linolenic acid, an Omega-3 fat, by Israeli and American researchers expressed fewer cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors. THC and anandamide both bind to CB1 receptors but cause dramatically different effects. Anandamide induces bliss while THC elicits a change in consciousness. Researchers concluded that Omega-3 diets reduce CB1 components. But the body often compensates for heightened CB1 agonism by getting rid of receptors throughout the overactive area.
Essentially, boosting the endocannabinoid system is a war of attrition. The battle against mechanisms designed to keep themselves in check is fickle and cannot be won by simply pouring in more precursor fats. The latest dairy cow research teaches us quality over quantity, which differs from lessons in disease. We are primed for endocannabinoid production when ill, but the ECS works less during periods of good health.
The endocannabinoid system regulates energy homeostasis, insulin sensitivity, and even our taste preference. But endocannabinoid research is delicate, which means that we cannot yet explain why dairy cows fed anandamide prefer sweeter water. But stay tuned to learn how obesity directly impacts the endocannabinoid system and 2-AG.
Let us know how you balance different fats in your diet in the comments.
Kra, G., Daddam, J.R., Moallem, U. et al. Alpha-linolenic acid modulates systemic and adipose tissue-specific insulin sensitivity, inflammation, and the endocannabinoid system in dairy cows. Sci Rep 13, 5280 (2023).
Schwerdtfeger, J., Krause, A., Kalbe, C. et al. Endocannabinoid administration affects taste preference and the expression of cannabinoid and opioid receptors in the amygdala of early lactating cows. Sci Rep 13, 4967 (2023).