Anandamide Synthesis: The Bliss Controversy

Here’s an interesting controversy. Some foods contain arachidonic acid (which, despite the name, has nothing whatever to do with spiders). This is an inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid with an interesting property: it’s what your brain uses to synthesise anandamide, the so-called ‘bliss’ molecule. The name is taken from the Sanskrit word Ananda, which means “joy, bliss, delight”.

There are quite a few foods that contain high levels of arachidonic acid.

These include:

  • poultry
  • eggs
  • nuts
  • hulled sesame seeds
  • cereals
  • durum wheat
  • whole-grain breads
  • pumpkin seeds
  • most vegetable oils

As for vegetables, the only ones known to contain arachidonic acid are certain mosses and algae. For this reason, several laboratories have tried to genetically modify other plants, such as soybeans, so they too will start producing this acid. (See Patent US7943816, owned by Suntory.)

So, is arachidonic acid good for you or bad for you? Should you try to eat more foods that contain it or cut down a little? As with so many things in the world of diet, health and nutrition, there’s no simple black or white answer. In fact, scientific opinion is divided. It’s good for you in some ways, not so good in others.

However, there is at least one point of agreement: we know that consuming high levels of the foods listed above can increase inflammation, which puts people with certain health conditions at risk. This is why you should seek dietary advice from a medical professional before significantly increasing your arachidonic acid intake.

The Anandamide Conundrum

So, if you’re concerned about the possible inflammatory effects of arachidonic acid, you can cut down on the foods that contain it, right? However, if you do this, you also decrease how much anandamide your body can make. This, in turn, can lead to prolonged stress-induced anxiety.

After all, who actually wants less ‘bliss’ in their life?

How can you avoid this anandamide reduction or deficiency?

There are a couple of options. One is to eat foods that contain Linoleic acid, which your body can metabolise into arachidonic acid. Good examples are seeds, nuts, grains and legumes.

Or, you can eat foods that naturally high in anandamide.

Another option is to try balancing the consumption of inflammatory foods (as listed above) with foods that are known to have an anti-inflammatory effect. As the Oracle at Delphi put it, “All things in moderation”. However, achieving this kind of balance calls for unique, personalised dietary advice beyond the scope of this article.

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