High levels of endocannabinoids can affect a baby’s pancreas, according to new research.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Medical University of Vienna, found that endocannabinoids, cannabis-like substances produced by the body itself, could affect a baby’s ability to process glucose. Expectant mothers are encouraged to follow a diet high in levels of unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids to reduce both theirs and their baby’s endocannabinoid levels.
Endocannabinoids were only discovered around 20 years ago. They are considered “multi-talented,” affecting fertility, development of the central nervous system, appetite, immune response, and feelings of pain.
Increasingly, researchers are linking endocannabinoid levels to the development of foetal organs. This study found a link between high endocannabinoid levels and an inability to process glucose, which would increase the child’s risk of diabetes. Endocannabinoids, according to this research, influence the size and make-up of islet cells, which are responsible for producing insulin.
By regulating endocannabinoid levels, the researchers were able to affect the function of pancreatic cells, suggesting a link between endocannabinoid levels and islet cell composition.
“In our tests, we were essentially able to modulate the position of cells making up the islands of Langerhands at will by adding molecules that regulate endocannabinoid signalling,” said lead author Katarzyna Malenczyk. “Thereby, we succeeded in growing functional pancreatic island-like cell clusters, at least in culture.”
The findings, if developed further, could lead to effective new treatments for pancreatic dysfunction, including accelerating the production of new drugs.
Lead researcher Tibor Harkany said: “This new understanding will certainly help us to develop strategies to repair faulty pancreatic development in good time. It will also accelerate the pharmacological development of effective drugs. In my view, the therapeutic potential is vast since our study also shows the exact sequence of processes that promote life-long benefits, particularly improved hormonal responsiveness.”
The findings are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

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