Interview: Meet the doctor helping people eat cleaner in the pork-loving Czech Republic

Dr. Simon Weissenberger is shedding light on a complex area of medicine that can help us better understand hunger and food cravings.

Diana Bocco

Written by Diana Bocco Published on 24.09.2021 15:51:00 (updated on 13.10.2021) Reading time: 6 minutes

Ever find yourself trying something new and discovering a new life path along the way? For researcher Dr. Simon Weissenberger, PhD, what was supposed to be a temporary move to Prague to complete a Master’s degree turned into a life-changing event, both personally and professionally.

Dr. Weissenberger is now involved in research targeting the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a complex body system that helps regulate a wide range of functions and processes, including mood, sleep, memory and appetite. While the research was originally connected to the use of cannabis and how THC affected the body, scientists are now looking into other ways the ECS is crucial to overall health and how to work with it for overall wellbeing and health. 

He is also a researcher and PhD supervisor at the First Faculty of Medicine at Charles University and the Chief Scientific Officer at Endoverse, a UK-based organization specializing in educating the general public on endocannabinology and offering clinical services based on a systemic, integrative approach to human health.

We recently spoke to Dr. Weissenberger about his exciting research, Endoverse’s expansion to Prague, and how expats can take steps to improve their health while living in the Czech capital.  

What is your background and what attracted you to studying the endocannabinoid system?

My background is in Medical Psychology and my main area of study was in adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and its connection to lifestyle. In terms of the ECS, what stimulated my curiosity and interest is primarily the fact that in school we often brushed over it or covered it very superficially.

To me, it was strange to read that the ECS controls most of our physiological functions and yet we didn't learn more about it. This is greatly because the ECS is a relatively new discovery in the field of medicine, even though currently it is understood to be the most important system in the body as it is responsible for regulating almost all functions.  

What prompted your move to Prague and working at Charles University?

I was accepted to do a Masters Degree in Clinical Counseling Psychology at La Salle University in Philadelphia and did not want to live out in Philly. The school at the time had two international programs for the Masters – one was in Greece and the other in Prague. I had signed up for the Athens program hoping to enjoy the Mediterranean life with great food and the sunny weather but unfortunately, that program was canceled due to the economic crisis in Greece at the time. I chose to try a place that I had never really heard about or known much about, which was Prague.

When I first moved here it was very difficult for me to get used to the culture and the food.

I was really shocked for example at how quiet and reserved people were on the subways and the lack of eye contact on the street. Eventually, we had a guest professor from Charles University lead a seminar and I got along quite well with him. We got to talking about the new PhD program in Medical Psychology and Psychopathology and eventually I entered the program and completed my doctoral studies, where I also met my Czech partner and the rest, as they say, is history!  

For those who don’t know, what exactly is the endocannabinoid system? 

Put simply, the ECS is one of the most important systems in your body that few are talking about! The ECS has receptors all over the body and the primary ones are called CB1 and CB2. Functions like thermoregulation or maintaining your body temperature, hunger and food cravings are all regulated and depend on the ECS.

The ECS is either activated or inhibited by what we call agonists or antagonists – and these can be activated by specific foods we eat or by exercise. As we have CB receptors all over our body and brain, it also regulates inflammatory responses, either to inflame or to inhibit the inflammation.  

What role does it play in our body and why is it important? 

One of the main messages we at Endoverse are trying to bring forward is that in our fast-paced society is that most of us are living with an overactivated CB1 Receptor and this can be caused by stress, overstimulation, sensory overload and a poor diet. What we need to collectively do is to realize what really matters in life, slow down a bit, and enjoy life more.  

Taking into consideration the typical local diet, what small changes can expats living here make to really improve the endocannabinoid system?

The ideal is to add more real and whole foods such as raw vegetables, and include healthy fatty acid oils such as hempseed, walnut and olive. The ECS is also impacted by various foods such as spices with chilli peppers, ginger, cinnamon and pepper influencing the ECS as well. Unfortunately, the typical Czech diet isn’t always the best one for this, as it’s filled with meats and fried foods.

On the other hand, Prague has many great farmers’ markets that offer plenty of clean, organic options for those wanting to include more whole foods into their diets. I personally recommend the readers to avoid pork as it is associated with inflammation and to moderate the beer consumption even though hops do have a strong effect on the ECS. The alcohol, on the other hand, can be detrimental to overall health.  

Aside from diet, what other things can somebody do to improve their ECS?

The idea is to balance the ECS and for this we don't only need food. Exercise and exposure to sunlight are beneficial, going for a walk in green areas is recommended, and taking time to relax. Prague is a very green city with lots of parks so it shouldn’t be hard to escape to nature regularly, with a great park like Stromovka to go jogging or biking in. Things like meditation and mindfulness are very helpful.

If somebody wants to incorporate CBD oil into their health/wellness routine, they might be tempted to just go to the nearest store and buy whatever they find there. Is there a better way to do this?

Unfortunately, the CBD and cannabis industry is behind the curve with using evidence-based approaches in their products. To give an example, most CBD companies greatly advertise 'full spectrum' products, thinking and misleading their customers into believing that buying an oil that contains CBD in addition to a myriad of other plant-based cannabinoids such as CBG and small amounts of THC is better than providing pure CBD extracts along with healthy fats.

One of my colleagues has helped the company Good Fats (Hodne Tuky) develop a potent ECS balancing formula that can come with or without CBD. This is a high omega-3 hemp seed oil with Vitamin D3. This can be taken by itself or as a potent vector where you can take any CBD oil with it to increase its bioavailability. In this case, the CBD works synergetically with the healthy fats and the D3. Furthermore, the basic Omega and D3 oil contain all your endocannabinoids in a bottle, the body's own endocannabinoids are always more important than CBD or other phytochemicals. 

What else does Endoverse offer?

In Endoverse Solutions, we provide consultations and education for companies involved in CBD to improve their products and take a science-based approach that encompasses the endocannabinoid system. 

As someone whose research focuses on wellbeing, what advice would you give expats in Prague who are trying to live a healthier lifestyle in Prague?

Aside from the issues of long Covid that some people are experiencing, the lockdown has brought forward a great deal of mental health issues such as higher rates of anxiety, depression, and addiction. My recommendation is to practice self-care in terms of being aware of stressors in your life and if needed to seek out mental health counseling.

As the ECS is mostly dependent on lifestyles like diet, I recommend seeking out a balanced omega 6-3 ratio by integrating healthier fats in your diet such as hemp seed oil, walnut oil, olive oil and, if necessary, omega supplements. 

Czech Republic has some beautiful nature to explore in the form of national parks and reserves and if you are in Prague there is Stromovka Park, Kunratice Les and Letna just to name a few spots.  

This article was written in cooperation with the Puurex a.s/Endoverse. Read more about our partner content policies here.

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