What are endorphins?
Ever feel amazing after a good, hard workout? You may have heard that your “high” is caused by tiny neurochemicals released by your body. These neurochemicals are called endorphins. While endorphins might make you feel good after a long jog, there’s a lot more to know about the role they play in regulating your body.
The word endorphin comes from putting together the words “endogenous,” meaning from within the body, and “morphine,” which is an opiate pain reliever. In other words, endorphins got their name because they are natural pain relievers.
Endorphins consist of a large group of peptides. They are produced by the central nervous system and the pituitary gland. Since endorphins act on the opiate receptors in our brains, they reduce pain and boost pleasure, resulting in a feeling of well-being. Endorphins are released in response to pain or stress, but they’re also released during other activities, like eating, exercise, or sex.
Not all of the roles endorphins play in the body are completely understood. We do know that endorphins are important to reduce pain and enhance pleasure.
Endorphins are involved in our natural reward circuits and are related to important activities like eating, drinking, physical fitness, and sexual intercourse. Endorphins also surge during pregnancy. They minimize discomfort and pain and maximize pleasure. This helps us to continue functioning despite injury or stress.
Since humans naturally seek to feel pleasure and avoid pain, we’re more likely to do an activity if it makes us feel good. From an evolutionary standpoint, this helps ensure survival.
Humans are social creatures, and we thrive in communities. Endorphins have been shown to also help reinforce social attachments. While this may not be entirely true anymore, in early human history, people who stuck together in social groups were better able to survive and reproduce.
By promoting an overall sense of well-being, endorphins have many benefits, including:
Reducing stress and anxiety
Endorphins may play an important role in reducing stress and anxiety. A
Boosting your self-esteem
Positive feelings also make you feel confident and optimistic, thus giving your self-esteem a boost. In one
Reducing your weight
The role of endorphins and other hormones in regulating your appetite and food intake is complex. While eating good food is thought in increase endorphin levels, higher levels of endorphins have also been shown in
Helping you deal with pain during childbirth
Childbirth can be an incredibly rewarding, yet incredibly painful experience. Endorphins can make labor a bit easier. A
Endorphin deficiency isn’t well understood. In general, if your body isn’t producing enough endorphins, you might experience:
- aches and pains
- trouble sleeping
- impulsive behavior
You don’t have to run an entire marathon to experience the pleasurable effects of an endorphin release. Your body also produces endorphins naturally when you do the following:
- eat dark chocolate
- exercise (any form of exercise will do, but exercising in
a groupis even better)
- have sex
create musicor art
- have a glass of wine
- enjoy your favorite dish
- get a massage
- take a
- eat something spicy
- try some aromatherapy
- watch your
favorite TV drama
We may not know everything there is to know about the role endorphins play in the body, but it’s clear that these neuropeptides have many positive effects. It’s no wonder we crave the after effects of an endorphin boost.
Luckily, there’s no need to run an ultramarathon in order to increase endorphin levels in your brain. Simply enjoying a piece of dark chocolate, interacting with friends, playing music, meditating, or watching your favorite TV shows can help raise endorphin levels.