Effects of Endorphins and how to increase levels

Endorphins are chemicals produced by the nervous system to cope with pain or stress and boost happiness.

Updated: October 29, 2019


Endorphins are chemicals produced by the nervous system to cope with pain or stress and boost happiness. As they can act as a pain reliever and happiness booster often called as feel good chemicals.
Endorphins are mainly made in the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. However, they may come from other parts of the body as well. The feeling that can be felt after lengthy, vigorous exercise is due to an increase in endorphin levels. The level of endorphins in the human body varies from person to person.  Depression or fibromyalgia are more likely in people who have lower levels of endorphins.
Endorphins are chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain. A class of drugs called opioids work similarly as endorphins.
As the body has special receptors that bind to opioids to block pain signals, opioids can relieve pain and produce a feeling of euphoria by blocking pain signals. They are prescribed for short term use after some surgery or for pain relief. Endorphins are chemicals found in the body naturally that acts similarly to opioid medications, binding to the same receptors. Oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl are most commonly used opioid drugs. All of these medications have a high risk of causing addiction, overdose, and death. Many of the death cases have been found as a result of overdosing or misusing prescription opioids. Therefore boosting endorphins naturally is a good option rather than the use of opoids.

Boosting endorphins naturally:

As endorphin levels vary between individuals, results will also vary by adopting certain activities that will help boost the level of endorphins.
These include:

Regular exercise:

Regular exercise has been found to help combat anxiety and depression. A feeling of euphoria that happens after lengthy, vigorous physical activity can be due to the increased level of endorphins after exercise.
Positron emission tomography (PET) scans are used to view athlete's brains both before and after exercise and found an dramatically increase in the release of endorphins after exercise. As exercise boosts mood and increases endorphins, It is prescribed as a treatment for mild to moderate depression and anxiety. Regular exercise can improve some symptoms of depression, similarly to antidepressants.
Aerobic exercise, strength training and endurance exercise can help increase insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin levels. It can help increase levels of adiponectin, a hormone that has anti-inflammatory effects and helps regulate metabolism.
Muscle maintaining hormones such as testosterone, IGF-1, DHEA and growth hormone that decline with age can be increased by physical activities. Even regular walking may increase these hormone levels if you are unable to perform vigorous exercise. A combination of resistance and aerobic training seems to provide the best results in reducing the insulin levels. However, any type of physical activity on a regular basis is beneficial.
Exercise can be used safely in conjunction with other treatments, such as medications or therapy, and can also be used alone. In addition regular exercise has many other health benefits which include maintaining a healthy weight, reducing high sugar level, reducing high blood pressure, reducing cholesterol level and may more.

Giving:

The joy of giving can be achieved by volunteering, donating, and helping others which may also make a person feel good. People who gave money to a charity activated pleasure centers in their brain and this may help increase the endorphin levels.

Yoga and meditation:

Meditation is the practice of training the mind of an individual to induce a mode of consciousness. It can promote relaxation, build and channel the life energy, and facilitate effortless concentration. There are many forms of meditation, each of which are focused to target certain activity of your body and psyche. It makes the connection with your inner self stronger. Meditation is proven to reduce stress significantly. You will see a very evident change in your mood and stress level within two weeks of meditation. You will be able to feel inner peace even if you are leading your busy lives. Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques are effective stress relievers and result in significant reductions in stress levels. This also helps improving quality of life and possibly benefiting functions of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA axis.
Both meditation and yoga are known for their stress-relieving and relaxing effects. This may be partially due to an endorphin release. As yoga and meditation can decrease stress markers and increase endorphins, try to involve at least 10 to 15 minutes per day in these stress reducing activities, even if you don't have the time in your busy life.

Spicy foods:

Spicy foods can give an additional boost for people who enjoy it. The spicy components in hot peppers and similar foods may trigger a pain sensation in the mouth, which prompts an increase in endorphins.

Dark chocolate:

Eating dark chocolate could boost endorphin levels. Cocoa powder and chocolate contain chemicals called flavonoids that seems to be beneficial for the brain. As many commercial chocolate products contain only small amounts of real cocoa and often contain high amounts of added sugar and fat, you should eat it in moderation. Look for products that contain at least 70 percent cocoa. Due to its high calorie and fat content it carries more health risk than benefits.

Laughing:

Laughing increases endorphins. Social laughter releases endorphins in the brain. So laugh often to increase your endorphin level.

Low endorphins and health conditions:

When endorphin levels are too low, a person can go through depression, chronic headache and fibromyalgia. Without enough endorphins, a person may be more likely to have depression and when other treatment does not work, opioid treatments is the only option.
People with fibromyalgia may have lower than normal endorphin levels. The symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • long-term pain throughout the body
  • tender spots that hurt when they are touched
  • fatigue and low energy
  • muscle stiffness
  • sleep problems

Increasing the level of endorphins can help relief pain in people with fibromyalgia. People with fibromyalgia are advised to do certain activities to boost endorphins, such as exercise, connecting with others, and stress-relieving activities, such as yoga and meditation. Medications can also be prescribed to help with symptoms in severe cases.
Abnormal endorphin levels may be one of the cause of chronic headache and depression. People who have symptoms of depression, fibromyalgia, or chronic headaches should talk to a doctor about endorphin levels and ways to increase them, in addition to their regular treatment options.


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