What is Endorphin and How Does It Affect the Body?
Most people associate endorphins with runners. There is some truth to that, but this neurological chemical is a lot more intricate than that. Understanding the intricacies behind endorphins may help you control it and use it in a productive way.
What is Endorphin?
Endorphins (or beta-endorphins) are neuropeptides that are vital for the body (Source). One of their primary functions is to help the body deal with pain. Some experts compare endorphins to a morphine-like chemical, which is a little unfair because morphine has such a negative connotation.
How are Endorphins Made?
Well, this process is a little complicated, but it deals with the proopiomelanocortin protein. Do not worry, though, you do not have to use the full name because POMC is acceptable. The protein is synthesized in the anterior pituitary gland. It sits near the bottom-center of the brain.
It should be noted that there is another way that the body produces endorphins, which is with white blood cells. The cells' mRNA transcripts are able to produce beta-endorphins, too. This usually happens when your immune system is compromised, causing inflammation. The body is trying to help you deal with the pain or at least it is supposed to.
The production of this neuropeptide is triggered by physiologic stimulation that directly affects the hypothalamus region of the brain (Source). In essence, your body has sensors that can stimulate this specific part of the brain. Stimulation can be pain, sex, or even excessive physical activity. The hypothalamus springs into action and creates the corticotropin-releasing hormone or CHR, for short. CHR is deployed to the anterior pituitary gland, and this is when the magic begins.
How Do Endorphins Work?
Endorphins can ignite their pleasure-giving capabilities by attaching themselves to opioid receptors that exist throughout the body. Endorphins release substance P or GABA. The release of substance P occurs when the endorphins need to deal with pain since this substance inhibits pain receptors.
GABA is released when the primary function of the endorphins is to make you feel good. The GABA substance releases a hefty amount of dopamine in the body. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is known for inducing pleasure.
Okay, we got through all that, and now we can talk about everything you wanted to know about endorphins but didn't even know to ask.
How Do Endorphins Affect Our Body?
There is a lot to talk about, so I'm going to break this down a bit.
What Triggers the Release of Endorphins?
The release of endorphins can be triggered by several different things. Some we've mentioned earlier such as sex and pain, but there are other triggers that some may not be aware of such as charity. Yes, a study shows that a person who gives can activate the release of endorphins (Source).
Of course, there are a number of other triggers that might be good to know such as the following:
A few studies have linked scents to the release of endorphins. This could happen due to chemical reactions triggered by the scents themselves. For example, lavender contains linalool that helps release a number of 'feel-good' substances. The other way that scents can trigger endorphins is by making a person relive a certain positive memory. A good example of this is the smell of vanilla, which tends to trigger the smell of pastries or cookies.
Other scents that may trigger endorphins include the following:
Evolution is a funny thing, and it really does reveal a lot about human nature. One of the triggers for endorphin and dopamine release is learning. Yes, gaining knowledge is exhilarating. It seems the brain understands that, as a species, it is important to desire knowledge. Now, it does have to be something that you are interested in.
You should also know that a warm embrace can give a person a shot of endorphins, too. This can extend to massage therapy and even acupuncture. Forming a human connection, even if it is just on a physical level, seems to activate this reward system that ends with the release of endorphins.
As strange as it might sound, making sure that your life has purpose can help trigger endorphin production. It seems that the brain understands the importance of feeling like your life is moving toward a goal. It also says something about humanity since we are the only creatures who can project ourselves into the future, and the brain rewards you for thinking about that.
It makes sense that laughter may help since most people experience an overwhelming feeling of goodness when they laugh. Laughter can release endorphins, so triggering laughter is your only challenge. You can look for comedy that works for you, but doing things that make you happy can work.
You should also remember that shared goodness or excitement also helps. The brain is trained to join the crowd. This means those who go to concerts or participate in group activities where everyone is sharing a positive experience can trigger endorphins.
The Interesting Benefits of Endorphins
Antidepressants are meant to inhibit some of the neurotransmitters that are released when you are feeling sad. The medication can artificially increase serotonin and other 'feel-good' neurotransmitters. Endorphins release these substances naturally and without causing any unwanted side-effects.
Serotonin is one of the substances released when endorphins shoots through your body; it is vital in helping you regulate your internal clock or circadian rhythm. This means that any one who is having problems sleeping should see improvement overtime.
Endorphins help you concentrate, which keeps you focused on what is making you feel happy. This could be something that you are learning or even a piece of art that you may be working on.
Of course, these are just a few benefits, but there are many more such as pain management.
Is There a way to Increase Endorphins?
Well, you already know that you can increase the production of endorphins with things like exercise, sex, or even a comedy show, but there is one thing that we have not discussed: You need to make sure your diet facilitates the production of endorphins.
You want to stick to healthy proteins. Serotonin is made from tryptophan among other ingredients. This means foods like turkey and dairy are good to eat. Think about including fish, chicken, and eggs, too.
You also want to make sure that you have enough amino acids because they help increase the production of substances like serotonin. You can find amino acids in foods like seeds, germ of grains, peas, beans, nuts, oats, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach.
You also want to make sure that your brain is healthy since most of the magic happens there. One of your brain's enemies is free radicals because they could damage brain cells. This is the reason why you want to include antioxidant foods because antioxidants target free radicals and help you get rid of them. This means eating leafy greens, sweet potato, squash, citrus, sprouts, and berries. Try to stay away from processed foods and sugars because they can cause free radicals.
Healthy fatty acids make up about 60 percent of the brain and are essential for proper neurotransmitter functioning. This is the reason why you need things like coconut oil, olive oil, fatty acids from fish, seeds, or avocados.
Addictions are neurochemical dependencies. The brain and body want to feel good at all times, especially because an abuser might feel depressed as soon as the endorphin levels drop. At this point, the abuser runs to things like drugs or alcohol.
Endorphins, when released naturally, could help someone stop depending on dangerous substances and learn to get his or her satisfaction from healthy activities such as exercise (Source).
Issues Associated With Endorphin
One of the most overlooked disorders linked to (Source) endorphins is called endorphin deficiency disorder or EDS. EDS is often misdiagnosed as depression because they bear the same symptoms. This disorder can be hereditary, but it can also develop because of extreme stress or pain. You can talk to your doctor about your suspicions if you believe you are suffering from this issue.
You should know there is another side to consider. One example is how (Source)alcohol releases addictive endorphins into the body. The key is moderation and making sure that you are not using endorphins simply to escape an emotional issue that needs to be dealt with head-on. You can boost your endorphins for overall health, but it is important to remember that responsibility does come with knowledge.