Is there a better way to start a week than by "feel-good" chemicals? Sure, I could have won the lottery but since I haven't, I will have to get my happiness-high someplace else. Luckily, I have my friend brain with me who naturally produces chemicals that help me cope with the pain of not having that lucky ticket that would give me millions. Those chemicals are my little happiness boosters that will not only get me through this loss but also return that bright smile on my face and make me say "Forget about that, let's do something fun!"
CC0 licence, Pixabay, author: TheDigitalArtist, adapted by me
Not so long ago, I made a post about different chemicals called Meet your happy brain chemicals and boost them! Oxytocin, Endorphins, Serotonin, Dopamine and more
. In it, you can read about different chemicals and get some basic knowledge about them. This time, I will focus on endorphins, and provide you with much more information about them. Buckle your seatbelts people, this is going to be a fun ride!
Endorphins are often wrongly considered to be neurotransmitter molecules. To be more precise, they are neuromodulatory which means they modify the actions of neurotransmitters through a number of effects that are associated with pain or pleasure. More than 20 of them have been discovered with β-endorphin being the one that gives the most euphoric effect.
Endorphins are similar in primary structure to proteins but are smaller.
They have five to forty or more amino acids in length.
The story of their discovery is quite interesting. In the 1980s, scientists were studying how and why opioids worked and found that our bodies have receptors that bind to opioids and block pain signals. They discovered that we have chemicals in our bodies that act very similar and bind to the same receptors. This is how endorphins got their name.
"ENDOgenous" (from the body)
"moRPHINE" (opioid pain reliever)
Endorphins may come from various parts of the body but they are primarily made in the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. Their levels in body vary from one person to another and the lack or excess of them has been connected with states of depression, fibromyalgia, and even autism. People with depression do not have enough endorphins to deal with the pain and pressures of daily life while people with autism produce so much endorphins that it could present the reason why they do not need to respond to the outside world. I am looking forward to more research being done on this subject.
"Endorphins exhibit a number of neurological effects associated with the relief of pain. The administration of exogenous endorphins (those prepared outside the body) stimulates the release of many other hormones including prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and antidiuretic hormone. The analgesic effects of morphine are commonly believed to be caused by binding to receptor sites for endorphins, but few beneficial effects of treatment with exogenous endorphins have been reported."
Dan M. Sullivan, chemistryexplained.com
A lot of people confuse or mix endorphins with dopamine, they are not the same. According to Stacy Sampson, DO, here is the info provided in the article Why Do We Need Endorphins?
|"Endorphins are polypeptides made by the pituitary gland and central nervous system. Endorphins primarily help one deal with stress and reduce feelings of pain. The pleasure effect associated with endorphins is in part related to the increased dopamine production that occurs due to endorphin activity."||"Dopamine is synthesized from the amino acid tyrosine by the hypothalamus, substantia nigra, and the adrenal gland medulla. Dopamine has multiple effects in the body, including boosting mood, inhibiting prolactin secretion, enhancing body movement, and helping the sympathetic nervous system."|
As you can see, one of the benefits of increased endorphins is the increase in the levels of dopamine which together with serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins create the "happy quartet" that is responsible for our feelings of happiness and satisfaction.
β-endorphin is an opioid neuropeptide and peptide hormone produced by neurons within the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. Its molecules are produced as portions of larger proopiomelanocortin (POMC) molecules, coded by a single gene, synthesized as large molecules, and then cut by enzymes into active subunits that are composed of five amino acids joined by amide linkages, met-enkephalin, and leu-enkephalin.
beta-Endorphin, from wikipedia, license: in public domain
What we know as "runners high" or that good happy feeling we get after exercising is the release of β-endorphin. This is why I am addicted to running but you do not have to run to feel its lovely features. (you should, but you do not have to) You can exercise in any way you want, just keep your heart rate high for at least 5 to 10 minutes. Here is a simple exercise routine you can do:
- run fast on the spot - 20 seconds
- jumping jacks - 20 seconds
- run fast on the spot - 20 seconds
- high knees - 20 seconds
Repeat this cycle 7 times and you will boost your β-endorphin levels in 9.5 minutes. For an extra feeling of bliss, try to do this for 20 minutes and see how you feel. The best way to monitor your sensation and progress is to stretch afterward and see how you feel a couple of minutes after your exercise. The longer the exercise and the higher the levels of endorphins, the longer you will feel their effect.
You can read all about how beta-endorphins help with pain management in this study report published in Hawaii Medical Journal Understanding Endorphins and Their Importance in Pain Management
by Adam S Sprouse-Blum, BA, Greg Smith, BS, Daniel Sugai, BA, and F Don Parsa, MD.
Endorphins are beneficial for all aspects of our life, physical, emotional, and psychological. They are in charge of our overall sense of well-being, health, and satisfaction with our lives.
- Overcoming addictions
- Boosting your self-esteem
- Conecting with other people
- Reducing weight
- Concentration and focus
- Reducing stress, depression, and anxiety
- Pain management
There is still some research needed to find out what is the precise role of endorphins in treating depression but everything that was found so far speaks volumes about their positive effects. When our bodies are no longer able to produce serotonin and endorphins needed, there are antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors that we take for help. Zoloft, as one of those drugs, was what I was taking when I was diagnosed with clinical depression a couple of years ago. No need to worry, I am fine now. The reason why I am fine is the mission I had; to be fine. Alongside medication, I was using various different techniques to boost my happy chemicals which I will tell you all about a bit later.
Say No to anxiety
and say YES to endorphins!
According to the paper by Lynette L. Craft, Ph.D. and Frank M. Perna, Ed.D., Ph.D. The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed
, approximately 17% of the U.S. population will suffer from a major depressive episode at some point in their lifetime
and depression is ranked as the leading cause of disability in the United States. I can only imagine what those numbers are on the global scale. Since exercise has been proven to help with dealing with depression and the consequence of exercising is the boost of endorphins, we can more or less accurately conclude that endorphins do help but there is still room for additional research. As for the stress levels and anxiety, there is no doubt there. Different endorphin levels have been directly linked to corresponding anxiety levels. You can check out one of those studies here:
Influence of beta-Endorphin on anxious behavior in mice: interaction with EtOH. by Grisel JE, Bartels JL, Allen SA, Turgeon VL.
Happy women feel less pain during childbirth
There is a reason for all those breathing exercises before going into labor. Today, we do not stop there and have various ways to give birth, from natural at home, giving birth in water to those more common ones in hospitals. Even in hospitals, fathers are now allowed to be present and help mothers. This all helps women to produce more endorphins and more easily deal with pain. The more endorphins you have the lesser the chance for your need of additional pain medication during birth. There was a small study, conducted on 45 women that showed how low levels of beta-endorphins at the end of pregnancy were associated with a need for additional pain treatment medications during labor. You can read that study here:
Plasma levels of beta-endorphin during pregnancy and use of labor analgesia by Dabo F, Nyberg F, Qin Zhou, Sundström-Poromaa I, Akerud H.
The formula to boost your endorphin levels is right there in the title above. All you have to do is eat foods that were shown to increase them, exercise, have sex and sleep regularly. Depending on how low your levels are, you may need medication too but trust me, medication alone will not help you if you do not decide to "help that medication to help you". Over the years I have seen and met a lot of people struggling with depression and anxiety. Those that depended on medication alone had none or slower progress from those that combined medication with various other things that helped such as exercise and meditation.
Meditation helps and so does chocolate,
lots and lots of chocolate...
Not that I ever needed adittional excuse to eat more chocolate but it was always nice to have. Cocoa contains mood-boosting phenethylamine, an organic compound that gives your body an endorphin boost. This does not mean you should eat junk food, dark chocolate is the way to go.
You need cocoa, not sugar.
Choose your sweets accordingly.
As for your general food intake, try to eat as healthy as possible with lots of food that contains antioxidants such as leafy greens, plums, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, broccoli, and healthy fats (they do comprise 60 percent of the brain) like coconut or olive oil, fish, avocado, and nuts. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. I am not saying that this had a major effect (who knows, maybe it did, maybe it did not) but I went for two years without alcohol or caffeine, not a single drop. I just started having them again a couple of months ago. Awwww coffee, how I missed you...
Besides eating healthy food, here are some other ways to boost your endorphin levels:
- create something (music, diy projects, even decorations and jewelry)
- get acupuncture or massage your pressure points
- have sex
- get a massage
- eat something spicy
- spend time in nature and in the Sun
In conclusion, endorphins are neuropeptides that have effects associated with pleasure, happiness, regulating mood, and an overall sense of well-being. Their levels vary with lower and excess levels linked to states of depression and autism. You can regulate those levels by medication, healthy lifestyle or both and there are ways to boost them such as exercise, meditation, healthy food, laughter, and sex.
After having sex and eating chocolate, two other great ways to boost your endorphin levels are laughing and exercising. By exercising, you will increase your energy levels and sleep better. This is the quickest and the best way to naturally boost your endorphin levels. Read about how exercise helps in this paper Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety
, written by Elizabeth Anderson and Geetha Shivakumar. Laughter is another quick fix because it too increases endorphin levels but not only that, it has been linked to elevated pain threshold. Finnish and British researchers from the Turku PET Centre, the University of Oxford and Aalto University have found that social laughter leads to endorphin release in the brain. You can read about it here: Social laughter releases endorphins in the brain
For additional read, check out these references and enjoy:
Until next time,
KEEP YOUR SMILE ON
AND LOVE YOUR ENDORPHINS.
Image sources AND LICENCES in order of appearance:
- all images used in this post are free for commercial use, they are royalty free with the links to original images provided under them
- line divider that I use is from FREE CLIPART LIBRARY, and is here
- titles are made by me using a royality free photo from pixabay that can be found here
- my bitmoji avatar was created on https://www.bitmoji.com/, visit the site to create yourown
PROUD MEMBER OF: