Endorphins: 8 Simple Strategies to Boost the Brain’s Natural Pain Reliever

Endorphins

Nearly everybody has heard of endorphins. They are well-known to be released during exercise, contributing to an overall feeling of happiness. Yet, these neurochemicals, which act as neurotransmitters in your nervous system and hormones in your circulatory system, are so much more. Endorphins play a critical role in relieving pain, enhancing pleasure, and helping to reduce inflammation and stress. They are essential to your well-being. However, endorphins are not always maintained by the body at optimal levels, which can have adverse effects on your health. Among the mental health conditions associated with low levels of endorphins are anxiety, depression, impulsive behavior, and addiction, to name a few.

Among the mental health conditions associated with low levels of endorphins are anxiety, depression, impulsive behavior, and addiction. Click To Tweet

Here’s what you need to know about these remarkable neurochemicals, including ways to promote higher endorphin levels in your body to support and protect your overall wellness.

HOW ENDORPHINS WORK

In the 1970s, researchers discovered peptide molecules formed within the body (endogenous) that they believed to have morphine-like properties as they appeared to enhance pleasure, reduce stress, and relieve pain. They termed them endorphins (a combination of the words endogenous + morphine) because they acted on opioid receptors in the brain and nervous system. This is why you will sometimes see endorphins referred to as “endogenous opiates.”

Endorphins are released by your brain’s hypothalamus and pituitary gland in response to injury, pain, or severe stress. When they bind to opioid receptors (part of the endogenous opioid system that is responsible for regulating pain, reward, and addictive behaviors), other neurochemicals are affected resulting in pain-relieving effects, pleasure, or euphoria, depending on the type of endorphin.

BENEFITS OF ENDORPHINS

The pain-relieving action from endorphins can sometimes be life-saving. For example, the fast-acting. analgesic effects of endorphins are what would allow you to get out of a burning car despite having broken bones!

As part of the reward system pathway, endorphin levels may increase and enhance pleasurable activities such as consuming delicious foods like chocolate, experiencing sexual pleasure, or getting lost in a beautiful piece of music

Of course, endorphins can also kick in if your body is pushed to the limit—like when an athlete runs long distances. In such instances, endorphin levels go up, helping to quell inflammation, reduce pain, and uplift mood. You’ve probably heard of the “runner’s high.” Although research is ongoing to determine what causes it, the pain relief, anti-inflammatory influence, and dopamine release resulting from endorphin levels increasing are believed by medical experts to help create that good feeling. When you are feeling good, confidence levels go up too!

MENTAL HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF LOW LEVELS OF ENDORPHINS

Medical research has found genetic and non-genetic causes for endorphin deficiency. When people have low levels of endorphins, they are more likely to suffer from mood changes, depression, anxious feelings, difficulty sleeping, body aches and pain (including fibromyalgia and headaches). They are also much more vulnerable to addiction.

Opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, and a number of prescription pain medications work on the same opioid receptors that endorphins do. However, they work faster and cause a much greater release of dopamine, and a more intense craving for more and more, which makes them extremely addictive—especially if your body is endorphin deficient to start with.

Interestingly, though, you can get addicted to endorphins. As pain releases endorphins, people who exhibit self-harm behaviors like cutting or even compulsive tattooing may be addicted to the resulting endorphin release from the pain, research indicates. Studies have additionally highlighted a link between increased levels of endorphins and exercise addiction. While there are addictive behaviors related to endorphin’s feel-good benefits, it is rare for your body to produce too many of them.

8 WAYS TO BALANCE YOUR ENDORPHINS AND BOOST WELL-BEING

Help your body to produce plenty of pain-relieving, pleasure-enhancing, feel-good endorphins with the following actions.

1. Exercise on a consistent basis.

Research has shown higher levels of endorphins in subjects who exercise regularly. Perhaps that’s why a 2021 study showed that participants who exercised regularly during the pandemic maintained a healthy mood!

2. Be of service to others.

Giving your time, service, or resources to help another may activate endorphins. Imaging research has shown that the reward centers of the brain light up when we give to others.

3. Practice yoga.

Yoga is a well-known stress reliever. One research review suggests that there’s a neuro-physiological correlation between yoga, pain, and endorphins and encourages further study.

4. Meditate.

Although not fully understood, research acknowledges a connection between meditation, elevated endorphin levels, reduced pain, and feelings of joy.

5. Enjoy spicy food.

There’s a reason so many people enjoy spicy food! Jalapeno and other chili peppers contain a compound called capsaicin, which research has found to trigger both pain and pleasure perceptions, and the release of endorphins.

6. Eat dark chocolate.

Researchers know that consuming dark chocolate stimulates the release of endorphins, although it is not entirely clear why. One study theorizes that it is delicious palatability – the intense enjoyment of dark chocolate may trigger more good feelings!

7. Laugh more.

Do you know that fantastic feeling you get after a good, genuine laugh? Well, research shows that laughing triggers the release of endorphins – it’s the perfect therapy for low mood. You can watch a good comedy or spend time with people who make you laugh.

8. Get acupuncture.

Acupuncture and electroacupuncture have been accepted around the world as alternative medicine therapies for acute and chronic pain. Research has revealed that endorphins play a critical role in the pain relief electroacupuncture provides.

Depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

8 Comments »

  1. Do you have acupuncture professionals on your staff? If not, please recommend one in either Reston, Herndon or Chantilly area. Thank you

    Comment by Priscilla M Gaines — December 30, 2022 @ 4:40 AM

  2. Great article! I can’t eat chocolate but I plan to employ all of these suggestions. Thanks for helping me to better understand!

    Comment by Donna L. — December 30, 2022 @ 5:16 AM

  3. In addition to meditation, hypnosis is a good way to train your brain to alleviate pain.

    Comment by Lea Davis — December 30, 2022 @ 6:01 AM

  4. Is there any correlation of endorphin addiction to anorexia?

    Comment by Lori Taylor — December 30, 2022 @ 10:46 AM

  5. This has a lot of things that raise endorphins but are there activities or foods that suppress them? I always joked that I had no endorphins because no matter how much I exercised it never felt good. I had to bribe myself with a whirlpool, massage or treat. I suppose I do have some other kinds of endorphins since I do feel my mood elevate from laughing and other activities mentioned.

    Comment by JAYME K LYONS — December 30, 2022 @ 11:12 AM

  6. Interested in understanding why my 16 year old son is increasingly aggressive verbally and physically. He is oppositional and deviant in most circumstances.

    Comment by Edward McManus — January 1, 2023 @ 1:23 PM

  7. Hello Edward, thank you for reaching out. For more information about SPECT scans and our services, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 9, 2023 @ 9:21 AM

  8. Hello Priscilla, thank you for reaching out. For more information about SPECT scans and our services, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — January 9, 2023 @ 9:53 AM

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