What are Endorphins?
We feel at ease while listening to music, watching a movie, or taking a vacation to our favorite location. At other times, we are excited at the thought of a much-anticipated event. Sometimes, we feel so relaxed after a hectic workout. So, has anyone wondered what contributes to these feelings? The answer lies in these molecules produced in the brain, called endorphins.
Endorphins are natural painkillers that are produced in the brain (pituitary gland and hypothalamus) during laughter, pain, excitement, orgasm, and vigorous exercise. Endorphins bind opiate receptors in the brain. The word “endorphin” is derived from “endogenous metersorphine” and signifies the production of a morphine-like molecule in the human body. Endorphins are one type of opioid neurotransmitters that also include other molecules, such as enkephalins, dynorphins, and endomorphins. Endorphins act through 5 types of opiate receptors (δ, k, µ, ε, σ).
Function of endorphins: Endorphins act as an analgesic (pain relief) or play a role in regulating thirst and appetite. Endorphins also play a role in regulating blood pressure and temperature. Euphoria, prolonged relaxation, or sedation are some of the other effects of endorphins.
Types of Endorphins
There are 4 main types of endorphins:
- Beta-endorphins: These are the most abundant endorphins that are produced in the nervous system (central and peripheral). Beta-endorphins are produced in the anterior pituitary gland from pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) and bind to the m-opioid receptor. They stimulate the GABA neurotransmitter inducing the release of dopamine during pain stimulation.
Some people suffer from depression and sorrow following a decrease in endogenous endorphin levels. Several lifestyle modifications could help to increase the mood in these individuals.
Endorphins - Endogenous Release and Effects
Exercise, alcohol, obesity, and pain stimulate the release of endorphins, which are associated with pleasure and relaxation. Endorphin deficiency results in depression and addiction. Radioimmunoassays detect the levels of endorphins.
Endogenous Release of Endorphins
Endorphins are constituents of the endorphinergic system that is involved in generating the feeling of pleasure in the body. Endorphins are released during:
- Drug intake: heroin, steroids
- Consumption of alcohol. Alcohol stimulates the release of endorphins. However, continuous alcohol consumption reduces the production of endorphins resulting in a deficit.
Effects of Endorphin Release and Deficit
The most common effect of endorphin release is the feeling of well-being. The body relaxes and feels capable of handling any form of stress and anxiety.
Endorphin deficiency is more common in women as compared with men. Individuals with a genetic endorphin deficiency are prone to substance abuse (alcohol, drugs), and psychological disorders (e.g. borderline personality disorder).
Symptoms of Endorphin Deficit Include:
- Craving for chocolate, alcohol, drugs
- Crying over small issues and increased level of sorrow
- Incapable of accepting losses
- Extremely sensitive to pain
The level of beta-endorphins in the plasma can be detected by:
- Radioimmunoassays (RIA)
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
Stimulation of Endorphin Release
Endorphin release may be stimulated with exercise, electroacupuncture, massage therapy, natural supplements, such as chamomile, lavender oil and foods rich in vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
Endorphin release is stimulated by heroin, alcohol, or anabolic steroids. However, to avoid withdrawal symptoms in individuals addicted to the above substances, electro-acupuncture helps in stimulating the endogenous endorphins within the body.
Endorphins and Exercise
Exercise is known to cause the release of endorphins, specially, beta-endorphin.
There are 3 main consequences of exercise:
- Runner’s high – There is an increase in the levels of beta-endorphin and other hormones (eg, cortisol, catecholamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, growth hormone, among others) within 30 to 60 seconds of exercising with increased intensity especially in males. The release and increase in the levels of beta-endorphin in the serum cause a feeling of euphoria. However, there is no dramatic euphoric effect observed in those who exercise with moderate intensity.
- Exercise addiction – It has been observed that individuals can get addicted to exercise in a similar manner as substance abuse. Hence, the negative effects of reducing exercise intensity in such individuals include depression, irritability, among others.
- Increased tolerance to pain – Research has shown that constant exercise induces a greater capacity to withstand pain.
Other forms of exercise that stimulate endorphin release include yoga and Tai Chi. Meditation is known to have a calming effect on individuals with anxiety syndromes.
Besides exercise, a medicinal herb, Rhodiola rosea is known to release beta-endorphins in the brain. This herb is used as an anti-depressant, where Rosiridin is the medicinal component of the herb.
Although, conclusive evidence has not been obtained on the beneficial effects of natural supplements, the following supplements are considered good sources of dopamine. Beta-endorphins stimulate the release of dopamine to produce the effect of pleasure or euphoria. Foods that stimulate dopamine include the following:
Protein-rich foods: Chicken, lentils, eggs, fish, cheese, wheat germ
Vegetables and fruits: Beets, bananas, apples, watermelons, chilli, cardamom
Avoid processed foods, saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates in the diet. Foods rich in omega-3 are advocated for anxiety disorders.
Vitamins obtained from fresh fruits and vegetables aid in the production of endorphins. Multivitamin supplements are an additional source of endorphins.
Amino acids: An amino acid combination, DLPA (D-phenylalanine and L-phenylalanine) is useful in the treatment of endorphin deficiency syndrome.
Massage therapy, naturopathic therapy homeopathy, use of herbs, such as chamomile, Gingko biloba, Kava, are some of the ways to probably boost the endorphin levels to beat anxiety and depression.
Be happy: Laugh a lot! It helps in releasing those feel-good endorphins and removes anxiety and depression in the brain. Laughter helps improve social bonds and improves the mood and determination of the individual. Dance and music are other ways to improve the mood of an individual.
Be fit: Endorphins are released when an individual exercises on a regular basis. Exercise releases endorphins that create a sense of well being in the individual. Dancing, yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation help in releasing endorphins.
Herbs: Aromatherapy is a form of alleviating depression and anxiety.
Lavender oil and rose oil are advocated for relaxation. Herbs, such as chamomile, Ginkgo biloba have shown some promising data on alleviating stress.
Make love: Making love relaxes the body and probably stimulates the release of endorphins, making individuals feel happy after the act.
Eat the right food: While alcohol, wine, and chocolate generate a sense of pleasure in individuals, they also create addictive tendencies. However, foods rich in protein, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids provide a similar boost in endorphins without the fear of addiction.
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Latest Publications and Research on EndorphinsEndocrine systems of the skin. - Published by PubMed
Endogenous opiates and behavior: 2017. - Published by PubMed
Isolating peripheral effects of endogenous opioids in modulating exertional breathlessness in people with moderate or severe COPD: a randomised controlled trial. - Published by PubMed
Death by Opioids: Are there non-addictive scientific solutions? - Published by PubMed
The mechanism of chronic nicotine exposure and nicotine withdrawal on pain perception in an animal model. - Published by PubMed