Endorphins: The "Feel Good" Hormones
25th April 2019 / Health
Endorphins: The "Feel Good" Hormones
Ever wondered why it feels so good to go for a run? Or, ever thought about why it’s such a high to leave the gym after a solid workout? It’s all down to a group of endogenous neuropeptides and peptide hormones (we’ll explain later) collectively known as “endorphins”, which were coincidentally discovered by two different, independent sets of researchers in the mid-1970s.
How were they discovered?
In the early 1970s many different groups of scientists and researchers were busy studying the effects of opiates on the brain. Their investigations looked at both types of opiates; medicinal ones (like morphine) and also drugs of abuse (such as heroin).
During their research they discovered that both types of synthetic opiates actually interacted with specialised brain and spinal cord receptors naturally present in the body. Once bound to these specialised receptors, the opiates caused an inhibition in the relay of pain signals and in effect, reduced the transmission and consequent feelings of pain. It was a remarkable discovery by the scientists, but the problematic question they now faced was why were these receptors there in the first place?
The scientists concluded that due to the presence of these specialised receptors already present in the body there must be an opiate-like substance also naturally produced by the body (endogenous) to interact with these receptors. The answer?
What are Endorphins?
Endorphins can be defined as: a group of endogenous opioid neuropeptides and peptide hormones found exclusively in humans and other animals.
It all sounds a bit confusing doesn’t it?
Let’s break the definition down...
1. Endogenous (as hinted above) simply means that the substance is produced by the body itself and synthesis does not require any external intervention or substance.
2. The “opioid neuropeptide” part of the definition implies that these short-chain polypeptides act as neurotransmitters and specifically interact with opioid receptors to induce their effect(s).
Endorphins are produced by the central nervous system and the body’s pituitary gland with the key function of inhibiting the relay of pain signals and, in turn, inducing a feeling of euphoria. They are released in response to specific stimuli, namely stress, fear or pain and exist in over 20 different types.
When are they released?
As mentioned above, endorphins are released in response to certain stimuli, which are triggered as a consequence of different activities. A prime example would be vigorous aerobic exercise, such as running, which causes the release of the beta endorphins leading to the well-known “runner’s high” feeling experienced after a good, hearty run. Some studies have even recorded endorphin release when laughing, listening to music or eating chocolate!
How do they make us feel good?
Without getting too technical, the best way to understand the mechanism of action of endorphins would be to start with their main function; as a response to pain. Endorphins are released as a primary response to pain and after release, inhibit the body’s communication of the pain signal. Inevitably, with our sense of pain dulled we start to feel better and a “euphoric” feeling can sometimes be felt.
How can we boost our endorphins?
There is still a lot of research going on surrounding the topic of endorphins, their role in the body and their exact mechanism of action. However, scientific research has shown promising results in identifying ways that we can increase our endorphin production. Some of these activities include:
- Yoga and meditation - a slight contradiction to the above point, however some research has shown that the calming effects of yoga and meditation decrease stress markers and leads to increased endorphin release.
- Dark chocolate - a 2017 scientific review found that eating dark chocolate (namely the cocoa powder and flavanoid parts) boosted subjects mood - the most likely cause of this being the “chocolate-mediated release of opioids”.
- Regular exercise - swimming, running, playing sports… anything that safely boosts your heart rate is also going to boost your mood and endorphin release.
A safe way to start regularly exercising without causing injury or overdoing it would be to try adding in different types of exercise on alternate days of the week. For example, dependent on your current fitness level, you could start by going for brisk walks 3 days of the week and aiming to go for a 20 minute jog on your other free days. You could also try signing yourself up to group classes or social sports teams to not only increase your fitness and endorphin levels but also make new friends. An important point to keep in mind when starting any new fitness routine is to learn how to avoid and prevent injury. A convenient way of maintaining good joint health is by taking a glucosamine supplement, such as our Joint Support blend.
100% vegan and 100% Food Based, our Joint Support complex contains the all important glucosamine, an essential building block of cartilage for joints. The blend also contains turmeric to help fight inflammation as well as vitamin C which is essential for healthy cartilage formation.
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