Endorphins are a group of peptide hormones released by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. They are responsible for raising a person’s threshold for pain and activating the ‘feel good’ receptors, creating a feeling of wellbeing. The name of these hormones comes from the term ‘endogenous morphine’, endogenous because they are produced in the body and morphine.
There are about twenty different types of endorphin, the best known being beta-endorphin associated with ‘runner’s high’. They are also es involved in pain management and have the ability to block nerve cells from releasing pain signals to the brain . In the peripheral nervous system, they produce analgesia by binding to opioid receptors.
How to Release Natural Endorphins
There are many ways to release natural endorphins including exercise, laughter, acupuncture, being in nature and meditation.
Exercise: Since 2008, with the use of PET scans, researchers have been able to measure the release of endorphins in an athlete’s brain before and after exercise. After exercise, they found a significant increase. As exercise has been proven to boost mood, some medical professionals prescribe regular exercise as a treatment for mild to moderate depression and anxiety.
Meditation: When you are stressed, your body triggers the release of stress hormones causing inflammation and increasing pain. Meditation helps to shift your focus to something quiet and calming, helping your brain to release endorphins. One study showed that mindfulness based stress reduction which combines meditation and yoga, was more effective than drugs and surgery for alleviating chronic low back pain. With practice, meditation can increase your pain tolerance, lower hypertension and deepen respiration.
Acupuncture: Placing fine needles into the skin at specific points around the body (acupoints) helps trigger the release of pain relieving endorphins.
Laughter: Laughter is the best medicine as it also releases other ‘feel good’ hormones such as dopamine and serotonin and suppresses stress hormones to improve mood, reduce pain and support a stronger immune system.
Chiropractic: Research has shown that chiropractic manipulation stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain. This may explain the feeling of well-being patients claim to experience immediately after treatment.
The science of human endorphin levels is still evolving as researchers continue to study this chemical and how it affects our overall health. In addition to decreased feelings of pain, their secretion leads to feelings of euphoria, modulation in appetite, release of sex hormones and enhancement of the immune response. With high levels, we feel less pain and fewer negative effects of stress.