Endorphins are among the brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which function to transmit electrical signals within the nervous system.
Endorphins are morphine-like chemicals produced by the body that help diminish pain while triggering positive feelings. They’re sometimes referred to as the brain’s feel-good chemicals and are the body’s natural painkillers.
Endorphins are released from the pituitary gland of the brain during periods of strenuous exercise, emotional stress, pain, and orgasm. They help relieve pain and induce feelings of pleasure or euphoria. They play an important role in the brain’s reward system, which includes activities such as eating, drinking and sex.
With high endorphin levels, we feel less pain and fewer negative effects of stress.
Research has found that people with chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, have lower-than-normal levels of endorphins.
There are narcotic pain medications that help with pain, including codeine and oxycodene that work by mimicking natural endorphins and stopping pain signals travelling along the nerves to the brain.
Endorphins and food
Certain foods, such as chocolate and chili peppers, can also lead to enhanced secretion of endorphins. In the case of chili peppers, the spicier the pepper, the more endorphins are secreted. The release of endorphins upon ingestion of chocolate likely explains the comforting feelings that many people associate with this food and the craving for chocolate in times of stress.
Although no food products contain whole endorphins for easy consumption, several endorphin-stimulating foods boast high levels of the vitamins and minerals that play a large part in boosting endorphin like vitamin B12, vitamin C, zinc, potassium, and iron.
Endorphins and Exercise
The body produces endorphins in response to intense physical exercise, which is why research suggests that exercise helps to improve mood and may even aid in the treatment of depression.
Endorphin release varies among individuals. This means that two people who exercise at the same level or suffer the same degree of pain will not necessarily produce similar levels of endorphins as we do not all produce the same number of endorphins.
Endorphins and Addiction
Because endorphins play a role in the brain’s reward system, some scientists and doctors have suggested that the ‘feel-good’ chemicals may play a role in exercise addiction or drug dependence. Exercise addiction may occur in people who exercise excessively. It’s characterised by symptoms of withdrawal, such as feeling depressed, anxious, restless, or guilty after not exercising.
Few scientific studies have evaluated the link between increased endorphin levels, vigorous exercise and dependence or addiction.
We know that endorphins promote that ‘feel-good’ factor in us and therefore promotes our overall health and wellbeing. In the same response it is also important we think about how we live our lives, because unless we do things in moderation, where we initially have that feel good factor, our lifestyles can begin to make us feel less good.
Everything we do must be done in moderation, doing too much of one thing and too little of another. Mental and emotional health works when we work.
Anything excessive that is continually repeated daily such as going to the gym, will eventually take its toll and become an obsession.