The endorphins , known colloquially as happiness hormones are a peptide substances produced naturally in the brain, blocking the pain sensation and are related to the pleasurable emotional responses.
They are endogenous opioid peptides; substances chemically equal to those derived from opium, such as morphine, codeine and heroin, with the difference that they are produced by the body itself.
They are a group of chemical substances classified within the group of neuromodulators and perform functions in emotional behaviors.
The name endorphins means internal morphine. They act as neurotransmitters or hormonal vehicles within the body.
They are considered endogenous opioid analgesics, given that their release is involved with analgesia or pain reduction, also in the inhibition of defense responses typical of the species.
In addition, the release of endorphins also produces a sensation of well-being, pleasurable sensations, since the reinforcement’s own circuits are stimulated.
Other endogenous opioid peptides or opioids, in addition to endorphins, are enkephalins and dynorphins.
Endorphins are also involved in temperature and its regulation, in the cardiovascular response, in respiration and in attention and in memory. In memory, they act at the level of the hippocampus.
Endorphins are really important in the feeling of pleasure in the body. We have found about 20 opioid peptides that are classified into three groups.
All these peptides act by inhibiting brain cells that are involved in pain.
How and where are endorphins produced?
Endorphins are natural substances and are synthesized by the brain and relieve pain, as can opiates such as morphine, codeine and also heroin.
They are neurotransmitters that belong to the group of opioid peptides and that are produced in the pituitary gland, activating nuclei in the brain and acting in the CNS (central nervous system) and in the SNP (peripheral nervous system).
The good thing about endorphins is that, despite this, they do not have the side effects of drugs in the nervous system.
The human body produces endorphins by itself, but it is true that its normal and natural production is also stimulated by some nutrients that are absorbed from the food the person ingests.
In the brain, endorphins bind with neuron receptors.
The release of endorphins is also related to the release of ACTH, the adrenocorticotropic hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands related to stress.
In this way, when there is pain or stress in the organism, the brain releases endorphins that bind with the receptors, and in this way the welfare effects are produced in the organism.
Both euphoria and analgesia take place, intestinal mobility is reduced, etc.
However, it is true that these receptors are also sensitive to drugs, to exogenous opioids. In this way, these drugs that are used as pain relievers cause dependence in the human being.
What is the role of endorphins in physiological processes is not completely described. However, we do know its chemical functioning and its relationship with well-being.
The history of endorphins
The researchers began to study them when they discovered that some drugs, opiates (morphine, heroin) seemed to fit perfectly with some receptors in our brain.
The human being has always been looking for the right way to reduce pain, and has done so through methods, medicinal plants, etc.
It was already discovered in the year 1500 BC that some drugs ( opium ) produced analgesia, when the healing properties of opium extracted from the poppy were seen. It was also used in Greece, in the army and in China and in England.
Soon they began to discover the side effects, dependence. However, they have continued to be used to cope with pain.
It is in 1972 when it is discovered in animals, specifically in rats, that when certain areas of the brain are stimulated, an analgesic effect takes place.
This hinted that there was something in the body, produced by it in a natural way, which was similar to opiates.
In the same decade the action of the enkephalins was discovered, but it was soon seen that the effect was minor.
What are the benefits of endorphins?
The endorphins together with serotonin are the substances of the human body that generate to the person a feeling of happiness, of well-being and that favor a restful sleep. In addition, they also act as natural analgesics.
Endorphins trigger pleasurable sensations and well-being, such as happiness, tranquility, euphoria and also creativity.
The main action of endorphins in the body is to block pain detectors in the brain of the person, specifically in the brain and midbrain.
In these parts endorphins are released and analgesia occurs. An example of this is the pain when one feels when hit, which is neutralized after a time by the action that the body has made, releasing endorphins that mitigate the pain that the person feels.
Therefore, the release of endorphins also has effects on the modulation of appetite, the release of sex hormones, stress and the immune system.
In the immune system, for example, we see its relationship with the endocrine system because the latter produces hormones that include endorphins and in turn, the cells of the immune system secrete endorphins.
The release of endorphins is unique to each one, varying between individuals and others, so that even if you do, for example, the same amount of physical exercise or suffer the same pain, the amount of endorphins is not the same.
The effects of the neurotransmission system of endorphins can be seen in many processes, however we would conclude that the most relevant occur in the modulation of pain and at the time of combating stress .
In addition, they have other effects on the body such as: increased gastric acid secretion, relaxation of stomach muscles, inhibition of somatostatin, stimulation of dopamine, blocking of insulin secretion and glucagon.
Activities to increase endorphins
1. Perform physical exercise
A large number of studies show the relationship between physical exercise and well-being. In this way, the accomplishment of vigorous physical exercise produces in the human being tranquility, happiness and euphoria.
In addition, all these sensations can last minutes and lengthen hours after the person has done intense physical exercise.
All this is due, therefore, to the fact that in the performance of physical exercise the organism, specifically the brain, produces endorphins.
In addition, some studies have shown that when physical exercise is more durable over time, the release of endorphins in the brain is greater.
2. Listen to music
Listening to a music that you like ends up influencing your mood. In order to produce endorphins, you must choose the music that you like the most.
Classical music, for example, manages to release endorphins, influencing the heart and respiratory rhythm and producing muscle relaxation.
3. Eat favorite foods
Eating some foods, such as chocolate, also helps to generate more endorphins, which would help explain, for example, that in situations of stress there are people who feel the need to eat this type of food.
When you enjoy food (with its texture, its flavor, its aroma), you are producing a sensory experience that produces endorphins.
Laughter produces endorphins because it stimulates the body and produces physical and psychological well-being.
Through laughter, stress and tension are released, relaxation is regulated and mood is improved.
Laughter influences the chemistry of the brain and the immune system, and it is not necessary to laugh to the fullest, the same smile already ends up producing endorphins.
5. Do pleasant activities
Doing activities that produce well-being and make you enjoy it is also a good remedy for increasing endorphins.
6. The memory
The memory of moments and situations that brought us happiness or well-being ends up producing also positive effects on the organism.
Remembering events produces in our body effects similar to those we live in the moment, so it can be a good activity to increase endorphins.
7. Physical contact with other people
The physical contact, the caresses and the hugs with the people that we estimate also produce an increase in endorphins.
For example, after having sex or receiving a hug from a loved one, you can feel relaxed.
8. Contact with nature
Have contact with nature, whether in the countryside, on the beach, in the mountains? You can increase your endorphins and feel more relaxed and with a pleasant sensation and well-being.
9. Practice relaxation or meditation
Any activity similar to relaxation, meditation or yoga produces an increase in endorphins and produces well-being.
10. Give yourself a massage
The massages also end up releasing endorphins, since there is a well-being throughout the body and the nerve endings reach the brain, producing its secretion.
What dangers do endorphins present?
We spoke at the beginning of the article about those people we know who have become addicted to physical exercise. That they can not spend a day without going for a run or without going to the gym.
Doing physical exercise makes us feel good, with a feeling of well-being and fullness that is not comparable to other activities.
Drug is talked about when a certain substance causes dependence in the person, whether physical or psychological and modifies the organism.
If we take care of it, a person who performs physical exercise because he needs it and feels bad when he does not do it, one might ask if we are talking about a drug.
Endorphins stimulate the reinforcement circuits, just like exogenous opioids such as heroin, morphine or codeine.
Drugs derived from opium are similar in many ways to endorphins (we call them opioid drugs and opioid endorphins).
By sharing receptors, when the body gets drugs, it decreases the production of endorphins by itself.
The role of endorphins in drug addiction
Some researchers have proposed that perhaps the most feasible solution to the drug issue is to naturally increase the level of endorphins in the person addicted to drugs.
Models have been proposed to explain drugs and their functioning in the human body. And one of the ways to explain it is through the theory of the key.
This explanation argues that the human body has locks (the receptors) for the keys (endorphins). However, as we have already seen, there are some external substances that can also fit with that lock, although not in a perfect way (drugs).
However, the more that imperfect key (the drug) is put in the lock, the more it spoils it. And as it does, it is inhibiting the release of natural endorphins by the human body.
When the person addicted to drugs begins to consume, it does have the desired effects (the euphoria and the feeling of well-being and relaxation that occurs), however, when the lock is damaged and finally remains open, no longer It has those effects.
The human body has decreased its ability to secrete endorphins and the person addicted to drugs has less protection from stress and pain.
Although he began to use drugs because of their positive effects, the addicted person consumes at this point the unpleasant sensations that would cause him not to do so.
Therefore, many researchers propose that the way to deal with addiction could be to increase endorphins, something difficult if we take into account that they occur and are released internally. We must propitiate the conditions for this to occur.