Produced within the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, endorphins are naturally occurring pain killers that bind to the brain’s opiate receptors. Endorphins are sometimes referred to as “happy hormones” because they not only possess analgesic qualities, but can increase mood and bring a sense of calm and happiness once they begin to flow through the bloodstream. These neurotransmitter proteins were in fact named “endorphins” as an amalgam of the words endogenous and morphine. Together, these terms point to the opiatic qualities that our bodies are naturally capable of producing.
Whether brought on by laughter, exercise, or external pain relief (medication or alcohol, for example), endorphin activity is a function of both the central nervous system as well as the endocrine system. Serving as both neurotransmitters and hormones, each of the four types of endorphins we create allows us to enjoy some form, whether short lived or ongoing, of pain relief. While we know that there are alpha, beta, gamma, and sigma endorphins, research appears to be scant on all but the beta subgroup. This is likely due to the fact that beta endorphins are the most plentiful and contribute most significantly to pain relief, sexual pleasure, satiety, stress reduction and incentivized behaviors.
The Role of Endorphins
By definition, endorphins serve as healing brain chemicals and are often referred to simply, as “pain killers.” While this is indeed true, these statements are a bit limiting in that endorphins provide various types of relief that is not only physical, but emotional, spiritual, existential, and carnal.
Homeostasis and Well Being
The types of pain endorphins treat can come from a variety of places. What they all have in common however is their ability to make sufferers feel out of sorts, incomplete, and unwell. Endorphins can remedy these phenomena and restore balance not only by addressing pain, but contributing to blood pressure regulation, cardiovascular health, increased pain thresholds, and overall sensitivities to unpleasant stimuli.
How Endorphins are triggered
Endorphins are naturally occurring, but require a bit of stimulation to get moving. Stressors of all kinds can unleash an endorphin rush, whether the stress results from positive or negative events. Endorphins are released, seemingly as a way to engage “the cure” before the stressor fully kicks in, even in the face of challenges as varied as work deadlines, tense familial relationships, or back breaking labor.
Other examples of endorphonic involvement can be seen when dealing with the pain of grief, broken bones, and rejection letters, as well. The stronger these stimuli, the more endorphins are released. In fact, the natural opiates within endorphins are so effective, that synthetic opioids are often administered during and after surgery, so as to mimic the profound effects of endogenous endorphins.
An overindulgence in food, drugs, alcohol, and other pleasurable activities (that are deemed so by each individual) can also stimulate the production of these hormones. The beauty of endorphins is their ability to provide pleasurable feelings and pain relief. The more they are produced as a result of these substances or activities, the more they are sought after and pursued. The inherent health risks in engaging in unhealthy behaviors that lead, for better or worse to that “feel-good rush,” however, is in part what leads to addiction and frequent relapse.
Preventing Endorphin Deficiencies Naturally
In addition to endorphin production as a means of alleviating pain, it is best, just as most things in life, to engage in activities that promote endorphins before crises hit. While we have no control over certain situations, we can adapt our responses to all types of stressors by engaging in behaviors and lifestyles that benefit us, as well as the good and welfare of others.
Exercise is a healthy stressor that produces a surge of endorphins and for some, results in a “runner’s high.” In turn, exercise not only allows you to develop your endorphin stores, but improves your health, encourages one to conduct a healthy lifestyle, and promotes a positive self image.
Eating nutrient- rich foods that organically boost serotonin levels and maintain a healthy gut, can also prevent endorphin deficiencies. Eating well often breeds other positive behaviors such as exercising and the abandonment of dangerous behaviors. Eating healthily also promotes digestion which can in turn promote positive moods and personal satisfaction. The more this process continues, the better the endorphins’ protective abilities.
Other activities that promote endorphin production by increasing joy and pleasure, include laughter, relaxation, and sexual activity. The satisfaction these behaviors provide can significantly increase the production of feel good hormones. Even singing, a behavior that can be engaged in just for fun and alternately, may require a great deal of conviction and dedication, can lend itself to positive changes that boost endorphin levels.
Endorphins are truly a gift that treat pain, distress, and discomfort. There are safe ways for the public to benefit from them, and resources to turn to if your endorphin flow simply is not flowing as it should. Dr. Shahen Kurestian, DC of Body Systems and Well being in Glendale, California is a fantastic source of support is available for appointments and consultations to discuss how to make your endorphins work for you.