What do endorphins do?
Have you ever noticed that eating certain foods (like chocolate), exercising or having sex makes you feel great? Endorphins are a big part of the reason why. They’re tiny molecules released by your brain during these activities. Your brain also releases endorphins when you’re in pain or under stress, in an effort to naturally relieve any pain you may be in.
For example, if you hurt your knee falling over, your brain will quickly release endorphins to block pain for a short while so you can cope with the stress of the situation, get back up, find help and get to safety.
Endorphins also boost your mood and make you feel good by acting on brain receptors, which normally respond to opiate drugs like morphine and codeine. When they act on these receptors, they create similar pain-relieving and pleasure-boosting effects to these drugs.
As well as this, endorphins trigger the release of another brain chemical, dopamine, which also boosts mood. That’s why endorphins are often called ‘feel-good’ chemicals.
What are the effects of endorphins?
As well as relieving pain and boosting your mood, research suggests that endorphins can help with many other things too. However, it’s important to bear in mind that research into this area is still in its early stages and the effects outlined below need more study to be proven.
Low levels of endorphins (an endorphin deficiency) can affect the body and have been linked to increased depression, but why this happens is still not fully understood. Many studies looking at the link between endorphin levels and depression suggest that naturally raising your endorphin levels by exercising may help to improve mood and reduce depression.
Boosting your endorphin levels may also increase your confidence by improving your mood. More research needs to be done in this area, but a small study suggests that higher endorphin levels may help to boost overall self-esteem.
A small mouse study, found that when put under stress, mice with higher levels of endorphins had less anxious behaviours than those with lower levels. It’s not proof that the same thing happens in humans, but it’s a promising finding for researchers to look into further.
The link between endorphins (and other hormones) on your appetite is complicated and not well studied. But, some research, involving animals, suggests that higher levels of endorphins may help to regulate your appetite, helping you to lose or maintain weight.
How to naturally boost endorphins
So how do you get these benefits? There are a number of ways to boost your endorphin levels. According to research, some of the things that trigger endorphin release are:
Exercise and other types of physical activity are well known for their ability to trigger a release of endorphins. A good example of this is something called a “runner’s high”. This happens after a run because the strain your muscles, bones and tissues are put under when running causes a surge of endorphins, giving you a feeling of happiness and pleasure.
Apart from the short-term effects of exercise on your mood, research has found that the regular endorphin release caused by regular aerobic exercise can help decrease overall levels of tension, and lift and stabilise your mood.
Having sex is also a great way to release and boost endorphins mainly because it’s physical nature – it could even be considered a form of exercise. But that’s not the only reason it makes you feel good. Sex helps to create a strong bond with another person, which can also improve your mood.
Research suggests that eating dark chocolate can stimulate the release of endorphins. This may be why it’s common to crave chocolate when you’re feeling low or stressed – your body knows it will make you feel better. The endorphin-boosting effect of chocolate is thought to be linked to the cocoa it contains, so if you’re looking for a mood boost, go for a bar that has at least 70% cocoa. And remember that chocolate has its downsides (it’s high in fat and sugar) so try to eat it in moderation.
Other things that may increase your endorphin levels include:
- massage therapy
- volunteering or donating
- yoga and meditation
- eating spicy foods
- red wine
When to see a doctor
Low endorphins can cause many different symptoms, but some to look out for include:
- being more anxious than usual
- having mood swings
- feeling depressed
- getting more aches and pains
- trouble sleeping
- impulsive behaviour
- problems with addiction
See a doctor as soon as possible if you have any of the above symptoms or you’re worried about your mood.
Your health questions answered
What happens when you have high levels of endorphins?
Endorphins are natural pain relievers and mood boosters. When you have high levels of them you may notice you’re in a very good mood. You may also feel less stressed and have a general sense of overall well being. Doing things like exercising, having sex and eating certain foods, like chocolate, can raise your endorphin levels.Healthily's medical teamAnswered: 08/12/2021
- endorphins are tiny molecules that are released when you’re in pain or under stress
- they work in a similar way to opioids and naturally relieve pain in the body
- they may help to reduce depression and anxiety, boost self-esteem and help with weight management
- there are lots of ways to naturally boost your endorphin levels including exercising regularly, having sex and eating dark chocolate
- speak to a doctor if you’re worried about your endorphin levels or your mood
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