Endorphins • How are happy hormones released?

Endorphins are much more than triggers of happiness. They trigger euphoria and relieve pain so that the body can master extreme situations. When people release the intoxicating hormones and how their release can be increased.

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What are endorphins?

Endorphins are opioid peptides that are produced by the body itself. They are usually divided into three main types:

  • alpha endorphins
  • Beta-Endorphine
  • Gamma-Endorphine

The messenger substances (neurotransmitters) are formed in the cells of the peripheral and central nervous system (pituitary and hypothalamus) as well as in certain cells of the immune system.

Opioids, colloquially also referred to as opiates, play a role as medication, especially in the treatment of severe pain. Morphine is one of the strongest painkillers. The endorphins produced by the body itself dock to the same receptors as opioid painkillers. They are therefore also referred to as endogenous (produced by the body) morphine. Just like drugs, endorphins have a strong pain-relieving (analgesic) effect. In the case of endorphins, this occurs by blocking the transmission of pain stimuli in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord. This is where the central transformation of pain perception takes place.

How do endorphins work?

Endorphins are mainly released in extreme situations. They act like a kind of protective shield for the body so that it remains able to act in dangerous situations. In such cases, the endorphin system is activated and temporary painlessness occurs. An example of this effect: Immediately after a bike crash, you don’t feel any pain and you just keep riding. Only after some time – when the endorphin level has dropped again – do you notice your painful injuries. This is a clever invention of nature that has played a decisive role in the struggle for survival since time immemorial: In stressful situations and emergency situations, the body is ready to flee or fight – even when severely injured.

In addition to serotonin, dopamine or oxytocin, endorphins are also involved in the development of euphoric feelings and serve to control the drive. For this reason, they are often counted among the so-called happiness hormones, which are responsible for feelings of happiness. It is also assumed that endorphins play a role in other areas: in the regulation of hunger, body temperature and the production of sex hormones.

A lack of endorphin is associated with depressive moods and reduced pain tolerance. The exact connection between depression and endorphins has yet to be investigated by researchers.

The effects of opioids can be blocked by the antagonist naloxone. This is an emergency medication that is used, among other things, in the event of opioid poisoning caused by drugs or drug abuse. Naloxone can inhibit the effects of both opiate-based painkillers and drugs and the body’s own opioids.

Release endorphins – how does that work?

In extreme situations, the body automatically releases endorphins so that it can continue to function in an emergency. After all, the main task of endorphins is to relieve or even suppress severe pain. Psychological stressful situations can also elicit endorphins. The messenger substances help to make the stress more bearable and to remain efficient.

If you want to increase your happy hormones, you don’t have to put yourself in danger or expose yourself to massive stress. Because there are other ways to increase endorphin release:

  • UV light: Sunbathing increases endorphin levels. An extra dose of daylight can therefore have a mood-enhancing effect in winter with seasonal winter depression. In summer, however, the sun should be enjoyed with caution and adequate sun protection.

  • positive experiences: It is assumed that pleasant events activate the reward system in the brain and endorphins are released as a result. These messenger substances cause euphoric feelings to arise. Laughter also stimulates the release of endorphins.

  • Sex: During orgasm, the body releases a whole cocktail of hormones. In addition to serotonin and oxytocin, this also includes endorphins. They make you feel relaxed and happy.

  • speed: Whether it’s a fast car ride, a roller coaster or a parachute jump: The fact that such a rush of speed causes a kick is partly due to the hormones. In these situations, the body activates its warning system and prepares for the worst: It releases the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol to activate all energy reserves and the endorphin level increases to arm itself against the feared pain. Some people enjoy this thrill and want to repeat it as often as possible – they are also known as adrenaline junkies.

  • nutrition: The consumption of chili can lead to a so-called “pepper high” effect. What is meant is a feeling of elation that is triggered by the arousing agent capsaicin it contains. This ingredient provides the typical burning sensation in the mouth. To relieve this pain, the body releases endorphins. Chili is therefore also considered “happy food”.

  • Sport: Exercise releases endorphins. This is especially true for endurance sports, but also for activities like dancing. In the case of the latter, not only the physical movement but also listening to the music ensures the endorphin flight.

Runner’s high from endorphins?

The so-called runner’s high is known among runners as an absolute feeling of exhilaration during sport. Through the release of endorphins, it should be possible to hide the physical pain during strenuous long-distance runs of particular intensity. Runners should get into an ecstasy and experience a state similar to intoxication. Because they want to evoke this feeling again and again, this could even lead to a real running addiction.

It has not yet been clearly clarified which mechanisms actually play a role in runner’s high. While endorphins used to be solely responsible for this, recent studies show that endocannabinoids seem to be of greater importance. These are cannabis-like substances that are made by the body itself.


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Source: Lifeline | Das Gesundheitsportal by www.lifeline.de.

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