When we feel happy, we tend to feel so much better about everything. Even the bad days can become good ones when happy things occur on the day. Have you ever wondered what causes us to be happy or feel contented? Yes, of course the good things in life but what really makes us happy? If you ask a doctor, you may be told that what makes a person happy is an endorphin in the body. However, are endorphins really that good? What if it is actually bad?
Before answering that, what exactly are endorphins? Endorphins are neurotransmitters, which means it is a brain chemical that gives signals in the brain. It is made up of proteins, specifically peptides. Neurotransmitters in general work by carrying signals or messages from a brain cell (neuron) to another receptor of the brain. Research has found 20 different types of endorphins. The one studied the most is beta-endorphins. Endorphins, when grouped with other hormones of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, are known as “the feel good hormones”.
You may be surprised to know that endorphins can cause almost the same effect such as with opioids. Opioids itself have a pain-relief effect and are able to produce happiness or euphoria. Since opioids are considered as controlled drugs, its use is limited to only prescription from a doctor. Even though endorphins may not have the huge effect as opioids, it can still produce the “high” feeling that is considered safe and healthy.
In general, release of endorphins is associated with the body’s response towards pain. It is released by the pituitary gland located deep in the brain. Endorphins are released when there is pain or stress. Upon release into the bloodstream, it is able to block signals from pain that causes a person to feel less to no pain. Apart from pain and stress, it is also released when a person laughs, having a delicious meal and when in a lovey-dovey moment or during sexual activity.
Hence, are endorphins good or bad? We can say endorphins is actually good for humans. In fact, a high level of endorphins helps to reduce pain and increase pleasure which is essential in improving one’s overall health. It also helps to improve mood especially in those with mood disorders, to build a strong immune system which helps mitigate many diseases and boost self-confidence. It is worth noting that endorphin levels and what can be done to increase it will vary for each person.
Do you know that low levels of endorphins have been proven to potentially have a bad effect on humans? Low endorphins can cause a person to be at high risk for mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, sleep problems and body aches or pain. Chronic headaches and migraines have also been linked to low levels of circulating endorphins. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, which are diseases common in the elderly, are proved with patients having low levels of endorphins. Furthermore, cases tend to be severe with lower levels of endorphins. Not to forget, lower levels of endorphins in the brain prevents the brain from creating more brain connections which affects formation of memories, learning skill and the brain growth itself. Substance use disorders and mood disorders itself may be the cause for low levels of endorphins. In Fibromyalgia, surprisingly, the body does produce more endorphins but the fibromyalgia itself may have caused damages to the endorphins receptors.
Now that you know that endorphins are good for humans, you might want to try things that can increase endorphins in the body. There are many ways you can try to help the body produce and release more endorphins, such as:
Exercise- Regular physical activity of at least 20 to 30 minutes a day for 3 at least 3 times a week such as aerobic activity (simplest is walking fast) is proven to release endorphins. Studies have shown that aerobic exercises can have similar antidepressant effects. Other activities such as dancing and sexual activity are also proven to increase endorphin levels.
Laughter- Apart from releasing endorphins, it also alters levels of dopamine and serotonin. Spending time with family, friends or loved ones is the easiest way to have a good laugh and humour.
Certain foods- Dark chocolate and spicy food has shown evidence that endorphin is released more when eating it. – Read more
Outdoor activity- Ultraviolet light such as from the sun can stimulate release of endorphins in the skin. Keep in mind to use sunscreen and protective clothing to protect from sunburn.
Meditation- Deep breath and yoga in daily routine can gradually increase endorphin level. The calming effect it has also reduces stress and lower risk for many diseases.
Acupuncture- A procedure of placing fine needles to the skin, at the specific points of the body. It helps to increase endorphin circulation through the bloodstream.
Listening or playing music- Simply listening to music has been shown to be as effective as what pain relief does. Playing music together can produce higher tolerance towards pain.