Endorphins: The Natural Happiness Booster

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4 min read

kid on a swing getting endorphins

Whether it is rapid mood swings or gradual shifts in energy, have you ever wondered what is behind all those emotional tugs-of-war in your head?


In fact, there is a "happiness booster" called endorphins in your brain which helps get rid of your negative energy. Endorphins are known to the public as "runner's high" that springs up particularly after an extended period of strenuous exercise. This happiness booster not only lifts your mood, but also acts as a natural painkiller. Find out the secret recipe to happiness by discovering how endorphins work wonders and some scientifically proven ways to boost it below. 

What is endorphin?

Endorphin is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus of the brain and released by the pituitary glands when your body detects pain or stress. Its working mechanism is similar to that of opioids, a class of drugs for short-term pain relief. Endorphins, same as opioids, act as a painkiller by binding to the specific receptors that block the pain signal to be transmitted to the brain. 



What are the functions of endorphins?

Endorphins are primarily responsible for pain relief and coping with stressful life events. They also serve several other functions:

  • Inhibit the body in response to pain
  • Experience pleasure
  • Cope with stress
  • Trigger positive feelings
  • Boost pleasure

When are endorphins released?

Apart from physical workouts, endorphins are also released when we are doing other activities, including:

  • Eating
  • Creating art or music
  • Dancing
  • Having sex
  • Practicing mindfulness and meditation
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4 health benefits of endorphins

Helping us get through difficult times, endorphins benefit us both physically and psychologically. Following are several benefits that endorphins may bring us: 


1. Reduce depression

Previous findings suggested that physical exercise can reduce symptoms associated with depression. In particular, one study came to such a conclusion upon reviewing past studies to find out the strong association between physical exercise and endorphins. Based on this linkage, exercising increases the release of endorphins in our body. As endorphins also prompt the release of dopamine which is highly related to positive mood, endorphins are beneficial for treating acute and chronic depression. On the contrary, individuals with lower levels of endorphins may be more likely to develop depressive symptoms. 


2. Appetite regulation

Our appetite regulation generally involves hunger and satiety signals. When we are eating, we produce endorphins that stimulate our appetite and fuel the drive to seek food. Satiety signals are released at a certain point later inhibiting the effect of these hunger signals to notify the brain that “I am full.” Therefore, research suggests that insufficient levels of endorphins can lead to orexigenic feelings and overeating as the brain fails to receive these satiety signals, individuals who lack endorphins may thereby find it challenging to satisfy themselves from eating. It has since become clear that endorphins play an essential role in maintaining a normal appetite. 


3. Reduce anxiety and stress

Similar to reducing depressive symptoms, previous studies suggested that β-endorphin may reduce anxiety-related behaviors. Research pointed out that this is because endorphins carry feelings associated with reward and reinforcing properties, which can effectively improve mood and reduce symptoms of stress-related psychiatric disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a result, individuals with low β-endorphin levels may also contribute to anxiety-related behaviors, leading to a higher risk of developing mental disorders. 


4. Improve immune system

Increased endorphin levels are beneficial for our physical health because these hormones activate the release of white blood cells. More specifically, one research suggested that endorphins effectively support our immune functions, including the synthesis of antibodies, lymphocyte proliferation and natural killer cytotoxicity. Overall, endorphins are physiological regulators of our immune system to protect us against disease and infection.

5 ways to boost endorphin level

Inadequate endorphin levels can lead to detrimental effects on both our physical and mental well-being. Previous studies suggested that individuals with low levels of endorphin may suffer from a higher risk of developing depression and headache. As a result, maintaining a sufficient level of endorphins is essential for your health. 


Below are 5 best ways for you to boost your endorphin levels: 


1. Foods

You can eat your way to happiness! Previous research suggested that chocolate contains natural compounds such as phenylethylamine, tryptophan and serotonin as well as added substances like theobromine and caffeine. These small amounts of compounds work as antidepressants, the neurotransmitters reckoned to give out feelings of happiness. Indeed, recent research found that it may be endorphins that grant you a sense of satisfaction through eating chocolate. Moderate intake of chocolate with at least 70% cocoa can improve endorphin levels. Other endorphin-boosting foods include omega-3, spinach, spice and mushrooms.


2. Exercise

What gives you the urge to keep exercising? Endorphins. Though it was only until 2008 that researchers can quantitatively measure the rise of endorphins in humans after exercises with the use of a positron emission tomography (PET), exercise is certainly an effective natural mood booster. Once the exercise routine kicks off, nothing can stop you from continuing it, as your body releases endorphins to keep you happy and motivated during the process. 


What’s more, the exercise regime is sometimes prescribed as a treatment for people with mild anxiety and depression to naturally boost their mood by the increase in endorphins in the body. A 2010 review article found that exercise can be used in complementary with antidepressants to improve symptoms of depression and soothe the side effects of the medication.


3. Yoga and Meditation

Yoga and meditation can destress your mind and body to help you retrieve your calmest state whilst living a hectic life. Research showed that they can lower stress markers by boosting endorphins level in the body.


4. Acupuncture and Massage

Numerous research studies stated that acupuncture is effective for pain relief and drug withdrawal. Stimulation at the acupuncture points triggers the transmission of nerve impulses in the brain to increase the endorphins levels in the body, which can activate control of pain, fear and anxiety.


5. An act of kindness

An act of kindness — be it volunteering, donating or simply giving a helping hand to others — makes you feel good about yourself. Why? According to the National Institutes of Health, the act of donating money to others rather than keeping it to yourself activates the pleasure center of your brain and sparks the feeling of joy.


Do endorphins make you happy?

Endorphins can make you happy by triggering positive feelings because they are responsible for pain reduction. In addition, endorphins are released after physical exercise, to bring about feelings of happiness, joy and well-being.

What exercise releases the most endorphins?
Why do I feel high after working out?
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This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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