Sure, Endorphins Make You Happy, but What Exactly Are They?
Elle Woods said it best about how exercise gives you endorphins and endorphins make you happy (minus the whole murder part).
While we’re not saying a lack of endorphins will make you the subject of the next big true crime doc, endorphins do help boost your mood and make you an overall happier you. Here’s what you need to know.
So, what exactly are endorphins? They’re tiny neurochemicals released by your body, often after you exercise or partake in other activities that make you feel good.
Produced by your pituitary gland and central nervous system, endorphins are made up of a big group of peptides that are released as a response to stress, pain, or activities like exercising, eating, or having sex.
Endorphins act on your brain’s opiate receptors to increase your overall feeling of well-being by boosting pleasure and minimizing pain.
Increased endorphins actually cause increased dopamine production, which helps boost that happy feeling even more.
Unlike endorphins, dopamine is a neurotransmitter synthesized from tyrosine, which is an amino acid in the brain. Not only does dopamine give your mood a boost, it also helps your sympathetic nervous system and enhances body movement.
Honestly, endorphins are a bit of a mystery, and we don’t fully understand everything they do in the body.
What we do know is that they’re involved in our natural reward circuits and tied to activities that make us feel good (again, think exercise, sex, eating, and drinking). Pregnancy also causes a spike in endorphin levels to alleviate pain and discomfort.
Endorphins help us to function, even when we’re injured or stressed. And because we as humans crave pleasure, we continue to do activities that give us that sweet endorphin high.
We also crave social interaction (even the biggest introverts among us need social time on occasion!), and endorphins have been shown to strengthen our social bonds with those around us.
Endorphins give you a boost of overall well-being and happiness, which can affect depression, stress, sleep, self-esteem, and blood pressure. Here are the main benefits endorphins may offer:
Helping depression symptoms
With many people experiencing depression at some point in their lives, finding ways to manage or reduce symptoms can be key. A 2004 research review showed that exercise is a great way to combat depression symptoms.
As far as endorphins themselves go, more research is needed to fully understand how they factor into this.
Lowering stress and anxiety
Endorphins may also be helpful in combating stress and anxiety. In a 2008 study with mice, a direct relationship was discovered between endorphin levels and anxious behaviors. While these findings are exciting, more research needs to be done with humans on this subject.
A happiness high makes you feel all-around good, which could help boost your confidence and self-esteem. In fact, a 1995 study on a small group of men showed that endorphins were linked to higher self-esteem. Newer, larger studies need to be done, but these initial results are encouraging.
Aiding in weight loss
Endorphins, along with other hormones, may help you manage your appetite and food intake.
Eating well may also help boost your endorphin levels. A 2003 research review of animal studies showed that increased endorphin levels help regulate appetite. But more research needs to be done.
Alleviating childbirth pain
Childbirth can be beautiful, but it can also be painful AF. Endorphins may be able to help ease squeezing out a human.
In a small 2010 study of 45 healthy women giving birth, low levels of beta-endorphin at the end of pregnancy were linked with needing extra pain meds during labor. More research still needs to be done to confirm why this happens and what causes it, but it’s an interesting link.
Think you need to workout 24/7 to keep those endorphin levels up? Think again. (Whew!) There are many natural ways to get you riding that sweet endorphin high, like:
- taking part in some relaxing yoga or a meditation sesh
- donating to or volunteering for a cause you believe in
- tapping into your creative side: Create music, make art, dance around
- getting it on solo or with a partner(s)
- soothing and sweating in the sauna
- indulging in some aromatherapy
- getting acupuncture
- eating a healthy, balanced diet
- spicing up your life with spicy foods
- enjoying your fave meal
- savoring a piece of dark chocolate
- sipping a glass of wine
- partaking in your favorite activity or hobby
- laughing out loud!
- exercising (because yes, it does work… especially in a group!)
It’s possible for your endorphin levels to dip, which can wreak havoc on your health. If your body’s not producing enough endorphins, you may experience:
- trouble sleeping
- impulsive behaviors
- aches and pains
While there’s still a lot we don’t understand about endorphin deficiency, certain health conditions have been linked to low endorphin levels.
Depression and deficiency
You’re more likely to experience depression if you don’t have enough endorphins. A 2009 review of studies suggested that higher endorphin levels ease depression symptoms because they’re linked to the reward part of our brains.
Another research review examined the common use of opioid treatment for depression, and since endorphins act on your brain’s opiate receptors, an endorphin deficiency could potentially make depression symptoms worse.
Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by widespread pain, which can cause muscle stiffness, fatigue, problems sleeping, and tenderness.
In one study, participants were evaluated before and after exercise. The participants with fibromyalgia had lower endorphins levels than those without it — a different study linked increased endorphin levels to pain relief in those with fibromyalgia.
If you have fibromyalgia, your doctor may recommend endorphin-boosting activities to help ease your symptoms. In some cases, meds may be prescribed.
Endorphins are neurochemicals that bring about an overall feeling of pleasure, which is why we often crave that “endorphin high.”
While the full scope of what they do is still a mystery, high levels of endorphins are mostly linked to positive effects.
On the other hand, low endorphin levels may contribute to conditions such as depression or fibromyalgia. But we still need more info.
There are many ways to naturally give yourself a quick endorphin boost, such as exercise, laughter, partaking in a creative activity, or doing yoga.