Endorphins are the body’s natural way of helping us cope with stress or pain. These hormones are released as neurotransmitters, which send electrical signals throughout the nervous system. The endorphins interact with opiate receptors in the brain without causing the addictions created by similar-acting morphine or codeine. In short, endorphins alleviate pain and help us to feel happy.
Endorphins are secreted in response to pain, stress, joy and fear. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to put ourselves in extreme circumstances just to feel the natural high that endorphins can produce. Certain food and activities provide us with much easier and safer ways to feel good.
Activity and Endorphin Release
Runners often say they are addicted to running because of the euphoria they feel afterward. This is referred to as a “runner’s-high.” It is generally believed that this is caused by the endorphins released during exercise. This theory is still debated by scientists, however, who claim that the hormones are released due to the joy of accomplishment. Regardless, it takes about 40 minutes of strenuous exercise to achieve the high. If you opt for this route, proceed with caution. The endorphins may block the body’s reaction to injuries, which allows you to continue running, even when damage has occurred.
Meditation, relaxation and acupuncture are other activities that cause the body to secrete endorphins. Laughter really is the best medicine as it also releases endorphins, causing us to feel happier and to cope better with stress. Listening to calm music, looking at pleasing artwork, or appreciating the beauty of the world are other activities to boost endorphin levels.
Food and Endorphins
Eating certain foods cause endorphins to be released in the body. Chocolate is one of these, which may explain why we reach for a candy bar when we are feeling depressed. To avoid a diet pit-fall and the consequential drop of blood sugar, eat a small piece of dark chocolate. Take the time to savor and enjoy it to further stimulate the pleasure hormones.
Red chili peppers boost endorphin levels, as well. The spiciness triggers the body to think that the tongue is in distress, therefore causing the secretion of endorphins. Chili pepper compounds have also been applied to wounds to alleviate pain.
Scientists have also discovered that not eating enough calories causes a flow of endorphins. Starvation kicks the body into a period of chemical survival mode. Endorphins are released to help the body endure the pain and stress associated with malnutrition. When the body resumes normal eating habits, the endorphin levels will return to normal, resulting in a loss of starvation-induced endorphin highs. This is one reason why many anorexic and bulimic patients refuse treatment.
Keep in mind that endorphin levels are going to vary from person to person. Two people experiencing the same amount of stress will secrete different amounts of the hormone. When choosing activities to increase endorphin flow, analyze what truly makes you happy instead of choosing what is on another person’s list. For a quick fix, think happy thoughts and focus on the joys in your life.