Endorphins are endogenous substances that belong to the group of neurotransmitters. They originate in the brain, where they are involved in numerous processes. Endorphins increase or maintain our well-being by relieving pain and anxiety, among other things. An endorphin deficiency can have serious consequences. It is therefore all the more important to recognise it at an early stage and to counteract it. Through exercise, proper nutrition or dietary supplements, the amount of endorphins in the body can be increased and an endorphin deficiency can be eliminated.
Table of contents
- What are endorphins?
- How do endorphins work?
- Other functions of endorphins
- What problems can an endorphin deficiency cause?
- Can endorphin levels be measured?
- Increasing endorphin levels
- Important co-factors
What are endorphins?
Endorphins are small neuropeptides (messengers) in the brain that were first discovered in pigs by Scottish scientists in 1975. The name "endorphins" is short for "endogenous morphines," painkillers produced by the body itself that bind to opiate receptors. Basically, three different types of endorphins can be distinguished:
Because of their positive effect on physical and mental well-being, endorphins are also colloquially called happiness hormones called happiness hormones.
How do endorphins work?
Endorphins have primarily an analgesic effect. This means that they have an analgesic and pain-suppressing effect. Endorphins increase their activity in emergency situations, such as severe injuries. If sufferers initially feel no pain despite their wounds, this is due to the fact that numerous endorphins are released in such a situation. The body can also increase the amount of endorphins released during positive experiences (hence the name "happy hormones").
In addition, endorphins are involved in the regulation of hunger and sleep and contribute to the formation of sex hormones sex hormones. In addition, endorphins strengthen the immune system, help prevent stress and cope better with stress. When there is no endorphin deficiency, you feel well and balanced, motivated and well equipped to face the challenges of everyday life.
Each "happiness hormone" has specific tasks and effects. Some endorphins increase interest and desire for certain activities, they increase drive and provide a feeling of happiness (dopamine). Norepinephrine also increases motivation, activity and performance levels. Other endorphins increase the strength of bonding between people (oxytocin), while still other endorphins (such as serotonin) reduce anxiety, stress and aggression and make people feel balanced and content.
Other functions of endorphins
Endorphins not only increase well-being, but are also related to certain bodily functions, as shown by various studies.
Endorphins and laughter
A connection between happiness hormones and laughter is obvious. But it can also have a positive effect on the perception of pain. Researchers at Oxford University found this out when they put a blood pressure cuff on their test subjects and pumped it up until the subjects felt pain. The stimulus threshold for this pain was significantly higher in participants who had previously watched a funny video that made them laugh than in those who watched a neutral documentary. The scientists explain this result by the endorphins released by laughter, which reduce the sensation of pain.
Endorphins and the placebo effect
The famous placebo effect, where drug-free substances produce an effect, is also related to endorphins. American researchers found that subjects with artificially induced jaw pain not only felt less pain subjectively after taking a placebo. For as imaging techniques showed, the release of endorphins in their brains also increased. The extent of endorphin activity was directly related to the intensity of the perceived pain; however, the reasons for this have not yet been definitively clarified.
Endorphins and depression
The exact relationship between endorphins and depression has not yet been conclusively established. It is known, however, that serotonin levels are low in depression and that serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) alleviate the typical symptoms. However, endorphins released naturally, for example through exercise, can also have a positive effect. Scientists at the Boston University School of Medicine showed in a 2004 review that daily exercise (30 minutes of running), which releases serotonin, can improve symptoms after just a few days.
What problems can an endorphin deficiency cause?
With an endorphin deficiency, certain physical and psychological changes can be observed. The first signs are persistent fatigue, listlessness, listlessness and irritability. What changes occur beyond that depends on which exact endorphins are deficient. If there is an endorphin deficiency over a long period of time, which is not compensated for by nutritional supplements or similar, psychological problems such as irrational anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, addictive disorders or depression can occur.
Is it possible to measure endorphin levels?
Measuring endorphin levels accurately and detecting endorphin deficiency in this way is difficult. Since endorphins are rarely found in the blood, they cannot be detected there. It is only known how the distribution of individual messenger substances looks like. For example, we know that only about 1% of the total endorphins in the body are found in the nerve cells of the brain. However, the absolute amounts of endorphins in the body are not known.
Increasing endorphin levels
There are several ways that you can use to increase your endorphin levels. The main treatments that you can use yourself include Light therapy, exercise, diet and Nutritional supplementation. Other factors that can reduce or compensate for an endorphin deficiency start with the production of the neurotransmitters.
The effect of light on mood is evident on sunny days: people feel fitter and are in a better mood. This is because the sun stimulates vitamin D production in the body. Vitamin D, for its part, helps the body produce more neurotransmitters, which in turn increases the amount of endorphins. As a result, moods automatically improve in spring as soon as the daily hours of sunlight increase. On sunless days Vitamin D-containing preparations for food supplement are an alternative.
Exercise promotes the release of endorphins in the brain. The type and extent of physical activity are of secondary importance. The only important thing is that it is done regularly and that endurance is trained. The so-called "runner's high" is well known. This refers to a state in which runners find themselves after completing a certain distance (which varies from person to person). They have the feeling that they can run on endlessly - although they are actually exhausted or even feel pain.
Nutrition and supplements
Some foods, such as chocolate or chilli peppers, release endorphins. There are also substances that are involved in the production of endorphins. One example is the amino acid L-tryptophan. It forms the basis for serotonin. Foods with L-tryptophan such as avocados, bananas, fish, legumes, cheese and various seeds (e.g. quinoa or sesame) lead to an increase in endorphin levels. In order to eliminate an endorphin deficiency, L-tryptophan can also be taken as a dietary supplement. Vitamin D supplements have a similar effect.
To produce endorphins, the body needs vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins B3 and B6, magnesium and zinc. These can be obtained from food or as supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids show similar positive effects on serotonin levels. If you want to compensate for an endorphin deficiency, you should take these co-factors into account. By getting enough vitamins and minerals through certain foods or supplement products, you create optimal conditions to increase endorphins. Vitamin B6, for example, is found in poultry and fish, lentils, cabbage and avocados. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish, flaxseed and oil, but are also available as a supplement.
Endorphins are neurotransmitters that originate in the brain. They perform important tasks and contribute greatly to physical and psychological well-being. An endorphin deficiency can have unpleasant consequences, so it makes sense to increase the amount of endorphins in this case. This is possible through sport, appropriate nutrition or dietary supplements.