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What exactly are endorphins?

We often hear about endorphins when we speak of the health benefits of sex, working out, and good sleep. But what exactly are endorphins, and how do they affect our bodies? Endorphins are a chemical that your body’s nervous system naturally produces to help you deal with pain or stress, and make you feel good. They are referred to as feel-good chemicals, because they help boost your mood and relieve pain. 

Endorphins are usually produced in your pituitary and hypothalamus glands, but can be produced elsewhere. When we speak about things such as a high from running or exercising, this is an increase in endorphin levels that leads to a rush of feeling good.

Because endorphin levels vary from person to person, the reason for the variation also varies from person to person! People with lower endorphin levels may be more likely to have other medical conditions, but there is still a lot of research to be done in this area.

Endorphins work similarly to opioids, but are naturally occurring in our bodies. Opioids relieve pain and can create a feeling of euphoria and a rush, which is very similar to what our endorphins do. This is why opioids are often prescribed after surgery or for pain relief, in short term dosages. Opioids bind to signal receptors in our body that block pain signals. Endorphins act in a very similar way. Opioids are highly addictive, which is why they are prescribed in low, short term doses. Endorphins can cause this same high, but naturally, which is why boosting endorphins can be so beneficial for many people. It is also much safer!

So how can we boost our endorphins?

Endorphin levels vary from person to person, as do the ways to boost and naturally increase them. There are many activities that are shown to increase our endorphins, and if one doesn’t work for you, don’t give up! 

Exercise more regularly.

We’ve all heard of a runner’s high. This is a euphoric feeling that many avid runners and exercisers experience after a long workout. Since exercise is shown to boost your mood and endorphin levels, this is often recommended to people with mild anxiety and depression as a way to relieve these feelings. 

 

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Try volunteering or donating!

Doing good things leads to feeling better, right? Volunteering and helping others is an easy way to feel good while doing good. If you don’t have time to volunteer, consider donating to a worthy cause, such as an animal shelter, homeless shelter, or other charitable cause you are passionate about. 

You can also try yoga or meditation.

Both meditation and yoga are known to be great stress relievers, and to relax. This is thought to have something to do with an endorphin release that is experienced, much like when working out. 

Try eating dark chocolate.

Did you know that dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which is a chemical that is beneficial to the brain, according to some researchers? This is why you hear so frequently that eating dark chocolate is the best kind of chocolate for your health! Of course, dark chocolate has great antioxidants as well.  It has also been found that eating chocolate, of any kind, can boost endorphins. The reason dark chocolate is touted so highly over others is because it contains more real cocoa and less fat and sugar. The cocoa is what contains the flavonoids, which are what we are really after here. Look for chocolate that has at least 70 percent cocoa, which is typically dark chocolate. This does not mean to binge on chocolate, but having a square or two a day is a healthy indulgence that may help boost your mood!

 

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The obvious, but not so obvious solution – laughing more frequently.

Laughter and happiness have been shown to have huge health benefits, aside from increasing your mood. Laughter is shown to increase your endorphins as well. Put on your favorite comedy show, talk to your funniest friend, or binge watch funny Tik Toks! Just having a relaxed and pleasant interaction with another person can lead to an endorphin rush. Many well known extroverts reap the benefits of these interactions, because they thrive on the rush they feel when interacting.

What are the causes and effects of low endorphins?

If your endorphin levels are low, your health may be affected in many ways, most of these being negative. 

If you have low endorphins, it is possible that you may have a higher chance of depression and anxiety. Higher endorphin levels are thought to help fight depression, since they boost your mood. 

Fibromyalgia has symptoms such as long term pain, spots that hurt for no reason, muscle fatigue and stiffness, overall body fatigue, low energy, and difficulties sleeping. It is thought that those who have less endorphins may more frequently have a chance of having fibromyalgia, and that higher endorphins can help those suffering get more relief from pain that they experience. This is where yoga and exercise can truly come in to play to assist with battling this detrimental health condition.  

Chronic headaches have also been linked to lower than normal endorphin levels. It is thought by researchers that an endorphin imbalance may contribute to frequent headaches and migraines. 

 

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Endorphins can be an amazing thing if you know how to boost them.

Because research is constantly being done and evolving, we learn more about endorphins every single day. If you have symptoms of depression, fibromyalgia, or chronic headaches and migraines, you may want to speak to your doctor about beneficial ways to increase your endorphin levels, and whether this is a good treatment option for you and your specific health concerns.  Boosting your endorphins will not cure you of all ailments and problems, but exercising more frequently, reducing your stress, and participating in feel good activities can help you have a more fulfilled and happier life. At the end of the day, having a rush of endorphins is just an extra bonus to being healthier in the long term. So get out there, and go for a run, or get involved in a charity! Enjoy your life!