Endorphins are substances that are produced in the brain and have a direct effect on our emotions. Endorphins cause a feeling of boundless happiness and euphoria. These substances have other important functions. Let’s find out what endorphins are for in the body, how they work and how to increase their level.
History of the discovery of endorphins
The history of the discovery of the happiness hormone is directly related to the study of the effects of opium on the human body. Scientists have long been interested in the mechanism of action of morphine – the main component of opium. It turned out that in the brain there are receptors that bind morphine, providing analgesic and euphoric effects. These receptors were called opioidreceptors .
This discovery was very puzzling. In the body, nothing happens just like that. If there are receptors, then there must be a substance that acts on them. And this complex structure is clearly not designed for morphine. It just so happens that the milk of the sleeping poppies has the same “keys” as a natural substance designed to interact with opioid receptors.
And so, in 1976, scientists made a sensational statement – a mysterious substance was found! A peptide created to block opioid receptors is synthesized in the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, and other brain structures. To the surprise of the researchers, it turned out that the structure of this substance is not at all similar to the structure of morphine. However, the tricky morphine contains four sites that are one in one with the natural substance.
You may have already guessed why endorphin is called endorphin. Literally translated, it means “internal morphine”. With a clear hint that endorphin is a drug. Whether this statement is true or not, we will analyze a little further. In the meantime, back to the story.
One by one, data began to appear about the amazing effects of endorphin. And of course, the question arose – is it possible to create artificial endorphins or morphine analogues for pain relief, but without side effects? So, in pursuit of a humane idea, a synthetic analogue of morphine was created – heroin. The experiment is obviously unsuccessful. Heroin is ten times stronger than morphine, but it also causes addiction literally from the first dose. We will not discuss how it happened that the formula of a completely unexplored substance became public. A fact is a fact. They wanted to invent an effective painkiller, but they synthesized a powerful drug.
What are endorphins?
The endorphin molecule is made up of amino acids, but it is not a protein, but a peptide. The difference between a protein and a peptide is in size and molecular weight. Simply put, a peptide is a small protein made up of several amino acids.
Despite their tiny size and weight, peptides perform important functions in the body. Their main task is to transfer information between cells.
Have you noticed that the word “endorphins” is almost always used in the plural? This suggests that there are several of them. There are three types of endorphins-alpha, beta and gamma-endorphins. They are slightly different in structure and in their action. Alpha-endorphins increase emotions and motor activity, gamma-cause drowsiness and relaxation. The most active are beta-endorphins. They have a powerful analgesic effect, increase mood and are the first to respond to stress.
The analgesic effect of natural beta-endorphin is 10 times stronger than morphine.
Is endorphin a hormone or a neurotransmitter?
This question is not very fundamental for the layman. Still, it is worth making some clarity. Most often, endorphin is called a hormone, and in the scientific literature, for some reason, endorphin “turned” into a neurotransmitter.
Both hormones and neurotransmitters are intermediaries. When they connect to receptors, they cause organs and organ systems to work differently. But there is a fundamental difference between them.
Hormones are synthesized by the endocrine glands and released into the blood. With the blood flow, they spread throughout the body in search of” their ” receptors. Neurotransmitters are produced directly at the synapse (the junction between nerve endings). They do not go into the blood, their function is realized within the nervous system. They slow down, or, on the contrary, accelerate the conduct of the nerve impulse.
Some endorphins work as a neurotransmitter, and some of them are released into the blood. We have already mentioned that opioid receptors are present in almost all organs and tissues. Well. The effect of endorphins on the body is not limited to the effect on the nervous system. For example, endorphins can depress the work of the intestine (in a state of boundless happiness, we are not up to digestion) or stimulate the immune system.
Taking into account the fact that mankind has become familiar with endorphins relatively recently, not all of their effects have yet been studied. But it is safe to say that endorphins and neurotransmitters and hormones are both at the same time. So the expression – ” endorphin-the hormone of joy” is quite justified.
Mechanism of action of endorphins
Let’s start with the analgesic effect of endorphins. In order to understand this issue, you need at least at the household level to understand the mechanism of pain formation.
Pain occurs in response to damage. A scratch, a cut, a compression, a tissue burn-it doesn’t matter what caused it. The destruction of cells is accompanied by the release of mediators-substances that irritate the receptors of nerve endings. Then the chemical signal turns into a nerve impulse, which passes through the nerve endings to the spinal cord or the sensitive nuclei of the brain. There, these impulses are processed and sent to the sensitive areas of the cerebral cortex. It is in the cortex of the brain that the impulse is transformed into a feeling of pain.
This is a very simplified description of complex processes that take place in a matter of fractions of a second. During this time, we not only have time to feel the pain, but also to react – to pull your hand away from the hot stove, or to kill a mosquito on your knee.
What is the role of endorphins in this process? We have already mentioned that they act on opioid receptors. These receptors are present in almost all organs and tissues of the body. But most of them are in the brain and spinal cord. They are concentrated in synapses — connections between neurons.
There are several types of opioid receptors, most of which are under study. In order to distinguish them from each other, the receptors are named with capital letters of the Greek alphabet. Endorphins act on the so-called Mu-receptors. “Mu” comes from the first letter of the word morphine.
When interacting with the Mu-opioid receptor, endorphins cause a whole chain of chemical and physical reactions, the result of which is the inhibition of the transmission of pain impulses to the cerebral cortex.
Mu-opioid receptors are concentrated in the area of the pain centers of the cerebral cortex. The task of endorphins at this level is to stop their activation.
Thus, endorphins act both at the stages of transmission of the pain impulse, and at the stage of its transformation into a feeling of pain. As a result, the pain becomes weaker or disappears completely.
An important physiological task of endorphins is to suppress mild pain. They simply do not miss the weak pain impulses. Otherwise, we would always have something to ache about and without. They shook hands at the meeting-it hurts, the food is digested in the intestines-even more painful. Not life, but a continuous torment.
Now we understand why endorphins are called natural painkillers.
Let’s deal with the emotional sphere. Why is endorphin called the happiness hormone?
All our emotions are formed in the brain. In the pleasure center, the nerve impulses that come from our senses are transformed into happiness, joy, delight, and other positive emotions. There are also many opioid receptors, the stimulation of which helps to experience happiness and get rid of stress.
In fairness, it is worth noting that not only endorphins are involved in the formation of emotions. This is a complex system of interaction between several hormones and neurotransmitters. Endorphin, dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, oxytocin cause different emotions, giving them certain colors.
Let’s briefly analyze what emotions and their shades cause different active substances:
- Improves mood
- Regulates appetite
- Participates in the process of thinking and cognition
- Controls stress
- Regulates sleep
- Helps you feel your own importance and importance
- Reduces anxiety and fear
- It causes a feeling of pleasure, and it is produced even in anticipation of a pleasant event
- Participates in the remuneration system. The same aftertaste after the victory, the satisfaction of successful work-the result of the influence of dopamine
- Participates in the formation of social ties
- Forms a sense of attachment
- Reduces stress and anxiety when in contact with people
- Stimulates labor activity and lactation
- Participates in the formation of sexual behavior
- Causes a surge of strength, pushes for feats
Epinephrine and norepinephrine
- Anger, rage
It is difficult to imagine the whole cascade of biochemical reactions that occur in our body for the appearance of a particular emotion. We can say that serotonin dopamine endorphin and oxytocin complement each other, acting as antagonists of epinephrine and norepinephrine. There is an opinion that endorphins are regulators of these relationships. They stimulate the hormones of happiness and depress the hormones of stress.
The role of endorphins in the human body
The two main functions of endorphins-pain relief and influence on the emotional sphere, we have already discussed. Endorphin production occurs in the brain, but opioid receptors are also present in the nerve nodes of the internal organs. Most of them are in the intestines, heart, lungs and kidneys. What are the functions of endorphins in the human body?
- Pain relief
- Positive emotions
- Immune system stimulation
- Slowing down digestion
- Wound healing
- Stress resistance
- Normalization of blood pressure and heart rate.
It is believed that fans of extreme sports, gambling and other options to “tickle the nerves” enjoy the adrenaline. However, this is not the case. Endorphin works in conjunction with stress hormones, and the release of adrenaline stimulates its activity. Thus, we get either euphoria or a pleasant drowsiness after a short-term stress. With chronic stress, things are a little different. Depletion of the body leads to inhibition of the synthesis of neurotransmitters and hormones of happiness. Therefore, we do not experience anything but apathy, depression and weakness in chronic stress.
Is endorphin a drug?
Endorphin is called an endogenous drug. Indeed, in some ways, its effects resemble the effects of opiates. There is even a kind of “breaking” or cancellation effect. A person who loves extreme sports or active sports can not imagine life without their favorite activities. He feels depressed and weak. That’s why former athletes often try to get their portion of endorphins with the help of alcoholic beverages.
Alcohol stimulates the production of endorphins. The body’s susceptibility to endorphins largely determines whether a person will turn into an alcoholic or will drink occasionally on big holidays.
But it’s all very relative. Dependence on endorphin can be easily defeated, which can not be said about real drugs.
Morphine and endorphin have a lot of differences, both in the structure of the molecule and in the mechanism of action. We will not delve into the complex biochemical mechanisms, it is enough to understand that opiates and natural neurotransmitters are not the same thing.
Morphine has a high potential, it can block any pain and cause the most vivid emotions. But at what cost? Opioid receptors are very sensitive to addiction. A single dose of morphine, and especially heroin, leads to a sharp decrease in the synthesis of endorphin, up to its complete cessation. The effect of narcotic substances sooner or later passes, and the lost system begins to work incorrectly. There is no natural mechanism for blocking pain impulses, and a person experiences severe pain. The emotional state also suffers – from neuroses to deep depression.
In general, if endorphin can be compared to a drug, it is very, very weak. If such a person exists in principle.
How to increase the level of endorphin in the body
After studying the effect of endorphins on the human body, we came to the conclusion that without these substances, in fact, there is no full life. How to increase the level of endorphin?
It is believed that dark chocolate and hot pepper can increase endorphin in the shortest possible time. That would be fine, of course. I ate a chocolate bar – and the depression was gone. But it doesn’t work that way.
First, there is no endorphin in chocolate. No products contain endorphin. A chocolate bar with hormones is absurd. Secondly, although chocolate can stimulate the production of endorphin, but this does not happen immediately. Moreover, there is no direct relationship between the amount of chocolate eaten and the mood. That is, you can eat pepper and chocolate as much as you want for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and get nothing but heartburn and diabetes.
Although, for the placebo effect, food is very suitable. You can treat yourself to something delicious. Most often, this really causes pleasant emotions and makes you distract from sad thoughts.
Sports are more effective in stimulating the synthesis of endorphin. Active physical exercises, competitions and team play are especially good. Epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are produced at the same time, activate endorphin. And he, in turn, will reward us with a good mood.
Another effective method is acupuncture or acupuncture. It’s amazing how the Chinese came to this long before the discovery of opioid receptors and endorphin. Acupuncture stimulation of certain points really causes the release of this hormone. Hence the pain relief, acceleration of treatment and mood enhancement.
Vitamin D is involved in the synthesis of endorphin . Most of it is synthesized in the skin under the influence of sunlight. Therefore, on a fine summer day, there is no place for depression.
Music, some smells, pleasant communication and sex-also stimulate the production of endorphin. Everything that brings us pleasure increases the level of happiness hormones.
Laughter is a powerful stimulant . Even a strained, not quite sincere smile causes an adrenaline rush. Of course, it’s hard to make yourself smile when you don’t want to. But this method is worth a try. Along with endorphins, other neurotransmitters will be released, which will color emotions in different shades and significantly increase mood.
There are drugs that directly or indirectly act on opioid receptors. Artificial endorphin tablets are used very rarely, in cases of severe physical pain, if it is not treatable with other drugs. The endorphin in the pills is addictive.
Antidepressants act indirectly. They inhibit the inhibitory mediator and thus remove the restriction of the synthesis of endorphins. With antidepressants, too, everything is not so simple – they cause addiction, not as strong as drugs or artificial endorphins, but still.
Obviously, it is better to stimulate the release of endorphins naturally. It’s much safer.
Be friends with endorphins and be happy!
Read the answers to your questions about endorphins here