You’re an avid runner and you love the high you get from running. You might even have experienced the elusive “runner’s high.” (If you’re not a runner, perhaps you’re a biker, a lover, a foodie, etc. Replace running with an activity that makes you feel good.)
You also know that this euphoric feeling is caused by endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller that works like morphine but without the addiction. In fact, you might already know a lot about endorphins, but there’s one thing you don’t know or wish you knew. And that is: How much endorphins do the body produce and can you run out of it? Or will the body stop producing endorphins at some point?
It’s time to find out the answers to your questions.
But first, a recap on endorphins…
A contraction of “endogenous morphine,” endorphins are internally produced opioid neuropeptides that produce feel-good hormones much like dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. As an opioid, endorphins boost our happy and pleasurable feelings, a reaction known as the “endorphin rush.” This can be triggered by certain foods and activities, such as chocolates and laughter.
Endorphins also function as a neurotransmitter, which communicates signals between neurons. It works just like opiates in blocking pain by binding to the opioid receptors in the central nervous system and suppressing pain signals from one neuron to others nearby. In short, they are the body’s natural painkillers.
In other words, endorphins basically perform a dual function: one, it reduces pain and second, it increases pleasure.
Endorphins are also hormones that the body releases into the bloodstream and affects the body in several ways. In addition to minimizing pain, endorphins boost self-esteem, maintain good mental health, and sharpen our memory and concentration. On the flip side, too much endorphins can lead to heightened states of rage or anxiety. Studies have also shown that endorphins play a role in creating the placebo effect, wherein the brain convinces the body to believe that a fake treatment had positive effects when it was really just a sugar pill and not real medicine.
And now that we’ve reviewed some important information about endorphins, it’s time for the burning question…
Will the Body Ever Stop Producing Endorphins?
There’s still much to learn about endorphins, and scientists are still conducting studies to better understand their nature, their function in the body and many more. But with the limited knowledge available, some experts have suggested that, as with other hormones and internal substances, the body will continue releasing endorphins unless something disrupts this production.
Of course, as you might already know, the body won’t be producing endorphins round the clock. It doesn’t work that way.
Endorphins are released in response to particular stimuli, especially stress, pain and fear. You have to remember that endorphins have the dual function of suppressing pain and increasing pleasure. So, you’ll most probably experience the “endorphin rush” only in situations that fall under the categories of pain and pleasure.
As to whether or not the body will ever stop producing endorphins, the short answer is no. However, like all other substances in the body, endorphin levels can be affected by various factors. So, endorphin levels may fluctuate depending on the situation and sometimes might even become low or deficient. Let’s discuss what those factors are and how they impact the release of endorphins next.
Factors That Influence Endorphin Production and Release
Endorphin release can vary among different people. So, even if two individuals undergo the same workout routine in the gym, their level of pain and perception thereof will depend on whether or not their bodies release the same or similar levels of endorphins.
The level of pain will also affect how much endorphins will be released by the body. In consuming spicy foods like chili peppers, for instance, the body will secrete more endorphins the spicier the pepper eaten is.
Sometimes, however, things can get out of whack and the level of endorphins produced by the body might be less than normal. In this case, you’ll suffer symptoms of endorphin deficiency.
What Happens When We Lack Endorphins?
Endorphin deficiency means your body isn’t producing enough of the substance. If this is the case, you might experience the following:
- Impulsive behavior
- Trouble sleeping
- Aches and pains
- Sudden shifts in emotions
- Heightened states of rage
Fortunately, because endorphins function as a hormone and are released in the bloodstream, we can boost its level in the body and do so naturally too.
How to Trigger the Release of Endorphins
So you want your regular dose of endorphins, eh? Don’t sweat it.
There are many ways you can trigger the release of endorphins, and these activities aren’t limited to physical workout or exercise. So, there’s no need to suffer from muscle pain or strain from vigorous exercise.
You can raise your body’s endorphin levels through these easy ways:
- Exercise. Let’s get this out of the way. Running, biking, and other types of aerobic exercise helps the body produce endorphins. You already know that so let’s move on to the next ones.
- Laughter. Perhaps the easiest way to raise your endorphin levels is through a good laugh. Humor is blissful.
- Music. Play an instrument, sing or dance. Research suggests that these activities could help increase your pain tolerance.
- Meditation. Another way to ease your pain is through meditation. It also calms your mind.
- Acupuncture. This traditional Chinese medicine where fine needles are inserted at pressure points throughout the body is believed to release endorphins.
- Ultraviolet light. Exposure to sunlight makes us happy, and exposure to UV light encourages the release of endorphins in the skin.
- Spicy food. Okay, perhaps this will make some of you sweat a little (or a lot). But spicy foods activate pain receptors in the tongue, and endorphins are released to help us cope with the pain.
- Dark chocolate. But not just any dark chocolate on the grocery aisle. Look for dark chocolate with 70% cocoa, and consume in moderation.
- Sex. The body releases endorphins, among other hormones, during orgasms.