Endorphins: The Body's Pain Reliever

Produced in the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, endorphins are a chemical peptide commonly referred to as a neurotransmitter. As the name indicates, its job is to transfer (or prevent transfer of) information within the body's nervous system. There are more than 20 kinds of endorphins. They react with opiate receptors - or structures in the brain that can reduce the perception of pain. In this way, endorphins act in a manner similar to opiate drugs like morphine in deadening pain. "Endorphin" is an abbreviation of endogenous morphine. Nevertheless, endorphins do not have the negative effect of being addictive, and it would be very difficult to overdose.

More than simply deadening pain, endorphins actually can supply a feeling of euphoria. Other effects include an enhancement of immune response and appetite. There is speculation it may also act as an aphrodisiac.

Endorphin production in the body is thought to be stimulated by prolonged, continuous exertion and may be the cause of a "runner's high". It is also made in response to injury or stress. Endorphins are produced as part of a larger molecule called proopiomelanocortin (POMC).1 They are cut and activated by enzymes when needed. Biologically, endorphin production has the effect of giving the body the ability to persist in activities for at least a short time in the face of danger.

Endorphin secretion can also be stimulated by eating certain foods. Consumption of chocolate or chili peppers can increase endorphin levels in the body. This may be one of the reasons that chocolate candy has so long been a staple in gifts between men and women on romantic occasions. As for chili peppers, the hotter the pepper, the more endorphins it will stimulate.

Increased endorphin production occurs in fetuses carried by pregnant mothers. There is some speculation that when a child is born and this source of endorphins is removed that mothers can experience post-partum syndrome. It is thought that breast feeding stimulates endorphin production, giving mothers the desire to nurse their children.

Other activities reputed to stimulate endorphins are acupuncture, massage, meditation, and even laughter. A drug called naloxone will inhibit the effects of endorphins.

Resveratrol Mimics Calorie Restricted Diets


  1. Chemistry Explained: Endorphins

Resources:

Molecular Structure of an Endorphin Molecule
What Are Endorphins?
Endorphins, Natural Pain and Stress Fighters

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