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Endorphins are responsible for that feeling you get after a great workout, after eating a piece of dark chocolate, or after having a good laugh with a friend. They are the chemicals in your brain that help you cope with pain and feel good overall. But how much do you know about endorphins?

Let's start with the term: endorphins. The name comes from two words: endogenous (which means coming from the body) and morphine (the opiate pain reliever). So it makes sense that endorphins are your body's natural pain reliever. But what are they exactly?

Endorphins are a group of peptides that are produced by your pituitary gland and central nervous system and that act on the opiate receptors in your brain. These neurotransmitters (also sometimes thought of as hormones) act to increase feelings of pleasure and well-being and also to reduce pain and discomfort.

Have you ever experienced a rush of endorphins? This typically happens in response to a specific event such as eating a certain food, engaging in a form of exercise, engaging in sexual intercourse, facing a stressful situation, or experiencing something physically painful.

For example, if you were out jogging in the woods and sprained your ankle, you might experience an increase in endorphins that would help you to limp out of the forest to safety despite your injury.

Or, endorphins might explain why a group of people could lift a heavy vehicle off of an injured pedestrian after a traffic accident when under normal circumstances they could not fathom doing such a thing.

Endorphins are helpful and adaptive and nature's way of keeping us away from feelings of pain and moving us toward feelings of pleasure. Without your endorphins, the world would likely seem a lot less colourful and your days would feel longer and like your "joie de vivre" was missing.

What Are the Benefits of Endorphins?

Endorphins can have many positive effects in terms of your health and well-being. Imagine that you are on a vacation and are bitten by a snake, yet you don't feel any pain. Why would that be? It's the protective effect of a surge of endorphins, allowing you to cope with the stress of the situation.

Below is a list of some of the many benefits of endorphins.

  • Reduced depression

  • Reduced anxiety

  • Improved self-esteem

  • Regulation or modulation of appetite

  • An enhanced immune response

  • Reduced pain

As you can see, the benefits of endorphins are numerous. In fact, getting regular exercise such as working out at moderate intensity for 45 minutes three times per week may be a good first option for those living with mild depression.

What Are the Effects of Low Endorphins

On the other hand, if you do not have enough endorphins, you may experience the following effects:

  • Increased depression

  • Increased anxiety

  • More mood swings

  • Increased aches and pains

  • Problems with addiction

  • Problems with sleeping

  • Impulsivity

We also know that stress can impair your ability to create endorphins, such as experiencing abuse early in life.

Endorphins vs. Dopamine

What is the difference between endorphins and dopamine in your brain? While endorphins are neurotransmitters that help you to cope with pain and stress, dopamine is a mood-boosting neurotransmitter that is released after you reach a goal.

In this way, dopamine is involved in the reward circuit in your brain and helps to motivate you toward tasks (in contrast, low dopamine would also be de-motivating). Higher endorphins can lead to higher dopamine production; in this way, endorphins and dopamine are not mutually exclusive but are connected in the system that promotes action toward rewards and the good feelings that result.

In other words, you might feel motivated to participate in a marathon because of your dopamine reward system, which is further reinforced by the endorphins that are released during the actual act of participating in the race. In this way, endorphins are the quicker-acting "feelings" while dopamine is the longer-acting afterglow.

Types of Endorphins

What are the different types of endorphins? There are 20 different types of endorphins have been identified. However, the type of endorphins that have been the subject of the most research is known as "beta-endorphins."


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