What Are Endorphins?

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 really know about endorphins?

What Are 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, it's likely that the world would seem a lot less colorful 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.

How Are Endorphins Increased?

What can you do to increase your natural endorphins? Contrary to what you might think, you don't need to run a marathon to get a runner's high or do something outrageous to boost your endorphins.

While it's true that higher intensity workouts will produce more endorphins than lower intensity workouts, there are still lots of different ways you can boost your endorphins without needing to cross the finish line after 26.2 miles.

Below is a list of simple options that you can get started with right away.

Eat Dark Chocolate

Do you like chocolate? You're in luck. Eating just a piece of dark chocolate can help to boost your endorphins.

Exercise

Moderate intensity exercise can be helpful to boost your endorphins. Try to get in 45 minutes at least three times per week.

Sexual Intercourse

When you have sexual intercourse, your body also releases endorphins. Not only are you engaging in physical exercise, but you're also creating a social bond with another person.

Create or Listen to Music

Music isn't just for entertainment; it can improve your well-being and raise your endorphins.

Create Art

Just as with creating music, creating art can be helpful for raising your endorphins.

Dance

If you don't wish to go for a run or do a regular workout, simply dancing around your house can also raise your endorphins.

Receive Acupuncture

There is some evidence that receiving acupuncture can help with raising endorphins. This makes sense if you consider that acupuncture would also stimulate pain receptors.

Get In a Good Laugh

Do you like to laugh? There's probably a good reason for that. Laughter can also stimulate your endorphins, so make sure to try and get in a good laugh each day. Watch a funny television show or spend time with people who make you break out in laughter.

Eat Spicy Food

Did you know that eating spicy food can raise your endorphins? This is a good excuse to try out an Indian restaurant or pick a new spicy item off the menu next time you go out to eat.

Massage

Just like acupuncture, massage can also help to raise your endorphins. This doesn't even have to be a professional massage; you could ask your partner to give you a massage, invest in a massage chair, or use a portable massager to relax tense muscles.

Sauna

Did you know that sitting in a sauna will also raise your endorphins? You're not just sweating out stress when you sit in a sauna, you're also improving your well-being.

Use Aromatherapy

Have you ever tried aromatherapy? It can be as simple as using essential oils while cleaning or running a diffuser to add scent to your environment, both of which can help to raise your endorphins.

Watch a TV Drama Show

If you're not in the mood to laugh, you could also consider watching a TV drama. This has also been shown to increase your endorphins.

Engage in meditation

Have you tried meditation? Meditation is another easy way to boost your endorphins, and it doesn't cost anything to get started. All you need is 20 minutes and a Youtube video to get started.

Do volunteer work

When you do volunteer work, you are not only doing good for others but also boosting your endorphins. This is another simple way to improve your feelings of well-being.

Spend time with friends

Try to avoid isolation if you are feeling like your endorphins are low. Spending time with friends can help to boost your well-being.

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 actually lead to higher dopamine production; in this way, endorphins and dopamine are not mutually exclusive but are actually 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 actually 20 different types of endorphins that have been identified. However, the type of endorphins that have been the subject of the most research are known as "beta-endorphins."

These are the endorphins that contribute to well-being and pain relief and that have a similar effect to the pain drug morphine. Without these beta-endorphins, you would be less able to cope with stress and pain.

Endorphins vs. Opioid Drugs

What about the difference between endorphins and opioid drugs? Opioid drugs include morphine and fentanyl. These opioid drugs work on the same pain receptors that are involved in the endorphin system in your brain. When you take morphine or fentanyl, your brain then releases more dopamine.

However, if you take these drugs over a long period of time, then it becomes accustomed to the higher level of dopamine and requires more of the drug in order for you to feel the same level of well-being. In other words, your brain gets used to that amount of dopamine and it no longer works. You need more of the drug to feel the same level of happiness.

In addition, becoming addicted to opioid medication can leave a person emotionally and socially withdrawn. You may also find that you lose interest in other rewarding activities liking eating food and engaging in sexual intercourse. This is because morphine and other medications can replace the need to find other ways to experience the natural reward system in your brain. You might stop socializing because the medication has replaced your need to form social bonds.

In fact, when people must stop taking morphine or are trying to stop a drug like heroin, the withdrawal effects can be the same as someone going through grief: feelings of depression, irritability, periods of crying, loss of appetite, and not being able to sleep.

On the other hand, your natural endorphins generally will not reach this same level of saturation to the point that you need more of the same (e.g., exercise, sex, etc.) to achieve the same level of well-being. However, there is a risk of becoming addicted to an endorphin rush and seeking out unhealthy ways to achieve this.

Risks of Endorphin Addiction

Is it possible to become addicted to the feelings of an endorphin rush? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Below are some examples of how this can happen.

Self Harm

Persons who self-harm often do this because of the endorphin rush that they experience after hurting themselves. Usually, this is done to relieve emotional stress and becomes a habit where the endorphin rush becomes an addiction and the person can't stop self-harming because of the need to feel that emotional release.

Exercise Addiction

It is also possible to become addicted to exercise to the point that it is harmful. When someone is working out for hours a day just to feel the effects of endorphins, this can indicate a problem with addiction. Regular exercise is helpful, but if you are exercising to extremes and can't seem to control your behavior, that could be an indication of a problem.

Socializing and Endorphins

Endorphins are also released when we form social bonds. However, if someone consistently uses opioid medication, they may no longer seek out social connection. By the same token, a person who naturally experiences higher levels of these brain chemicals may have different social motivation.

A Word From Verywell

Are you wondering how to increase endorphins and improve your well-being and pain tolerance? Following the suggestions laid out here will give you a good start toward improving your well-being and increasing your pain tolerance.

However, it's also important to remember that each person will vary in their own level of pain tolerance and feelings of well-being. If you feel as though your mood is low and nothing is working to improve it, that may be a sign of another issue such as depression or a related illness.

In that case, it is best to make an appointment with your doctor to investigate the underlying problem and put together a treatment plan.

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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • Fricker LD, Margolis E, Gomes I, Devi LA. Five decades of research on opioid peptides: Current knowledge and unanswered questions. Mol Pharmacol. Published online June 2, 2020.

  • Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School. Exercising to relax.

  • Nakamoto K, Taniguchi A, Tokuyama S. Changes in opioid receptors, opioid peptides and morphine antinociception in mice subjected to early life stress. Eur J Pharmacol. 2020;881:173173.