||The spectacular image to the left is a photo of an actual beta-Endorphin as photographed using a high-powered optical microscope. One of four types of endorphins that have been identified to date, beta-Endorphin is purported to produce a greater sense of exhilaration, or "high," than all of the other endorphin types. Image courtesy of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Florida State University.
What are Endorphins?
Endorphins are the body's natural "feel-good" chemicals. They have a chemical structure similar to morphine. In fact, the word "endorphin" actually is short for "endogenous morphine," which literally means "morphine produced naturally in the body." When endorphins are released within the body, they make us feel better. They minimize pain, increase pleasure, improve our mood and perform many other functions.
Endorphins are most heavily released in the body during times of pain or stress. They dampen the perception of pain signals that reach the brain and may also lessen the frequency of signals sent to the brain by injured tissues. Like morphine, endorphins are analgesic, replacing pain with a relaxed, calm or sometimes "euphoric" feeling. This may explain why an injured accident victim can appear calm and serene.
Are there other ways to release endorphins?
Fortunately, you don't have to be in great pain or suffering from injury to experience the pleasurable feelings associated with endorphins. Exercise, acupuncture, massage therapy, sex, laughter, meditation and eating certain foods can also stimulate endorphin release.
What is the relationship between endorphins and exercise?
Prolonged, vigorous exercise stresses the body and stimulates the release of endorphins. Endorphins are one of several natural brain chemicals that are directly or indirectly credited with the enhanced mood, calm and sometimes euphoric feelings that many people experience during or after running, cycling, swimming, or other forms of strenuous endurance exercise.
What is the latest science regarding endorphins and the so-called "runner's high?"
Since the discovery of endorphins in the 1970's and after some 25,000 studies on endorphins, scientists in Germany recently proved - for the first time - the existence of an endorphin-driven "runner's high." Prior to this study, scientists had debated for years whether endorphins were actually the cause of the mood-lift experienced by runners and exercisers, and the hypothesis had remained unproven. Reporting their findings in the March 2008 issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex, the researchers succeeded in demonstrating that running does elicit a flood of endorphins in the brain, that the endorphins are associated with mood changes and the more endorphins a runner's body produces, the higher the rating of euphoria and happiness reported.
Click here to read more about the study
Links, for those who would like to read more about endorphins or the mood-enhancing effects of exercise:
General information about Endorphins
Endorphins and the "exercise" high
Laughter and endorphins
Endorphins and the placebo effect
Exercise and depression
Psychological benefits of exercise