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What Are Endorphins?
Endorphins are neurotransmitters—brain chemicals secreted by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus—that act on the opiate receptors in the brain, reducing stress, boosting pleasure, and easing pain (or elevating the pain threshold). The term “endorphin” is a portmanteau of the words “endogenous” (meaning internal) and “morphine” (a painkilling opioid). This large grouping of chemicals—sometimes referred to as beta-endorphins—is often associated with exercise, but you can boost endorphins in a number of ways, from meditation, to eating certain foods, to laughing, or connecting with others.
What Are the Benefits of Endorphins?
There are a number of health benefits associated with boosting your endorphins.
- Mental health boost: A regular release of endorphins can positively impact your overall mood and feelings of mental wellness. Endorphins are the “happy” chemicals, and releasing them can reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, and even boost your self-esteem.
- Weight regulation: Endorphins released during exercise can lead to higher levels of energy and better appetite regulation, which can help reduce binge eating and help to regulate weight.
- Social connection: Activities like laughing, having sex, and connecting with others can trigger the release of endorphins, helping people to forge strong connections with one another.
7 Natural Ways to Boost Your Endorphins
When you boost your endorphin levels, you elevate the feeling of euphoria in your body. For a few ways you can boost your endorphins, see the list below.
- Physical exercise: Prolonged aerobic activities like jogging or having sex elevate your heart rate and can trigger a natural endorphin rush called a “runner’s high,” which is a wave of endorphins released into your central nervous system that can lead to anxiety reduction and pain relief.
- Masturbation: Engaging in masturbation at least once a week is a great way to relax and boost your endorphins. Masturbation, or sexual self-pleasure, is the practice of stimulating your own genitals and erogenous zones by hand or with the assistance of sex toys, like a vibrator.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture—which is a form of holistic medicine that uses needles to stimulate certain areas of the body—can trigger your nervous system, creating an endorphin boost that has euphoric effects on the rest of your body.
- Dark chocolate: Eating a small piece of dark chocolate every day has been shown to boost the levels of endorphins in your body, which is why some people report a feel-good effect after eating dark chocolate.
- Laughing: Laughter during social interaction can be an excellent way to raise the level of endorphins in your body. Doing activities with friends or family that make you laugh can stimulate your abdominal muscles and trigger the release of endorphins.
- Spicy food: Your brain registers the sensation of spicy food as pain when it hits your tongue which causes your body to release endorphins to offset this negative feeling.
- Meditation: Meditation—an ancient Buddhist practice that has existed for centuries as a way to center the mind and body—has been shown to release endorphins when practiced regularly. A consistent meditation routine can be beneficial to your overall wellness, helping to improve your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.
How Are Endorphins Different From Dopamine?
Endorphins are commonly associated with another neurotransmitter called dopamine, which causes euphoria and pleasure by acting on the brain’s reward centers. The main difference between endorphins and dopamine is that endorphins are released in response to external stimuli—specifically pain or tension—that help to relieve pain and cause feelings of euphoria. Dopamine is released after you reach a goal, triggering the brain’s reward system and elevating your mood. Endorphins and dopamine have a symbiotic relationship, wherein endorphin-production from an activity leads the brain to associate the activity with a rewarding feeling, which leads to subsequent dopamine production.
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