Endorphins, the pleasure hormones

Endorphins, the pleasure hormones

The endorphins they belong to a class of chemical substances known as neurohormones, specifically they are endogenous opioid peptides, and they function as neurotransmitters.


  • 1 What are endorphins?
  • 2 History of its discovery
  • 3 Role of endorphins
  • 4 Effects of endorphins
  • 5 Endorphins and depression
  • 6 How to increase our level of endorphins

What are endorphins?

Endorphins are small protein chains called neuropeptides. They are manufactured by the nervous system central (the brain and the spinal cord). Thanks to the production of certain neurotransmitters, the pituitary gland in the brain receives the signal to release endorphins depending on the situation, which in turn binds to the receptors of the neurons.

Endorphins are substances associated with feelings of pleasure, euphoria, sexuality and pain relief. In essence endorphins promote a kind of "bliss", providing a sense of well-being. Low levels of endorphins are associated with the opposite effects: physical and emotional pain (including chronic pain related to disorders such as fibromyalgia), addiction and the increased incidence of risk behaviors.

The endorphins are opiates natural body, which can be up to 20 times more potent than pain medications sold in pharmacies.

History of its discovery

The endorphin discovery dates back to the 1960s, when researchers began studying the causes and effects of the opium addiction and found that there were "opioid receptors" in brain tissue. As it seemed quite unlikely that humans actually had a specific receptor designed for a chemical derived from the poppy plant, the researchers focused their attention on the biochemicals that can be synthesized in the same brain.

In the early 1970s, several peptides with natural analgesic properties were isolated, were the enkephalins and endorphins. The modification of the neuronal transmissions of these biochemical products seems to be responsible for the pain insensitivity that is experienced when we are in conditions of great stress or alteration. The effectiveness of derivatives of opioid analgesics such as opium, morphine and heroin they are an accidental side effect that derives from the ability of these substances to bind to neurohormonal receptors, despite a different structure.

Endorphin Function

It is believed that endorphins are very effective for block the feeling of painbut they also work for reduce stress levels and support the immune system. Some studies have indicated that they can generate certain cells, called natural killer cells, and activate them. Once these cells are stimulated, they work to fight cancer cells. For this reason, some researchers believe that certain chemicals can be used to reduce the likelihood of developing cancer or to help fight the disease.

Endorphins also control the emotions. When we feel sad, raising the levels of endorphins in our body can improve our mood. If we feel fear, similarly endorphins allow us to cope by providing a feeling of euphoria and calm.

In addition, there is not a single type of endorphin, in fact there are at least 20 types of a single variety called beta-endorphin, which has proven to be more effective than morphine in its effects on the organism. However, endorphins have the advantage of being non-addictive, unlike opioid drugs like morphine or the codeine.

Molecular structure of beta-endorphin

The amount of endorphins released by individuals varies in the way in which an event stimulates the secretion of this neurohormone, for this reason there are many interpersonal variations.

Endorphin Effects

Endorphins generate a wide variety of effects on the body. Some of these effects are as follows:

  • Pain block: There is evidence that the immune system releases a certain number of endorphins depending on the levels of inflammation, which is a useful mechanism to minimize pain. And it is that endorphins affect the part of the brain that controls how pain feels. When a beta-endorphin is injected directly into the brain, it is 48 times more effective for pain relief than opiates man made.
  • Mood improvement: Endorphins have been associated since their discovery with a greater sense of pleasure. It is believed that endorphins help us to lift our spirits, and encourages us to do things that we find pleasant, including from being with friends, exercising or eating what we like, among others.
  • Stress relief: It has been proven that when we are stressed, an increase in the level of endorphins can make us feel more relaxed.
  • Appetite moderation: Part of the endorphin function is to let the body know when we have eaten enough of something.
  • Immune system improvement: The immune system seems to improve when endorphins are secreted in our central nervous system.
  • Sex hormone release: Apparently the production of endorphins also triggers the release of sex hormones, causing us to have a greater desire.

The high concentrations of endorphins in the brain produce a feeling of euphoria, increase pleasure and suppress pain, both emotionally and physically. When the level of endorphins is low, people feel anxious and are more aware of the pain. They have a increased appetite for foods rich in fatty acids, such as french fries, candy, butter, cheese or chocolate, to name a few examples. And after eating a little fat, they notice an increase in mood, feeling more pleasure. This sensation is related to a higher concentration of endorphins.

In addition to stress and pain, the secretion of endorphins can be caused by the consumption of certain foods, such as chocolate or hot peppers. In fact, the increase in body endorphin levels caused by chocolate is believed to play a significant role in increasing intake when we feel stressed. On the other hand, the release of endorphins associated with the consumption of chili peppers, have been used in various types of medical treatments, especially as part of the treatment for chronic pain, also being considered an aphrodisiac.

The exercise, due to the effect of releasing fat from within the body and also from endorphins, it generates an elevation of mood.

Endorphins and depression

In the last 30 years we have learned a lot about the importance of brain chemistry. Previously, depression was thought to be the result of life problems. Now it is known that many of the victims of depression they have a mismatch in their brain chemical neurotransmitters as the serotonin, the dopamine, the norepinephrine and endorphins, which have a powerful influence on the intelligence, the personality Y mood.

Most psychiatrists turn to powerful medications that alter the chemistry of the brain, in an attempt to help their patients. However, individual responses to psychoactive drugs They are extremely variable. Even when a medication effectively alters serotonin or dopamine levels, the drug can affect other brain chemicals with significant adverse effects.

A health balance includes a continuous production of endorphins. Babies and young children by nature have a high production of endorphins. But when we reach adolescence and adulthood, we tend to lose our natural well-being and harden our character. The adrenalin and cortisol, the hormones of tension and anxiety begin to predominate.

How to increase our level of endorphins

The amazing thing about the human brain and body is that we are all capable of producing our own "natural well-being" without taking illegal substances. Positive moods have a cyclic pattern: when we release endorphins, those motivate us to continue performing those behaviors that had generated this release, such as exercising or spending more time with others. So, here are some tips:

1. Exercise regularly

A large number of studies show that people who exercise regularly suffer less depression, tend to deal better with anxiety and sleep better. Exercise is one of the things that increases the levels of endorphins the most, it also offers numerous benefits for our mind and body.

2. Eat a healthy diet.

Diet is the key to creation of neurotransmitters, and fortunately there are nutrient-rich foods that can improve how we feel in general, in addition to balancing the level of blood sugar and acting as fuel in the body. The stabilization of mood with a healthy diet can also allow us to break with dependence on processed food substances, which interfere with brain chemistry and deplete your energy. For increase serotonin production and the release of endorphins with the diet we must do the following:

  • Take enough protein. Serotonin is generated primarily through food intake rich in tryptophan, such as turkey, chicken or milk. Almost all sources of protein will help us release serotonin, including meat, fish, dairy and eggs.
  • Consume vegetables. All plant foods such as vegetables, legumes, corn, wheat, etc., are good plant sources of amino acids that help increase serotonin. Even some vegetables such as broccoli, spinach or cauliflower, are relatively rich in protein.
  • Take more antioxidant foods. Free radicals are the main cause of the aging process and can also generate mental illness, since they attack brain cells. Increase the intake of antioxidant foods by eating green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, broccoli and others will help us.
  • Eat healthy fats. Fats comprise 60% of our brain. Essential fatty acids produce hormones called eicosanoids, which are necessary for many chemical processes within the body. They stimulate the immune system, fight inflammation and support the activity of neurotransmitters, including serotonin. That is why it is advisable to take healthy fats consuming olive oil, coconut, salmon, nuts, seeds and avocado.
  • Chocolate and hot peppers. Both foods seem to directly stimulate the secretion of endorphins in our body. But beware, the chocolate must be dark chocolate, as pure as possible, with the minimum of added sugars and fats.
  • Restrict the consumption of alcohol and caffeine. Abuse of these substances can lead the body to generate tolerance and poor hormonal regulation, because it is necessary to increase the intake to feel the same mood every time, and this causes side effects.

3. Laugh more

Fortunately laughter is a quick fix to feel better almost instantly, thanks to the release of endorphins that it causes. Studies have also linked laughter with greater tolerance to pain. So, try to do something to keep your sense of humor, such as playing with children, seeing or remembering something fun, etc.

4. Connect with others

Having a pleasant conversation with another person, receiving a hug or a kiss, helping others, all this brings up the level of oxytocin and other chemicals that help us feel calm and comforted. Foster healthy relationships, find meaning, purpose in your life, and realize how good you feel when you do something good for others.

5. Learn something new

Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter involved in the stimulus-learning-reward circuit. That is why we are satisfied when we learn something new or experience something that we had not experienced before, such as when we travel to a place for the first time, or move forward at work, studies ... All this makes us feel good, so we want to repeat. Test your skills and knowledge regularly by searching for news, and do not refuse to take on difficult tasks that may end up being very satisfactory in the long term.

6. Spend time in nature and sunbathe

Being in contact with nature and the sun for about 20 minutes a day, helps the skin absorb UV rays and produce vitamin D, which is important for our mood. The sun and nature seem to help regulate the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and melatonin.


Bloom, F.E. i Lazerson, A. (1988). Brain, Mind, and Behavior. Nova York: Freeman and Company.

Bradford, H.F. (1988). Fundamentals of neurochemistry. Barcelona: Labor.

Carlson, N.R. (1999). Behavioral physiology. Barcelona: Ariel Psychology.

Carpenter, M.B. (1994). Neuroanatomy Fundamentals Buenos Aires: Panamerican Editorial.

From April, A .; Ambrose, E .; De Blas, M.R .; Caminero, A .; From Pablo, J.M. i Sandoval, E. (eds) (1999). Biological basis of behavior. Madrid: Sanz and Torres.

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