Endorphins are biochemical agents generated by the body, also referred to as the body’s pain relievers. They share specific characteristics with opiates. Endorphins are hormones that are released into the body in reaction to pain or discomfort. They tend to relieve pain and induce euphoria, peace, satisfaction, and well-being. Since strenuous exercise, especially running, may release endorphins, these euphoric feelings are often referred to as the “runner’s high.”
How Endorphins Work
Endorphins come in a variety of forms, with over 20 to choose from. They are proteins formed by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus in response to pain, excitement, and other stressors and during exercise. Acupuncture, chocolate, and hot peppers will also induce the production of endorphins in your body.
Endorphins are released in response to pain and travel across the nervous system, where they interact with opiate receptors to reduce pain perception. Endorphins also make us feel good, help us remember things, control our appetites, contribute to releasing sex hormones, and regulate our body temperature. Endorphins are released into our bloodstreams as we laugh, get nervous, engage in sexual activity, exercise, or are in pain.
The history behind Endorphins and Runner’s High
Endorphins were identified in the 1970s by two different groups of researchers who were also researching animal brains. The University of Aberdeen’s John Hughes and Hans W. Kosterlitz was the first to identify and remove endorphins from a pig’s brain. Rabi Simantov and Solomon Snyder, both from the United States, discovered endorphins in a calf brain simultaneously. Around this time, it was also found that endorphins in the human body and the bodies of certain animals can have morphine-like symptoms.
The Painkilling Effect of Endorphins
The findings of this diverse study lead neuroscientists to conclude that the human brain contains endorphins, which are released by the pituitary gland when the body is stressed or in pain. These endorphins bind with receptors to pump more dopamine into the bloodstream, which decreases pain tolerance overall. The results of this process are close to those of morphine use.
As a result, whether you take an opioid painkiller like opioids affects the body’s naturally occurring endorphins. The painkiller occupies more of the brain’s pain receptors. Your body detects this and develops less naturally occurring pain relievers as a result. Many pain receptors become hollow as the artificial supply is eliminated (the treatment wears off). This results in a need for endorphins, which can lead to addiction. Endorphins, on the other hand, are neither harmful nor addictive on their own.
The Runner’s High
Long-distance running will give certain people a feeling of euphoria similar to the high you get from marijuana. Feelings of extreme calm, a sense of floating, bliss, euphoria, and heightened pain tolerance have all been identified as results of this runner’s high.
The elevated level of endorphins in the brain has been linked to the runner’s high, according to a small study conducted in 2008. Though endorphins are continuously released into your body and undoubtedly increase your bloodstream as you exercise, research has found that they could be too large to travel from your bloodstream to your brain. As a result, they may not precisely be the chemical that causes a runner’s high.
According to a 2015 report on mice, a neurotransmitter named anandamide, an endocannabinoid that is released into your blood (along with endorphins) as you exercise, could be responsible for these emotions. Since both chemicals are released in mice as they start running, the study used mice that ran on a wheel and used drugs to inhibit both chemical’s effects. The symptoms of runner’s high, such as ease, pain tolerance, and sedation, did not improve when endorphins were blocked. As they blocked anandamide, however, all of the runner’s high signals vanished. As a result, the researchers discovered that anandamide release might be the secret to the emotions associated with a runner’s high.
The bottom line: It might take some time for science to determine which molecules trigger a runner’s high, but the evidence is gradually pointing to endocannabinoids rather than endorphins as responsible for it.
Long-Term Benefits of Endorphins
If you’re a regular long-distance runner, your fear level is likely to be smaller than the average person’s, and you might even be less sensitive to discomfort due to brain chemicals. When you exercise, the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine increase, which might explain so many of us feel amazing after a workout.
If you’re new to running, regularly engaging in mild to vigorous amounts of running will help you achieve this degree of composure, relaxation, pain control, and sense of well-being. In reality, considering the chance of injuries and the time and energy required, it’s always the reward of those good feelings we get after a long run, which seem to be heavily affected by endocannabinoids like anandamide.