The Discovery of Endorphins: The Body’s Natural Painkillers

Endorphins are natural painkillers we produce in our body. They act as the body’s own self-contained drug, helping us to cope with physical, mental and emotional pain. In fact, they’re able to mimic the effects of many opiate and other recreational drugs, leading scientists to call them the ‘body’s natural morphine’. But, who discovered endorphins and how did they do it? This article will explore the fascinating story of how the body’s natural painkillers were discovered.

The Mystery of Morphine-like Chemicals in the Brain

In the 1960s, scientists were attempting to unlock the mystery of opioids and why they caused an analgesic effect, or a reduction in feeling of pain. At the same time, researchers had also noted morphine-like chemicals in the brain but were unsure of their purpose. By 1971, scientists had posited that endorphins (short for “endogenous morphine”) were wholly created by the action of neurons in the brain, or in other words, they were morphine-like chemicals which were generated from within the body and not from taking drugs.

The Discovery of Endorphins

A team at John Hopkins University were the first to isolate endorphins in the laboratory and provide scientific proof for their existence. Working under the direction of John Hughes, a brilliant biochemist, the team included Solomon Snyder, Candace Pert and Jean Wagner. By 1975, the research team had successfully identified the precise chemical structure of the active molecules and called them “enkephalins” and “endorphins”, making endorphins the first opioid peptide to be discovered.

The Effects and Benefits of Endorphins

Endorphins have a number of effects that the body can benefit from. Here are just some of the amazing effects of endorphins:

• Pain Relief: Endorphin molecules bind to receptor sites in the body and act as powerful analgesics. This makes endorphins an ideal natural painkiller and some researchers have suggested that they can be harnessed to treat chronic or acute pain.

• Improved Mood: Endorphins interact with the opioid receptors to improve one’s sense of wellbeing. They also trigger the release of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter associated with good feelings and behavior.

• Stress Relief: Endorphins are also known to reduce stress. This effect is particularly beneficial for people who suffer from chronic stress-induced illnesses such as depression, anxiety and stress-related headaches.

• Boosts the Immune System: Some studies suggest that endorphins may help to boost the immune system. These effects may be due to the endorphin’s capability to regulate hormones, reduce inflammation, and increase good gut bacteria.

Ways to Increase Endorphin Levels

Endorphins can be naturally produced in the body in several ways. The most well-known methods of naturally increasing endorphin levels include engaging in physical activity, laughing, meditating, eating spicy foods, and having sex.

• Exercise: Exercise is probably the most effective way to increase endorphin levels. While any form of physical activity can be beneficial, high-intensity interval training and weight lifting are particularly beneficial.

• Laughing: Laughing is known to naturally boost endorphin levels, so if you’re feeling down, find something funny to watch or enjoy a good joke.

• Meditation: Meditation is also beneficial for mental health and releasing endorphins. Try to find a comfortable and quiet place to practice and focus on your breath.

• Eating Spicy Foods: A study has found that spicy foods can trigger the release of endorphins, so enjoy a bowl of chili or some curried dishes.

• Having Sex: Having sex can increase endorphin levels and stimulate sexual arousal, helping to reduce stress and boost mood.

Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers, produced by the body to help it cope with pain and stress. Their discovery has revolutionized modern medicine and opened up a wide range of potential therapeutic treatments. It is easy to increase our endorphin levels through exercise, laughter, meditation, eating spicy foods, and having sex. So if you’re in need of some much-deserved self-care, why not try one of the above methods and reap the benefits of increased endorphins?