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Role of Endorphins in the Human Body

Anuya Waghmare
Why do you experience a euphoric feeling after exercising, meditating, or eating something spicy? It's because endorphins are at work. These endorphins play varied roles in the human body, which are discussed here.

The Exercising High!

Many people are addicted to exercising, and one of the major contributing factors to this obsession is the production of endorphins in the body after a heavy workout. The soothing effect of these chemicals is similar to the feeling that opium and morphine drug users experience.
Endorphins are natural analgesics that are produced in times of distress, pain, or intense physical activity. They bring about a temporary feeling of well-being and euphoria. 20 different types of endorphins are produced in the human body. These natural painkillers are made of amino acids, and are much more powerful than morphine.
Beta-endorphin is 18 - 50 times stronger and dynorphin is almost 500 times stronger than morphine. These 'feel-good' chemicals are released in nervous system after a heavy workout, consumption of spicy food and chocolate, laughing or having sex.

Endorphins, secreted by the pituitary gland, play different roles in the body, which are addressed further.

How Endorphin Functions in the Human Body

Endorphins Relieves Pain
The main function of endorphins is to block the opioid receptors on the nerve cells, thus interfering with the transmission of pain signals.
Following an event of great trauma, beta-endorphins are produced, which are thought to relieve pain and produce euphoria to a great extent. This euphoria is said to endure the grave injuries following a traumatic event until the arrival of help, as well as carry out desperate attempts to save themselves or others.
Boosts the Immune System
Natural killer cells are a part of the immune system that kill defective cells, and also possess the ability to fight cancerous cells.
Stress affects the ability of these natural killer cells to generate an immune response. Endorphins can trigger the production of these natural killer cells, thereby strengthening the immune system of the body. Endorphins also help lower blood pressure, by preventing injuries to the blood vessels.
Reduces Stress
Whenever you are stressed, the levels of endorphins in the body increases, and helps you cope with the stress. Adequate amount of endorphins are necessary to reduce stress and tension in the body.
Strengthens Bonds in Relationships
Endorphins create a sense of well-being and security.
Physical contact with your significant other releases these chemicals, that soothe your nerves to create a feeling of serenity and peacefulness. This helps in strengthening the bond that plays a major role in long-term relationships.
Delays the Aging Process
Endorphins can delay the aging process by removing superoxides from the body. They are molecules that attack living cells and cause diseases and aging. But, not much is known about this, and research is ongoing as to how this occurs, and what exactly happens.
The level of this natural opiates in a woman's body may increase towards the end of pregnancy. In natural childbirth, it continues to rise steadily and steeply, which helps a woman endure pain. High levels of endorphins induce vigilance and euphoria in a woman.
It makes her more attentive, loving, and caring while getting to know her baby. Thus, endorphins are thought to play an important role in strengthening the bond between a mother and her baby in the postnatal period. It is also believed that a drop in endorphin levels may be the reason behind many women experiencing the 'blues' or depression, post delivery.
Affects the Brain Cells
Endorphins may help improve memory and affect learning. However, research is still being done as to the exact mechanisms regarding the effects of endorphins on the brain cells, and its effects on the limbic system of the brain.
New advances in science will help us understand more about these natural opiates and antidepressants that uplift our mood and contribute to our general well-being. We may get to know more about the role that this endogenous morphine plays in the human body, in the future.