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Nature's Own: The Feel Good Hormone

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Biology 202
1999 Final Web Reports
On Serendip

Nature's Own: The Feel Good Hormone

Nicole Stevenson

Sex feels good, that is why people do it for more than simply procreation. Laughing is enjoyable, for that reason people search for things that amuse them. Touch is pleasing, therefore the massage business thrives. These things can become addictive due to the pleasurable effect that they produce. People have been exercising obsessively for a long time but only recently was an idea postulated as an explanation. Laughter often begets laughter and in large doses, has the ability to make one feel high. We do what makes us feel good; human beings are naturally pleasure seekers. It is said that with drugs your first high is the best and never able to be duplicated. What keeps people using drugs, despite the downfalls associated with use, is that eternal quest for that ethereal feeling that they experienced the very first time. Pleasurable activities, like exercising, sex, laughter, touch, etc. can all become dangerously addictive. Some people will do anything and everything for 'that fix".

So what is it that makes people search for the next high, or feel good experience? Exercise, sex, laughter, and touch all produce positive effects within the body via chemicals in the brain. These chemicals are called endorphins, a mixture of the two words endogenous, meaning from within the body, and morphine, a powerful pain fighting drug that is also used and abused for recreational purposes. Endorphins are the body's internal pain regulators. The drug opium has been used recreationally as early in the ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cultures. British physician, Thomas Syndenham brought opium to the public to be used for medicinal purposes around sixteen-eighty. By the end of the seventeen-twenties opium was outlawed in China, due to it's high level of recreational use and abuse. This led to the Opium Wars between the China and England. Opium was also used throughout the Civil War to treat battle wounds and in surgery (1).

Credit for the discovery and abilities of endorphins are given to various different people, at different times in history. In the mid nineteen-sixties Berkeley professor, Choh Li, discovered the analgesic, or pain reducing, significance of a certain pituitary hormone, which he named B-Lipotropin (2). Upon attempting to figure out why opium affected people the way that it does, scientists, Solomon H. Synder and Candace B. Pert at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Lars Tereniun of the University of Uppsala, and Eric J. Simon of the New York University School of Medicine discovered the receptor-labeling technique and stumbled upon the idea of the opiate receptor in the brain (3) These receptors are the sites upon which drugs, such as opium, morphine, and heroin, target and affect the user's behavior and mood. These research teams found that the opiate receptors seemed to be consolidated in the portions of the brain included in integration and perception of pain and emotions. If the body is in pain, opiates will diminish the discomfort. If the body is not in pain, a feeling of euphoria will come over the body and take the user to a different level of consciousness, the "high". Endorphins are the body's natural "feel good" drug.

In nineteen seventy-five, John Hughes and Hans W. Kosterlitz of the University of Aberdeen managed to isolate peptides found occurring naturally within the brain. These peptides were called endorphins, meaning morphine from within, and were found to have pain reducing effects (4). Endorphins are now known universally as stress, or catecholamine, relieving hormones which act much like the opiate drugs opium, morphine, and heroin. When stress is detected by the brain, it sends out signals, or opiates, which bind at the receptor sites, and the pain is alleviated. Feelings of euphoria follow and soon become apparent.

Endorphins, much like the drugs that they mimic, have the phenomenon of eliciting either the fight or flight syndrome and/or the reward system, which is why abuse is possible. It is known and quite obvious that structures in the body have evolved through the decades. Evidence of the change within the brain's structures are apparent in the way that humans learn to adapt to situations and survive situations of pain. An endorphin rush allows an person to either stay and fight or run away, either choice quite beneficial to survival of the individual. Afterwards, endorphins also allow the person to be able to work with the pain its body is feeling and recover. These ground-breaking studies opened many doors for the scientific community to be able to study various angles of pain, depression, happiness, abuse/obsession potential, and homeostatic processes, such as eating and exercise, many angles which were previously barely understood.

The checks and balances system of endorphins physically consists of chains of amino acids, which make up the chemical messengers known as neuropeptides. The transmission of pain and/or pleasure feelings exist within the brain due to nerve impulses. These impulses are relayed via neurotransmitter chemicals thus causing the release of neuromodulator chemicals, such as endorphins (5). These messengers differ from neurotransmitters in the fact that they modulate feelings of pain and pleasure, rather than convey the actual feelings. In order to change the feelings of pleasure and blockage of pain, the endorphins must reduce activity in the thalamus and cerebral cortex. This occurs by the neuromodulators effecting the dopamine pathway by binding to a specific opiate receptor site. Endorphins "shut off" the nerves in the frontal lobe, inhibiting feelings of pain, and allows this area to flood with dopamine, hence the feelings of euphoria (6)

It has not been possible to fully synthesize endorphins due to the fact that enzymes exist whose sole purpose is to degrade the modulating neuropeptide once the endorphin has server its purpose (7) It is so far impossible to adequately produce a synthetic version of the body's natural pain fighter. Products and theories have evolved, with hopes of opening the door to a totally new, incredibly profitable way of marketing concepts to control and eliminate pain, safely and legally. Nerve stimulation devices(TENS), herbal remedies, drugs, and amino acid combinations such as Endorphins, all promise secure ways of promoting endorphin flow and good health (8).

Despite modern technology, I believe that our bodies, without being chemically altered, knows best. Opiate receptors naturally occur in the body for a reason. Pain exists and therefore the body needs to learn how to deal with it. Hence, it adapted the structures in the certain sections of the brain that deal with pain. Pleasure is a desired thing amongst humans, the brain also adapts in order to utilize pleasing acts or feelings. Rather than waste our bodies and money on mind altering drugs and studies of them I think it would be more beneficial to figure out how to best utilize what our bodies naturally give us. A perfect example of the human body taking care of itself is during childbirth. A woman goes through excruciating pain during labor and delivery, yet many women are able to experience all of the highs and lows without the aid of drugs. "Natural childbirth" leaves the regulation to the body's own painkillers, endorphins. These natural hormone levels rise during active labor contractions and reach their highest peak immediately following delivery (9). This explains the way that a mother, right out of delivery is able to forgo sleep and care for her infant, following such a draining experience. The endorphin rush following labor and delivery also aids the stimulation of themilk ducts and it is believed helps boost bonding and interaction between the mo ther and child (10)/ Unlike the narcotics that are often administered to women in pain, endorphins present during labor and delivery grant a more natural ebb and flow of feelings and original painkillers that the body has tooffer.

The efficacy of endorphins are said to reduce with age, so then I believe we should be more active and engage in activities that promote endorphin flow. Chile pepper enthusiasts have made "mouth surfing" popular and into a conterculture. It is said that chile peppers offer an non-hallucinogenic type of high which has the ability to alter one's consciousness. Chile lovers state that the fiery peppers "fool the mouth" into thinking it is in trouble with an often searing pain, only to be rewarded with a euphoric rush. They claim that their mouths were never truly in danger, despite the leftover tingling effect (11) This is a whole lot safer, yet supposedly produces much of the same effect of the psychotropic counterparts that others dabble with, drugs that have the ability to permanently alter one's mental state and cause even other serious problems.

Personally I can attest to the healthy and healing powers of exercise. When I am in season, I am a much happier, healthier, more focused person. Despite the fact that crew practice is stressful and physically demanding, I find it to be a time during the day that I refuel my body both physically and mentally. I feel depleted in so many ways due to my crazy school and work schedule that working out makes my focus much clearer. A good row totally clears my head and often leaves me feeling tingly and as if I am floating. Endorphins have also aided me in pushing me past mental barriers that have been imposed upon the level to which I used to think my body could perform up to. The absolute team cooperation aspect of the sport of rowing has also had a big impact upon this; during a race or even very intense practice piece, it is impossible to quit before the team as a whole decides to end. Of course it is possible although not only the mental letdown, but also the possible physical harm of quitting before the rest of the human machine does, weighs heavy in one's consciousness. There is something about the fact that everyone is depending on the next person to keep going which aids the endorphins in each system to push past the body's point of termination. Once the body flies past that burning point, it almost seems as if you could go on forever. This rush of endorphins keeps circulating to create more and more of a support to induce more of the pleasurable activity. The body craves positive feelings and humans will do anything to get that rush. The object of the game is to find the best way to maximize the natural high and push the body's limits without jeopardizing the individual's delicate, natural balance needed for survival.

WWW Sources


2) The Discovery of Endorphins






8)Natural Power of Endorphins

9)How Endorphins Work for You

10)How Endorphins Work for You

11)Chile Peppers



Continuing conversation
(to contribute your own observations/thoughts, post a comment below)

11/22/2005, from a Reader on the Web

After reading Nature's Own: The Feel Good Hormone by Nicole Stevenson, I had to laugh. She compares the natural ability of the brain's reaction to stress in relation to overcoming adversity to A ROWING SPORT. She states how all the answers are in the nature of the brain itself, and how easy it is to overcome a difficult situation by utilizing the brain's natural resources--being tired from rowing. Although you noted a good point, how easy it is to compare a rowing sport to "suffering" and the brain's natural chemistry. How easy for her. I recommend you write about people that have endured years of stress and abuse, then see what your findings are. Maybe then you can state how the natural brain can help or not help a person cope by using such techniques as exercise, medidation, etc. Until you've walked in that person's shoes, you have no clue. No amount of education can teach you this, and that is why academia and government officials should have more life experience with poverty, drug abuse, mental illness, and dysfunction. Until people with these experiences are including in positions of authority, things will never change. Good luck with your studies.



Dorkus Maximus's picture

Endorphins, age, and fun

I found my way to this page after seeing a woman in her early 20's heading into the gym in our office building during lunch. She seemed happy about it, not as if it were a price she was paying to keep off excess weight. It got me thinking about how little kids will "exercise" (physically play) constantly if allowed to do so and about how that inclination seems to decline with age. If endorphin production decreases with age, might that explain why most older people show less motivation to be physically active and why even middle-agers seem to lose their enthusiasm for activity that they sought out during their younger years? If there were a way to get the body of an older person to produce endorphins in the levels of a 20 year old (in response to the same level of activity), then perhaps exercise would seem more like play and older folks would be more inclined to be physically active. On the other hand, if an aging body is (typically) less able to withstand activity, then might reduced endorphin production be nature's way of telling older people to slow down and take it easy?

If we're good Darwinists, we should ask what the point is to endorphins. Why should exercise make us feel better? Assuming our bodies were largely evolved during an age of much shorter lifespans, would endorphin production be a way of encouraging us to develop in childhood the physical fitness and skills we'd need to survive? If adulthood lasted maybe 20 years, then the increased physical fitness developed in our subconscious endorphin quests would barely have time to wear off before we fell off a cliff or were eaten by a lion.

Now that we find that we can consciously achieve an endorphin rush we can extend our period of fitness another couple of decades. But it seems eventually pretty much everyone slips into a sedentary lifestyle, where whatever good feelings one gets from exercise are outweighed by the pains of pushing too hard a machine that's breaking down.

However, because we know there are benefits to exercise beyond just a temporary good feeling, it seems we could benefit from a boost that encourages us to be active as long as we don't overstress our bodies. A pill that makes play fun again could be just the thing needed to extend physical fitness well past the typical age where bodies decline.

Serendip Visitor's picture

I always find it amusing when

I always find it amusing when someone makes a bold statement. In this case you point out humans evolved in the age of "shorter lifespans". Please tell me how you believe cavemen dying early is more than just a theory?

tom lilly  Serendip Visitor's picture


I like endorphins and the like. They may be why I am here. If they are not why I am here they may keep me going until someone finds out why I am here. My ancestors, those prokaryotes and eukaryotes invented endorphins, etc. They are well used. They may not be well understood. Understanding may take a few thousand million years.

lz's picture

be happy

having bad upbring pushed me nto raisng myself thru life. so learned everythng the hard way. my happiness most often came from beng a good lstenner. good sense of humor, doing for others wth no strings attached. if you love to see smles on anyones face that you helped make is a great high to. its all about your own personal feelngs you have and you play on them to keep you stmulated and hope you can brng someone else to that same place.

Another Serendip Visitor's picture

Nature's Own: The Feel Good Hormone

"After reading Nature's Own: The Feel Good Hormone by Nicole Stevenson, I had to laugh. She compares the natural ability of the brain's reaction to stress in relation to overcoming adversity to A ROWING SPORT."

It is both sad and amusing that imperfectly balanced minds will twist an opportunity for insight as an excuse to have a public "pity party" The author did no such thing. She merely applied her findings to a concrete example, a personal experience. Perfectly logical and useful. Reminds me of the time on a local forum where I suggested that hoodies, as clothing, should be outlawed. I live in an climate of extreme heat, and during those days wearing hoodies only serve as another tool of criminality. My city is also a "high crime" city, with a multicultural component. I received a scathing reply from a "victim" of intolerance, taking me to task for not understanding that, as a cancer victim, he wore a hoodie to protect himself from damaging sunlight. First HE placed himself into the class I referenced, to be able to demand sympathy for his suffering, completely and erroneously missing the entire point. But it gave him an excuse to rant, and to display to the world his suffering.
I pitied the poor soul, but this reply reminded me so much of the delicate mental state of a large portion of our society, aside from discussions of endorphins.

Sanaa's picture

Well said, i do agree with

Well said, i do agree with every word, having to deal with sympathetic arousal, chronic fatigue syndrome and low grade chronic fever, it is sometimes impossible to force your brain to produce endorphins, and with high core tempreture the body and the brain are in total mess, and how hard one tries he will still be in depression.
Drugs are a must sometimes to re-balance the brain chemicals, Marijuana in theraputic doses being the best, for the high levels of antioxidants and for activating the endoccanabinoid system.

K. Lim's picture

A Fair Point

I do agree with your point. To be fair to the reader whose comment you refer to, I agree that persons in positions of power should take note of, or even experience, the suffering of unfortunate individuals or groups, which a fair number of wealthy philanthropists have actually been doing, but he/she is missing the point of the article, which refers to endorphins and their effects. With regards to the article itself, I find it a very interesting and informative piece, though I do not entirely agree with the author's opinions on medicinal pain relievers, as I am personally a firm believer in the power of modern medicine, provided that it is properly made, tested and controlled.

K. Lim.

Serendip Visitoranu's picture

unchecked can be dangerous

i exercised a so much that in 4 mnths lost 20kgs. all levels of hormones were really high and i was euphoric;to an extent that my trainer who was aware i would fall into the trap tried to abuse me sexually;had not it been for my high moral and ethical values;i could have fallen into the trap...

Siddharth's picture

Thats good. Hold on to those

Thats good. Hold on to those values and be careful

Anonymous's picture

The method also works for

The method also works for such data as sheet music or protein sequences.

ananymous's picture

yeah it like 50/50

I agree with Keiichi its sort of a 50/50 thing. It might work for some but not all. I've had to deal with some mental problems and just takin a walk and being by myself helps.

Keiichi's picture

I belive that this is sort

I belive that this is sort of a 50/50 thing. Some may benefit and some may need to see a counselor and take some medicines. Ive dealt with my own mental problems and the idea of doing less is good, but can ultimatley lead to laziness, but balance that with professional help and you may benefit more. Just a little, hope it helps.

Anonymous's picture

If you want the ultimate,

If you want the ultimate, feel-good endorphines to be released, do something good for someone else without wanting/expecting anything in return. But check your motives in advance. Don't do this in exchange for an acknowledged "thank you". This can be a tremendous win-win. Even though you are doing this for someone else, the benefit will be yours, as well. Shine on...

Serendip Visitor Cathy's picture

feel good

Your statement is so good it is a 100 % of what I do to keep happy. For me it is so nice to give and although i like to receive giving is to me the best you can do, even if it is just your smile to a person who may be feeling blue Be blessed

Anonymous's picture

This is a fluke. I have had

This is a fluke. I have had some terrible mental abuse. I excercise, have sex, it doesn't make me feel any better.

katie's picture

feel good hormones in the brain

i have a client that told me of her son who had experimented with drugs and had depleted 2 of the feel good hormones His brain does not make them anymore..seritonin..and another..She will text me the name of the condition shortly I am looking for nutritional and other means of healing this young man besides pills he is living a sad life and sleeps alot and is depressed...

Serendip Visitor's picture

This is a fluke

Use EMD (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing)

To move on from the past and began to live.

Teacher's picture

The Ultimate Cure

Tai Chi Chuan practiced intensively releases so much of th endorphins, that it will cure any addiction. Tail Chi Ruler is the most intensive form as ten minutes is the maximum as there intense pain followed by a high that lasts all day. There is no muscle fatigue as in most exercises, so healing of autoimmine diseases occurs from the production of glutathione. As for sex, that drains the body of your life force, so if you do bot enjoy it, don't do it.

Anonymous's picture

This is not a fluke. But it

This is not a fluke. But it is not a cure all for psychological problems. Especially in cases of extreme abuse. In your case I would recommend exercise in combination with a good counsellor and possibly certain medications. I'm not arguing with you just offering the benifit of my experiences. Good Luck!

Frank's picture


Yip, its a fact, this stuff really works, I had a bit of a bad experience as of late and started my excersize routine again, cycling, swimming, running and light weight fast rep excersizes, since then I have had a feel good day everyday. I also think that by focusing your mind and constantly concentrating on thinking about producing these Endrophines you are able to during excersize increase the amount that you produce, this combined with the right foods.