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Endorphins

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Endorphins are opioid peptides, were identified in 1975 and their name comes from the words “Endogenous morphine,” that is produced in the body morphine. Due to the induced state of euphoric endorphins are often called “hormone of happiness”. There are a lot of molecules belonging to the group of endorphins; the most researched is beta-endorphin.

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (also known as ACTH or corticotropin) secreted during stress response and the endorphins are produced in the body of the same molecule, and that is why stress causes the release of the endorphins (that’s probably why after landing skydivers are so happy;)).

Endorphins are analgesic and many studies have shown that acupuncture is accompanied by the secretion of hormones of happiness. Some scientists argue that acupuncture needles stimulate nerves that trigger the release of endorphins in the brain. Other studies confirm, however, that the secretion of endorphins is also connected with placebo effect, so in my opinion the effectiveness of acupuncture may well be the result of stimulation of the relevant nerves, as well as the placebo effect. Researchers at the University of Michigan studied using PET CT scanner activity of opioid system in the brain of people who were given injections. Patients who were told that injection contains painkiller had an increased activity of this system, which indicates increased production of endorphins. Also, patients themselves have argued that experience less pain, though they did not get a painkiller. The increase in endorphin levels causes also laughter and even thinking about laughting. Prof. Lee Berk from the University of California found that those who focused on watching their favorite comedy had a 27% higher concentration of beta-endorphin in the blood than those who were told that they would read the magazine.

Some studies have also pointed that endorphins participate in the induction of so-called Runner’s High, that is flow experience that occurs after prolonged exercise in people practicing among others long-distance running, swimming, cross-country skiing or cycling. The research, in which athletes got before exercise naltrexone, which blocks the interaction of endorphins showed that, if the athlete is not under the influence of endorphins, does not obtain a positive change of mood. Some scientists argue that the Runner’s High is not the result of effort, but satisfaction of meeting the challenge.

It was also shown that the levels of beta-endorphin increases the sucrose contained in large quantities, eg. in chocolate and aspartame used as a sweetener. On the internet you can also easily find the information that endorphin levels can be increased by eating foods with hot spices, for example chilli peppers and having sex, but I did not find any confirmation of that in scientific work.

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