Endorphins are the body’s natural pain and fever relievers. They are produced by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus during strenuous exercise, trauma and excitement. Endorphins, or endogenous opioid polypeptide compounds, resemble opiates in the way they produce analgesia and feelings of well-being.
A “rush” of endorphins, brought on by pain, danger, stress or exercise, brings with it feelings of exhilaration. Nerve impulses reach the spinal cord and endorphins are released, preventing more pain signals from being sent. The word “endorphin” is an abbreviated version of “endogenous morphine.” The interaction of endorphins with opiate receptors in the brain reduces the perception of pain, acting in a manner similar to morphine and codeine.
The secretion of endorphins can lead to feelings of euphoria, release of sex hormones and enhanced immune system response. Researchers say endorphins are involved in many functions such as nausea, respiration, vomiting, hormone regulation and pain relief. When pain is severe, the brain sometimes does not produce enough endorphins to block it.
Endorphins, Exercise and Chronic Pain Management
According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise can help to manage chronic pain. As hard as it may be to imagine exercising when in pain, researchers say the release of endorphins will block pain signals and help to curb anxiety and depression. Both conditions can make chronic pain even harder to deal with.
The clinic says exercise also helps build strength, improve flexibility, boost energy, enhance mood, protect the heart and blood vessels, improve quality of sleep and help the body maintain a healthy weight.
The clinic says those in chronic pain should consult a doctor about exercise and that he or she will likely recommend one or more of the following: stretching, strength training, aerobic activity, meditation and yoga.
Opioid Drugs Interfere With Endorphin Production
Pain is one of the most common reasons people visit their doctors each year. Whether it’s due to an accident, illness, surgery or unknown condition, living a full life with chronic pain can be difficult. The most potent pain relief drugs available are narcotics, which are commonly prescribed by doctors. The problem with opioids is that when used habitually, tolerance and addiction can occur.
Taking opiates can deplete the body’s natural endorphins in nerve cells. Long-term abuse of opiates can change the way nerve cells work in the brain. The cells become so used to having the drugs present that they need them to work normally. This is can lead to tolerance and addiction.
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