Struggling with an Endorphin Deficiency?
Endorphins are feel good neurochemicals that give us a state of euphoria and provide a mechanism of pain relief. These molecules interact with the opioid receptors where they block pain receptors.
Endorphins are an amazing part of our bodies survival mechanisms. They are what allows human beings to perform at very high levels when they are in extreme situations. They allowed our ancestors to survive very hostile circumstances by blocking pain long-enough for them to escape whatever threat they were under.
In today’s world, we think about how an athlete is able to play with a serious injury and not feel the effects until long after the game has finished. We also think about the classical runner’s high or feeling of euphoria while running long distances. This is endorphins at work.
What is an Endorphin?
Let’s breakdown the word endorphin to discover the original meaning. Endo refers to the term endogenous, meaning that these molecules are produced within the body. Morphine refers to the morphine like characteristics of the molecule (1).
Their are a number of different endorphin compounds such as α-endorphin, β-endorphin, γ-endorphin, σ-endorphin, α-neo-endorphin, and β-neo-endorphin. The main function of endorphin molecules is to inhibit the transmission of pain signals in the nervous system. The secondary role they have is to produce a feeling of euphoria that is very similar to what we experience when using other opiods (2).
These homemade opioid molecules were first discovered in 1974. The original researchers called them enkephalins but they were later termed endorphins. In scientific circles, these terms are often used interchangeably (3).
Strategies to Improve Endorphin Levels
- Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Be sure to follow an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan in order to provide the right nutrients to support healthy neurotransmitter function. In particular, consuming foods rich in good fats such as coconut, avocados, grass-fed butter and olives can be helpful. Getting a lot of phytonutrients from fruits, vegetables and herbs is important as well.
- Regular Sun Exposure: The sun’s rays not only help to boost vitamin D levels, but also stimulates the production of these feel good endorphins (4). Look for opportunities to get in the sun more regularly. Additionally, going barefoot on grass, dirt, or sand will ground your body and stimulate a larger endorphin release!
- See Your Chiropractor: The upper cervical spine is very important for endorphin production. If you have a subluxation, where spinal misalignment is interfering with the nerve impulses in this region than it can lower your endorphins. A trained chiropractor can help reduce subluxation and improve endorphin production (5, 6).
- Listen to Your Favorite Music: Listening to music can boost endorphins, which is why we often feel so good when we listen to music we enjoy (7). If you do have endorphin deficiency, I would caution against loud, aggressive or highly stimulating music until you are healthier, as it could cause your adrenals to crash.
- Eat Some Dark Chocolate: Chocolate has a chemical called l-phenylalanine which prevents the breakdown of endorphins, so it’s a bit like sustained release endorphins, except it doesn’t last forever (8). Be sure to get organic and sugar and artificial sweetener free.
- Consider Acupuncture: Acupuncture has been shown to stimulate bursts of endorphins which is why the needles don’t cause pain to the individual. The endorphin release from acupuncture is so good when done correctly that many people opt to use this instead of other anesthetics for surgeries (9).
- Deep Breathing: Taking time to focus on breathing stimulates endorphin production. Try taking 3 minutes every hour and focus on doing deep breathing with a 5-10 second inhalation and a 5-10 second exhalation.
- Regular Exercise: Regular movement is good for all neurotransmitters but especially for endorphin release. High intensity exercise, such as heavy weight training with short rest periods, circuit training, sprinting or interval training all stimulate abundant amounts of endorphins (10).
- Practice Stretching Exercises or Yoga: Individuals with an endorphin deficiency will often not be able to adapt and recover from high intensity exercise. Fortunately, they can still move positions and apply deep breathing with a regular yoga practice (11).
- Laugh and Play: The average child laughs 300 times per day while adults laugh a paltry five times. Be like a child and find ways to laugh and add more play into your life. Both of these release endorphins and improve your body’s ability to make endorphins (12).
Supplements to Raise Endorphin Levels
DL Phenylalanine: This amino acid acts to block enzymes that break down endorphins which allows them to stay in the circulation longer. This compound has been used to increase alertness, reduce addictive behaviors and suppress appetites. I recommend 1-2 grams, 1-2 times daily away from meals.
Phenylalanine should not be used by anyone with phenylketonuria, malignant melanoma, extremely high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism and chronic migraines.
When taking high doses of DL Phenylalanine, it is important to provide a balance of amino acids to support GABA, dopamine and serotonin production. If this dosn’t happen it can cause further problems. This is why I do not recommend taking this amino acid alone on a regular basis.
Dr Jockers Recommendations
Most people with low endorphins are also low in all the other neurotransmitters. We focus on applying a healthy diet, stress management techniques and any necessary protocols for supporting other low neurotransmitters.
The major supplement I use for this is:
Dopamine Plus: This formula contains clinical dosages of L-tyrosine, DL Phenylalanine, vitamin C and B6 and it contains 5-HTP which helps keep the dopamine:serotonin balance in order. This formula helps to benefit endorphin production while keeping balance in other key neurotransmitters.
Normal Dosage: Take 2 caps – 2x daily away from meals
Advanced Dosage: Take 4 caps – 2x daily away from meals
Supplements to Improve Endorphins
With individuals with low endorphin levels, I will use a combination of dopamine plus along with adapt strong and brain calm magnesium. Depending upon lab results, my team looks at other micronutrient deficiencies or imbalances to address as well.
Adapt-Strong: This formula provides clinical dosages of vitamin B6, rhodiola and cordyceps. This formula provides useful support for both hyper and hypofunction of the adrenals. Hyperfunction is when the adrenals are overproducing hormones, such as cortisol, and hypofunction is the opposite, when the adrenals are under producing.
Normal Dosage: Take 1 cap – 2x daily
Advanced Dosage: Take 2 caps – 2x daily
Brain Calm Magnesium: This is a specific form of magnesium is the only form of magnesium proven in animal studies to cross the blood-brain barrier. Boosting the brain’s magnesium level is vital to healthy cognition, which includes long- and short-term memory, learning, stress management and sleep.
Normal Dosage: 1 scoop in water– 1-2x daily Advanced Dosage: 2 scoops in water – 1-3x daily
Sources For This Article Include:
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- Poeaknapo C, Schmidt J, Brandsch M, Dräger B, Zenk MH. Endogenous formation of morphine in human cells. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2004;101(39):14091-14096
- Simantov R, Snyder SH. Morphine-like peptides in mammalian brain: isolation, structure elucidation, and interactions with the opiate receptor. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 1976;73(7):2515-2519.
- Mead MN. Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2008;116(4):A160-A167.
- Sanders GE, Reinert O, Tepe R, Maloney P. Chiropractic adjustive manipulation on subjects with acute low back pain: visual analog pain scores and plasma beta-endorphin levels. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1990 Sep;13(7):391-5. PMID: 2145384
- Scholten-Peeters GG, Thoomes E, Konings S, Beijer M, Verkerk K, Koes BW,Verhagen AP. Is manipulative therapy more effective than sham manipulation in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Chiropr Man Therap. 2013 Oct 2;21(1):34. PMID: 24274314
- Holden R, Holden J. Music: a better alternative than pain? The British Journal of General Practice. 2013;63(615):536.
- Nehlig A. The neuroprotective effects of cocoa flavanol and its influence on cognitive performance. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2013;75(3):716-727.
- Han JS. Acupuncture and endorphins. Neurosci Lett. 2004 May 6;361(1-3):258-61. PMID: 15135942
- Schwarz L, Kindermann W. Changes in beta-endorphin levels in response to aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Sports Med. 1992 Jan;13(1):25-36. PMID: 1553453
- Woodyard C. Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. International Journal of Yoga. 2011;4(2):49-54.
- Yim J. Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. Tohoku J Exp Med. 2016;239(3):243-9. PMID: 27439375