Endorphins are a type of hormone in the brain responsible for relieving pain, and are associated with the brain's pleasure center. Since endorphins are similar to morphine in structure, high levels of endorphins are usually associated with pain relief and euphoria. Certain foods and lifestyle habits can naturally raise endorphins, promoting feelings of contentment and a temporary high similar to, but much milder and safer than a high driven by synthetic opiates.
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Hot, Spicy Foods
Eating spicy foods, such as hot peppers, is associated with a release of endorphins. This relationship is thought to be due to capsaicin, a chemical compound responsible for giving spicy food its “hot” quality. According to a study published in 2012 in “Psychiatry Investigation,” rats treated with capsaicin showed increased opioid activity in the brain, indicating a release of endorphins 20 minutes after initial consumption. Try adding crushed red pepper or cayenne pepper to a dish to make it spicier and to encourage endorphin release.
Chocolate may have mood benefits beyond the reward of its sweet taste. Cocoa and chocolate both contain compounds known as tryptophan and anandamide, which are associated with decreased anxiety and higher endorphin production. Eating chocolate triggers a release of endorphins, which in turn generate feelings of bliss. Dark chocolate is also a quality source of antioxidants such as flavonoids, which can help prevent cancer and chronic diseases, so don’t feel guilty about occasionally indulging for the endorphin rush.
Ginseng, a root used as an ingredient in some foods and beverages, is another dietary route to increased endorphin levels. According to a study published in 2006 in “Planta Medica,” a characteristic compound found in panax ginseng simultaneously lowers blood glucose and raises endorphins in rats. Ginseng is often found in herbal teas and energy drinks.
In addition to endorphin stimulation through food, it is possible to release endorphins through intense physical movement. The most commonly known activity in this realm is exercise, responsible for producing the post-exercise “high” that many runners and other athletes acknowledge. Sexual intercourse is also associated with a powerful release of endorphins. Almost any type of intense physical activity is capable of facilitating endorphin production.