What Is the Connection between Endorphins and Serotonin?

Synthia L. Rose

Endorphins and serotonin are two of the six main neurotransmitters produced naturally by the brain. They are responsible for modulating mood and brain chemistry. Known as inhibitory brain chemicals, they can inhibit feelings ranging from pain to pleasure. At high levels, they prevent pain and sadness, while low levels of these natural chemicals tend to inhibit positive feelings. The pituitary gland produces endorphins, while the thyroid gland produces serotonin; production of the two chemicals is often correlated so that elevating endorphin levels can produce a natural rise in serotonin levels.

Endorphins and serotonin are both neurotransmitters in the brain.
Endorphins and serotonin are both neurotransmitters in the brain.

While both endorphins and serotonin are known for boosting emotions, serotonin produces a milder effect, causing happiness and feelings of security. Endorphins, on the other hand, are a more intense form of pleasure, sparking such intense reactions as euphoria and ecstasy, depending on the amount of endorphins circulating in the bloodstream at any given time. At low levels, endorphins can produce the mild effects of relaxation and joy, similar to those produced by serotonin.

Running releases endorphins.
Running releases endorphins.

The amounts of endorphins and serotonin in circulation in the body are different for everyone and are highly affected by physical activity and nutrition. Strenuous exercise can raise levels of both substances, although endorphins are more likely to be triggered and released by exercise, research shows. Physical activities ranging from running to sexual intercourse are known for stimulating endorphin production.

The thyroid gland produces serotonin.
The thyroid gland produces serotonin.

Highly susceptible to food intake, serotonin production can also be triggered by carbohydrate-based foods, such as pasta and grains. Serotonin released after eating these starches can produce calming effects and a sense of comfort and wellness. In the presence of excess carbohydrates, so much serotonin can be released that the eater feels overly sedated and sleepy. With a dearth of serotonin, however, stress, anxiety, frustration and aggression can result — as is sometimes the case with too few endorphins. Drugs can also trigger the production of serotonin, leading to drug addiction; when the body is too low on serotonin, cravings for starchy foods or drugs may result.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which is a type of molecule that carries signals across nerve junctions, or synapses.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which is a type of molecule that carries signals across nerve junctions, or synapses.

A few foods are known to spike the release of endorphins because they contain the alkaloid theobromine. Mainly found in the cacao bean, the kola nut and in certain tea leaves, theobromine exists at high levels in certain chocolate bars, hot cocoa or chocolate ice creams. Carbonated cola drinks with kola nut as a main ingredient can also trigger production of endorphins.

Endorphins and serotonin are responsible for mood and brain chemistry.
Endorphins and serotonin are responsible for mood and brain chemistry.

The positive mood effects of endorphins and serotonin have resulted in these neurotransmitters being manipulated in both traditional and alternative medicine. Mainstream doctors often prescribe certain foods, supplements or activities to elevate endorphins and serotonin in people suffering from manic depression or schizophrenia. Some studies show these natural chemicals can be as effective as prescription medication for curing depression. In alternative medicine, acupuncture is often used to stimulate production of these feel-good chemicals in emotionally despondent patients.

Serotonin is produced by the thyroid gland.
Serotonin is produced by the thyroid gland.
Eating certain foods, such as chocolate, can release endorphins in the brain and cause a feeling of comfort.
Eating certain foods, such as chocolate, can release endorphins in the brain and cause a feeling of comfort.
Carbonated cola drinks with kola nut as a main ingredient can trigger production of endorphins.
Carbonated cola drinks with kola nut as a main ingredient can trigger production of endorphins.
Endorphins are produced in the pituitary gland.
Endorphins are produced in the pituitary gland.

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Discussion Comments

literally45

@fBoyle-- I don't think it's good to have lower than normal or higher than normal levels of neurotransmitters, but I'm not a doctor.

There are many neurotransmitters and chemicals in our body and they're all connected. I don't think doctors and scientists know fully how they all interact with one another. Plus, there are different varieties of each neurotransmitter. I think there are more than a dozen different types of endorphins. I don't know how many different types of serotonin there are, but I know that serotonin exists in different places. For example, we also have serotonin in our heart.

Most people think that endorphins and serotonin only affect our mood and feelings, but that's not the case. They're important for different systems in our body and help our organs function. It's not just about the brain.

So having very high levels of endorphins and serotonin might be harmful for various functions in our body, just as very low levels would be. I'm not an expert though, so don't quote me on this.

fBoyle

So should we aim for high levels of both endorphins and serotonin for mental health?

SteamLouis

As far as I know, endorphin is the body's natural pain killer. Serotonin just makes us feel happy. They may be connected in that one may lead to the production of the other, but they function differently.

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