We all want to feel good, and many people turn to outside sources to produce those feelings. Those sources can include alcohol, prescription medications (anti-depressants or anti-anxiety drugs), illegal drugs, food, and other sources that ultimately rob of us health.
However, it only takes a little bit of work to produce our own feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins. Endorphins not only make us feel better, they’re also very beneficial to the body and the brain and usually work in conjunction with other beneficial chemicals our bodies make.
Endorphins are important to immunity and neurology and some studies suggest chronic conditions are in part a result of low endorphins. Low endorphins are linked with alcohol fetal exposure, alcoholism, drug abuse, anxiety, depression, and chronic psychological stress.
How endorphins help the brain
Endorphins are neurotransmitters that facilitate communication between neurons. They also interact with opioid receptors in the brain in a similar way to morphine or codeine to reduce our perception of pain.
But they also do so much more. The most beloved benefit of endorphins is they produce feelings of euphoria. This is the “high” people get from exercise.
They regulate appetite hormones and sex hormones and enhance immunity. They also help with fibromyalgia, headaches, and chronic headaches.
Best of all, endorphins have been shown to help reduce depression. Here are some ways to boost your endorphin levels:
- Strenuous exercise. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way to boost endorphins and other chemicals that help your brain, including brain derived neurotrophic factor and nitric oxide. The beauty of HIIT is that it can be adapted to your fitness level.
- Acupuncture or massage therapy
- Healthy socialization
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and brain health
Another weapon against depression you already have in your arsenal is brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is an anti-inflammatory brain chemical that promotes growth of new neurons. It plays a major role in memory formation and storage, and has also been shown to play a role in relieving depression.
The most well-known way to boost BDNF is through high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Even just a few minutes a day of HIIT can boost BDNF levels, meaning you don’t have to be a hardcore athlete to reap the benefits of this brain chemical.
Whereas a post-exercise endorphin rush gives you immediate and obvious results, the key to promoting BDNF levels is consistent exercise that gets your heart rate up — best brain results from BDNF occur a few months after consistent exercise. Shoot for an exercise program that you can do every day and keep going lifelong.
Below are a few ways endorphins, BDNF, and other chemicals the body naturally makes can improve your brain health:
- Prevention of cognitive decline
- Protects you from neurodegeneration that causes disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Alleviates depression
- Boosts intelligence
- Improves learning and memory
- Improves creative thinking
- Grows new neurons in the hippocampus, the seat of learning and memory in the brain
- Prevents addiction
- Increases pain threshold
- Improves attention
- Reduces inflammation
- Improves brain plasticity, the ability of the brain to learn new things
Endorphins and BDNF are just a couple of factors to consider when you are looking to manage depression, anxiety, fatigue, memory loss, brain fog, and other brain-based symptoms.
Other things to consider include gluten sensitivity, food intolerances, chemical intolerances, quality of diet, leaky gut, inflammation, nutritional status, brain health, and more.
For more information about managing your depression, memory loss, and other brain-based symptoms, contact my office.