Group of friends release endorphins with laughter

How to Release Endorphins: 11 Natural Ways

Published: March 2022

Ellen DeGeneres described endorphins as "tiny little magical elves that swim through your blood stream and tell funny jokes to each other. When they reach your brain, you hear what they're saying and that boosts your health and happiness."

While the comedian's definition of endorphins doesn't quite match what you'll find in a biology textbook, she's certainly on to something when she speaks of these hormones' "magical" power to support your health and happiness.

So what are endorphins, and how can you get more of these happiness-inducing little "elves" in your life? Follow these health tips...and let the feel-good moments begin!

What do endorphins do?

Endorphins are a type of neurotransmitter (brain chemical) produced by your central nervous system and have been linked to feelings of pleasure, often triggered by laughter, love, good food, and sex. They are also our body's natural painkillers, offsetting everything from childbirth pain to muscle exhaustion during exercise with a rush of good feelings and energy.

Are endorphins good for you?

Let's clear up one thing right off the bat: endorphins are absolutely beneficial for your mental and physical health! They're mood-boosting, they minimize discomfort, they help you manage stress, and they increase pleasure. In fact, we think of them as happy hormones—not unlike dopamine and serotonin.

So, if you can find natural ways to help your brain create and release more endorphins, you'll feel better and get more enjoyment out of life.

Which parts of the brain release endorphins?

The pituitary gland—a small gland at the base of your brain—is largely responsible for releasing endorphins. The hypothalamus—which is just above the pituitary gland—also plays a role in this process. (This is also where some of your body's dopamine production occurs.)

ß-endorphin (read as "beta-endorphin") specifically is the most prevalent and widely studied type of endorphin. Your body uses it primarily to relieve occasional pain and stress and maintain a sense of homeostasis.

What are the benefits of endorphins?

Endorphins are so powerful because they're a natural, safe way of feeling better. These neurotransmitters can relieve discomfort and boost your mood.

What happens when endorphins are released?

Couple dancing releases endorphins

Endorphin release is associated with what science calls analgesic—or painkilling—effects. Endorphins can even produce a sense of euphoria. Think of that feeling you get from eating a spicy meal. Do you ever notice how afterwards you feel a burst of satisfaction, peace, and happiness? Those are your endorphins at work.

Endorphins even work alongside the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which also contributes to the effects they have on your body, including that "feel-good" effect that follows an exercise session. The ECS plays a role in critical functions like learning/memory and sleep. It also helps support a healthy inflammatory response and manage occasional discomfort, and benefits your emotional processing.

How to boost endorphins naturally: 11 ways

Now that you're well acquainted with the many important benefits of endorphins, let's talk about how to release endorphins naturally. Fortunately, you have lots of options, and almost all of them are readily available to you, every day!

1. Music

There's a reason why dance parties never fail to make you feel better: research says that singing, dancing, and playing music can help to trigger a release of endorphins. Next time you're feeling down, crank the music up and move your body!

2. Meditation

Maybe you're already aware that meditation is good for you. But did you know that it can prompt an elevation in endorphins? This is why meditation can help calm your mind (which will happen when you finally manage to reduce those racing thoughts!) allowing you to experience a more peaceful state.

3. Exercise

Woman exercising to release endorphins

Physical activity is one of the ultimate endorphin-producers. One study from 2017 found that 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise produced feelings of euphoria connected to endorphin signaling. Another study using rats as the test subject found that after their exercise routine, their endorphin levels were elevated.

What kind of exercise program is best at boosting endorphins? It doesn't really matter: the point is to get your body moving. So, whether you're lifting weights, running around the block, or swimming laps, you'll feel the mood-enhancing benefits of endorphins.

4. Hugs

A good hug always makes the day better, and it's because physical contact can trigger an endorphin release, not unlike oxytocin—another hormone that your pituitary gland releases.

If you need a little pick-me-up, hug someone you love or cuddle with your significant other and enjoy the endorphin rush.

5. Massages

Like we said, hugging and physical contact are a great way to boost endorphin production. Massage is, as well. As an added bonus, massage is excellent for helping your muscles recover more quickly after exercise, which can further improve your sense of wellness.

6. Acupuncture

Acupuncture involves placing very fine needles into specific pressure points. Research says that this can help increase endorphin levels. People seek acupuncture for everything from their back to their joints to digestion to managing stress–and it's largely because of the release of endorphins that this ancient art has so many loyal fans.

7. Sunlight

A little vitamin D can do the mind and body good. Spending time in the sunshine can help to release beta-endorphins from the skin. As an added bonus, sunlight is important for your serotonin and dopamine levels, too.

8. Laughter

You know what they say: laughter is the best medicine. Laughing can trigger endorphins as well as dopamine and serotonin.

9. Acts of kindness

A surefire way to feel better is to spread kindness to others. Studies have shown that acts of kindness can release both endorphins and oxytocin. Whether it's paying for the coffee for the person in front of you or checking in on your elderly neighbor to make sure they're okay, doing something nice for someone else can make you both feel really good!

10. Inhalation aromatherapy

Aromatherapy can be incredibly soothing, and science actually says that it can promote endorphin release. It might support better sleep, comfort levels, and management of stress. As always, be sure to shop with reputable brands that offer high-quality aromatherapy oils.

11. Sex

You've likely experienced that after spending some intimate time with that special someone, you're in a state of bliss. Research suggests that endorphins help encourage the release of other hormones, and this is what makes us feel in love with another person.

What foods release endorphins?

Loving couple sharing pizza on the couch

In addition to the above activities, certain foods can boost your mood by encouraging the release of those feel-good chemicals.

Dark chocolate

There's a reason why whenever you're feeling down, you reach for something sweet. If you're going this route, aim for something that is made of 70% cacao or higher and let yourself indulge.

Spicy peppers

Sometimes, you need something sweet. Other times, go spicy. Spicy foods are known to trigger endorphins. This is because they contain capsaicin, which binds to your TRPV1 receptors. This, in turn, triggers a message of heat to the brain. In response, the brain releases endorphins.

Wasabi

Similarly, the allyl isothiocyanate in wasabi can activate TRPV1 receptors as well. This is why, when you eat wasabi, you might experience what some people call a "spicy high."

The best supplements for endorphins

Woman taking supplements for an endorphin boost

If you're looking for an endorphin boost, which supplements can best help you get there? Here are some suggestions for how to support healthy endorphin levels with supplements, all of which will complement regular exercise, a healthy diet, and other lifestyle changes you've made that support mental health and overall well-being.

L-theanine supplements

In one study using rats, L-theanine significantly affected their pain thresholds, suggesting that supplementing with it can help relieve minor discomforts.

B vitamins

Because endorphins are large proteins, your metabolism needs to be able to synthesize them. B vitamins play an important role in your metabolic health and can thus aid in this process. You will also find vitamin B in dopamine supplements, like Life Extension's Dopamine Advantage, which contains a neurologically active form of vitamin B12.

Vitamin D

You already know that getting some sunshine can release endorphins. It's no surprise, then, that vitamin D can keep you feeling good.

Ginkgo biloba

In one study using rats, ginkgo biloba supported their pain threshold. While this study wasn't specifically looking at endorphins, generally, ginkgo biloba supplements have antioxidant properties and also support a healthy inflammatory response and brain function. It's a common nootropic supplement.

Vitamin C

Research says that vitamin C modulates the release of endorphins. You can easily supplement with vitamin C or try to obtain it directly from your diet.

Quick facts: what releases the most endorphins?

While there's no universally accepted answer, exercise is often your best bet. It's easy to get your body moving, you can do it anytime and anywhere, and it offers a number of other physical and mental health benefits.

Remember that "exercise" doesn't have to mean spending two hours at the gym. You can get the feel-good benefits of physical activity simply by running after your kids, going for a walk, or doing yoga in your living room.

About the Author: Megan Grant has a degree in communications from University of Michigan. She has been writing professionally for 15 years, with a focus on nutrition, fitness, and general health. A lifelong competitive athlete, she's fascinated by how the human body responds to food and movement.

References

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD

By: Megan Grant