What Are Endorphins? - Definition, Types & Function

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Cellular Respiration: Energy Transfer in Cells

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 What Are Endorphins?
  • 1:10 Function of Endorphins…
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

Endorphins are chemicals in the brain that act as natural analgesics. Athletes may know them as the cause of runner's high. Learn more about these natural painkillers and quiz yourself when you are done.

What Are Endorphins?

Have you ever subjected yourself to a workout that was so difficult you thought you might not survive? Perhaps you began training toward a goal such as a marathon or triathlon. At first it may have seemed impossible. But training became easier and soon even enjoyable. And finally, you experienced it: the rush of pleasure known as runner's high. You experienced a feeling of euphoria, as if your feet weren't even touching the ground. That natural high is caused by chemicals released in the brain called endorphins.

Endorphins are the body's very own natural analgesics, or painkillers. They are released during times of stress and pain. They also rush forth during strenuous exercise, often causing a wave of pleasure to come over the individual. This is why exercise feels to many like a good stress release and puts a person in a good mood. Endorphins function in the brain similarly to opium-based drugs, such as morphine. In this lesson, learn more about the importance of these brain chemicals and gain a better understanding of how they work.

Function of Endorphins in the Body

Endorphins cause a natural feeling of pleasure that many people seek out in the form of street drugs and prescription painkillers. It may come as a surprise to you that endorphins use the same receptors in the brain as heroin and morphine. However, endorphins are not harmful nor are they addictive like the aforementioned substances. And lucky for you, endorphin release comes from positive activities, such as hard exercise or laughter.

So how do they work to make us feel good? Let's take a brief look at how our nervous system works in order to better understand. Chemically, endorphins are neurotransmitters. This means that they are chemical messengers employed by our nervous system. Neurotransmitters are important because they bridge the gaps, or synapses, between neurons. When impulses are traveling along neurons, neurotransmitters carry the signal from one neuron to the next, like a child hopping across a stream on large rocks.

Now think back to the marathon training we were talking about. You are feeling the pain in your legs and burning in your chest. The sensation of pain is moving from your body parts to your brain via impulses conducted along nerves in your nervous system. Like a note being passed in class from student to student, the communication that says, 'this hurts,' is transmitted to the brain along a series of neurons.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account