Emotional Wellness - The Endorphins and Serotonin Connection

By Tess Thompson

To understand whether there is a connection between emotional wellness, endorphins and serotonin at all, it is important to understand what endorphins and serotonin are. It is also important to understand their role in the complex functions of the body.

Endorphin is a neurochemical, an organic substance that occurs in neural activity. Serotonin, on the other hand, is a neurotransmitter, a neurochemical that transmits nerve signals across a synapse (the junction between two neurons or a neuron and a muscle).

Endorphins are produced during strenuous exercise by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in the brain that controls the autonomic nervous system, the system responsible for involuntary actions including a sense of emotional wellness. The term endorphin is derived from endogenous and morphine, implying that it is a morphine-like substance that is derived from within the body. Endorphins have analgesic properties and their action is similar to that of opiates. Its action in the body is also similar to a corticosteroid biochemical.

There are differing opinions about the level of exercise required for the release of endorphins in the body. Runner’s high, a much publicized phenomenon, is believed to occur when a person crosses a threshold, (when breathing becomes difficult). This phenomenon is known to activate the production of endorphins to deal with the stress and pain caused during arduous exercise. The contrarian’s view, however, is that the feeling of emotional wellness comes from accomplishment rather than from exertion.

Serotonin is synthesized within serotonergic (relating to serotonin) neurons in the central nervous system. It plays an important role in certain physical and emotional responses. It is actively involved in anger, aggression, mood swings, sleep, vomiting, sexuality and appetite. Serotonin also a peripheral signal mediator and is found in the gastrointestinal tract. Stimulants and antidepressants like SSRI can terminate the uptake of serotonin thus restricting its action in the body. The effect of neurotransmitters like serotonin on human moods, state of mind and consciousness is difficult to ascertain. But the therapeutic modulation caused by drugs suggests that serotonin has an effect on a large part of the brain that is responsible for overall emotional wellness.

The study of the human brain is a subject matter of neuroscientists but the human mind is a mystery that still defies all logic. Neuroscientists are involved in finding a link between brain chemicals and neurotransmitters and human behavior and emotions. Philosophers, on the other hand, have been trying for ages to rationalize and develop theories with regards to emotion. Despite scientific research and theories, moods, mood swings, emotional distress or wellness are still far from being explained completely.



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