03 May 2009

Getting high off endorphins

I used to listen to this incredibly motivated motivational speaker years ago who was always talking about how you need to exercise daily to "release endorphins". The endorphins would make you high. Then you'd feel completely fantastic. And all your greatest creative ideas would enter your brain.

What the heck are these endorphins anyway? Well, they are your body’s own natural painkillers (1) and they are distributed throughout the brain stem binding to receptors. The drug, morphine, attaches to the same receptors to dull pain (1). The name endorphin, in fact, comes from “endogenous morphinelike substance” (1).

So, what about exercise? Anything to it? Yes. I was able to find in quite a few studies that exercise, almost any kind, does increase endorphin levels in the blood (2-7). In fact, a study in 1995 showed that when compared to meditation, running was more effective for releasing endorphins (7).To get the most potent pain-killing buzz from your workout, do high-intensity exercise to reach your anaerobic threshold. Anaerobic exercise promotes greater endorphin release than aerobic exercise (2). (Although the workout might come back to haunt you with pain later.) It was thought that lactic acid played a role in causing endorphin release, but this theory has been challenged (8).

Also, you don’t have to exercise for natural pain relief. There are other ways. Exposure to cold appears to stimulate endorphin release and a huge amount of electrical impulses to the brain (9). This led to one hypothesis that taking a cold shower daily may be useful to help those with depression (9). Electroacupuncture can help stimulate endorphin release, which may explain why it may be a good complementary treatment for pain (10).Massage therapy is also thought to stimulate endorphin release, but its effects are not proven (2).

It’s worth noting that in patients with heart failure, a functional disability includes decreased release of endorphins during exercise (11).

Reference List
1. Nowak TJ, Handford AG. Pathophysiology: Concepts and Applications for Health Professionals. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004.
2. Bender T, Nagy G, Barna I, Tefner I, Kadas E, Geher P. The effect of physical therapy on beta-endorphin levels. Eur J Appl Physiol 2007;100:371-82.
3. Armstrong DW, III, Hatfield BD. Hormonal responses to opioid receptor blockade: during rest and exercise in cold and hot environments. Eur J Appl Physiol 2006;97:43-51.
4. Harbach H, Hell K, Gramsch C, Katz N, Hempelmann G, Teschemacher H. Beta-endorphin (1-31) in the plasma of male volunteers undergoing physical exercise. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2000;25:551-62.
5. Jarmukli NF, Ahn J, Iranmanesh A, Russell DC. Effect of raised plasma beta endorphin concentrations on peripheral pain and angina thresholds in patients with stable angina. Heart 1999;82:204-9.
6. Goldfarb AH, Jamurtas AZ. Beta-endorphin response to exercise. An update. Sports Med 1997;24:8-16.
7. Harte JL, Eifert GH, Smith R. The effects of running and meditation on beta-endorphin, corticotropin-releasing hormone and cortisol in plasma, and on mood. Biol Psychol 1995;40:251-65.
8. Petrides JS, Deuster PA, Mueller GP. Lactic acid does not directly activate hypothalamic-pituitary corticotroph function. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 1999;220:100-5.
9. Shevchuk NA. Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression. Med Hypotheses 2008;70:995-1001.
10. Lee SH, Lee BC. Electroacupuncture relieves pain in men with chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome: three-arm randomized trial. Urology 2009;73:1036-41.
11. Perna GP, Modoni S, Valle G, Stanislao M, Loperfido F. Plasma beta-endorphin response to exercise in patients with congestive heart failure. Chest 1997;111:19-22.

Alternative treatment for Parkinson's

How is it that a traditional Ayurvedic medicine like Mucuna pruriens can be more effective than regular synthetic levodopa for Parkinson’s?

Many reasons, apparently. The botanical with natural L-DOPA appears to actually help restore endogenous levels of endogenous levodopa, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin in the substantia nigra (1). And, unlike synthetic levodapa, it doesn’t produce DNA damage (2). The neuroprotective effects are thought to come from copper-chelation properties (2). One clinical trial on 60 patients with Parkinson’s disease taking Mucuna pruriens reported that adverse effects were limited to only gastrointestinal issues, not lab reports (3).

Reference List

1. Manyam BV, Dhanasekaran M, Hare TA. Neuroprotective effects of the antiparkinson drug Mucuna pruriens. Phytother Res 2004;18:706-12.
2. Tharakan B, Dhanasekaran M, Mize-Berge J, Manyam BV. Anti-Parkinson botanical Mucuna pruriens prevents levodopa induced plasmid and genomic DNA damage. Phytother Res 2007;21:1124-6.
3. An alternative medicine treatment for Parkinson's disease: results of a multicenter clinical trial. HP-200 in Parkinson's Disease Study Group. J Altern Complement Med 1995;1:249-55.

It's finals week and you've got a tension headache

Got a tension headache? Don’t want to take an analgesic like aspirin or acetaminophen? You might try electroacupuncture. Sound like something out of sci-fi novel? Electroacupuncture is used widely in China; it’s just like acupuncture, but in which the needles deliver electrical pulses between therm. And according to a randomized, controlled, crossover trial in 2004, it can provide some effective relief for a tension headache, albeit only short-term (1).

Get headaches way too often? You might as well take poison. No, seriously! The same neurotoxic dinoflagellate contaminant that produces shellfish poisoning, and even botulinum toxin, could be injected to impede nerve impulse causing headache pain to provide significant relief (2-4).

Reference List
1. Xue CC, Dong L, Polus B et al. Electroacupuncture for tension-type headache on distal acupoints only: a randomized, controlled, crossover trial. Headache 2004;44:333-41.
2. Lattes K, Venegas P, Lagos N et al. Local infiltration of gonyautoxin is safe and effective in treatment of chronic tension-type headache. Neurol Res 2009;31:228-33.
3. de Ru JA, Buwalda J. Botulinum toxin A injection into corrugator muscle for frontally localised chronic daily headache or chronic tension-type headache. J Laryngol Otol 2009;123:412-7.
4. Freund BJ, Schwartz M. Relief of tension-type headache symptoms in subjects with temporomandibular disorders treated with botulinum toxin-A. Headache 2002;42:1033-7.