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Medical Why do endorphins feel good?

  1. Jul 16, 2010 #1

    Why do endorphins feel good? Why does it feel good to be a particular arrangement of matter such as a brain + endorphins? What is the difference between an arrangement that feels bad and an arrangement that feels good that makes them feel bad and feel good respectively?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 17, 2010 #2
    It may not be satisfying, but it feels good because that's how we're built. We have receptors for endorphins, which when triggered cause that "good feeling". The endorphins themselves only function as "keys" to these receptors, which is why opiates and opioids can do much the same. Dopamine in particular is what we run on as a reward system, but there is nothing special about it, except that we've evolved to want it.
  4. Jul 22, 2010 #3
    Yes endorphins are compounds which are the endogenous analogs to heroin, morphine etc. People feel good when they smoke opium or inject heroin and they feel good when the body secretes endorphins (typically in response to stress/injury). Its a lock and key analogy for sure, any chemical compound with the appropriate comformation will 'fit' into the cell receptor to initiate a cascade of intra and intercellular effects which eventually culminate in the 'feel good.'

    It is important to note that feeling good is a subjective perception. Science can explain a lot of things but we still really have no clue how a bunch of chemicals attaching to cell receptors and electrical impulses zooming around the brain culminate in our awareness, perception, consciousness and so on. We can break down the Physics, (Bio-)Chemistry, Anatomy and Physiology, Pharmacology etc., of the structure of the chemical, how it may have an affinity for a certain receptor, or why it may have a certain conformation. We can even figure out what is really happening in the cell once the chemical 'fits' into the receptor. However we cannot really say how all of that stuff comes together into the 'human experience'/'feel good' perception we have.

    Take any drug for instance. We pretty much know about their effects, what cells/receptors/neurotransmitters they may mimic or inhibit or what-have-you. But how does taking, say, LSD make you trip out? Why do many people feel good and 'see god,' while others have psychotic breakdowns or 'bad trips?' Or how about the interesting things that happen with mood without drug involvement? Ever had a bad day and be very grumpy, then you are in your car (or wherever) and hear a great song or a good joke and suddenly you 'feel good/better?' Maybe you start laughing until you have tears coming out of your eyes, or maybe you get the cold chills that sometimes accompany hearing a good song at a certain time? You can, maybe (I haven't really looked), find some literature out there that studies these phenomenon that will break it down into release of neurotransmitters in specific portions of your brain or up/downregulation or some sort of protein or what-have-you, however we will never really know how all that 'chemical/electrical soup' translates into our 'feel good' perceptions as the human experience/consciousness is said to be an emergent property.
  5. Jul 24, 2010 #4
    This is all true, what Yanick is saying, but it still comes down to: It feels good because that's how we're built. It feels good for the same reason that something which is bitter or spicy to a human doesn't register for a bird. Even if you define euphoria and good to everyone's satisfaction, we could be rigged for other endogenous transmitters to perform the same task. This is just a case of chemical wiring, barring the complications of what feeling "good" is.
  6. Jul 26, 2010 #5
    I like this question; I think it should be moved to the philosophy section, though. CosmicVoyager, you have stumbled upon what philosophers call the "hard problem of consciousness." The "easy problem" is figuring out what is happening physically, which neurotransmitters do what, how neural circuits work, etc. The hard problem is almost impossible to explain, however.

    Here's a question for anyone who knows: if dopamine is used to reward almost every evolutionarily advantageous behavior (sex, eating, sleep, etc.), why do they all feel so different? Why does the emotional thrill of sex feel totally different from that of feasting on a big fat steak if it's dopamine rewarding us in both cases?
  7. Jul 26, 2010 #6
    A measly hydroxyl group, if you can believe it. Stick a hydroxyl group on one of dopamine's carbon atoms, and you get norepinephrine, a stress hormone. Isn't it amazing ... just add an oxygen and a hydrogen atom, and you get a totally different sensation. I'm amazed sometimes that synthetics drugs are ever similar enough to serve as agonists for existing neurotransmitters and hormones, considering how molecularly similar those neurotransmitters and hormones already are.

  8. Jul 26, 2010 #7
    Yeah, it really puts a whole new spin on the "round peg in the round hole" game. It really makes someone appreciate truly powerful drugs such as naloxone which block opiate receptors without having an agonist effect. Neurochemistry is a study in shapes, charges, and other goodies.
  9. Jul 26, 2010 #8
    Sometimes it makes sense: naloxone and morphine look very similar to me. But LSD is supposed to be a serotonin agonist, and its molecular structure looks very different from that of serotonin. Interesting stuff. I'm really hoping to take neurochem at some point.
  10. Jul 27, 2010 #9
    If you have the chance I certainly hope that you do; it's very enlightening and a lot of fun, even if it isn't the direction your career takes you in.
  11. Aug 14, 2010 #10
    Could it be that it does nothing more than inhibit adrenaline response by virtue of the fact that adrenaline responds to basically any variation, especially when the variation involves coming short of something expected to be present? Adrenaline causes muscle tension, which is sometimes necessary, but reduces oxygen levels, etc. Basically, it seems like your body is programmed to tighten up in response to external challenges and to relax and "recharge" when the challenge has been dealt with. Maybe endorphins act as a stabilizing factor to resist adrenaline response even in situations where it is triggered, allowing you to "keep cool under pressure." Sorry if this sounds like speculation - treat it as a question rather than an answer. I.e. Would this make sense?

    Probably because they involve different configurations of sensations. Also, psychologically there are different amounts of repression, taboo, and transcendence going on. Eating only involves a short period of fasting and the only taboo is not to "spoil your appetite." Sexual expression, on the other hand, requires overcoming taboos and intense social regulation of where, how, and with whom gratification can take place, which can result in prolonged periods of sexual "fasting" and adrenaline-saturated brushes with sexual boundaries.
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