Ruminations on Serotonin and Endorphins

Serotonin and Endorphins

There is sex. There is bi-polar disorder. There is porn. There is the mystical notion that we are energetic beings, at times filled with juice, and at times running on empty. There is happiness and sadness, love and hate. There is bio-electricity (chi energy) and bio-chemistry (including brain chemistry).

And there is little ole’ me, sitting in the midst of this East-meets-West melange of information, trying to make sense of it all.

The other day I stumbled upon a good-feeling porn-addition site called (I am not a porn addict: I am interested in the explosion of porn in our society from an intellectual point of view.) The doctors there write that porn and other unhealthy sexual activities (i.e., phone sex with strangers) increase serotonin in the brain, thus producing a natural high to which the porn user gets addicted. This is why, they say, it is so difficult to break the porn habit.

Serotonin… serotonin… Wait, I’ve heard that term. I Google it:

“An indoleamine neurotransmitter, 5-hydroxytryptamine, that is involved in depression, appetite, etc., and is crucial in maintaining a sense of well-being, security, etc.” [1]

My memory kicks in. Depression results from, in part, low serotonin levels. In fact, many anti-depressants (God bless psycho-pharmacology) work by raising the serotonin level in the blood (and by implication, the brain, although technically, there is no way of measuring the actual amount of serotonin in the brain at any given time [2]).

Suddenly, a paradox pops into my mind: there are two methods for increasing serotonin in the brain. One (taking anti-depressants such as Prozac) is judged as responsibly taking care of one’s psychological disease. The other (watching porn) is judged as being addicted to a bad thing.

Of course, there are all kinds of moral, ethical, religious, and feminist objections to porn. And, I would argue, there are all kinds of economic, multi-national corporate, and medical objections to taking Prozac. To further complicate things, depression is a complex illness.

But the fact remains: in at least one important way, at the brain chemistry level, both watching porn and taking Prozac has the same effect. The level of serotonin increases.

Suddenly, a new question comes to mind: are there other activities which raise serotonin levels? It turns out there are many studies which show that meditation does so. [3] Acupuncture boosts serotonin levels throughout the body. As a result, it’s often used to treat mood issues such as anxiety or depression and to elevate energy levels throughout the body. [4]

There are also many studies which show that qigong (an ancient Chinese form of exercise) increases serotonin and endorphin levels. [5] The following is quoted from a study entitled, “Influences of Wujijinggong on Blood Serotonin and Beta-endorphin Concentrations:”

“The purpose of this study is to measure the endocrine responses caused by ‘wujijinggong’ training, which is one kind of health-qigong. Blood sample were taken three times, right before and after the qigong training and 30 minutes later. In the trained group the concentrations of noradrenaline, serotonin and beta-endorphin increased significantly. On the other hand, in the untrained group the measured hormone concentrations did not show any significant change. These results suggest that wujijinggong might have an effect on both physical conditions and mentality in the trained.” [6]

Meditation, acupuncture, and qigong are all activities which are known to increase the amount of chi energy in the body-mind-Being (within the Eastern world-view). Given this fact, it seems reasonable to postulate a direct correlation between the amount of chi energy and the amount of serotonin in the body at any given moment.

Put another way, the hypothesis is this: consciousness (chi) effects biochemistry.

There is evidence to support this hypothesis. Norman Cousins offered a case study which showed that laughter helped cure Anklyosing Spondylitis, a collagen illness that attacks the connective tissues of the body. [7] There has also been research which shows that psychotherapy (an activity which effects both the emotional and energetic states of being) effects biochemistry. [8]

Winding back around to serotonin, I offer another piece of data to consider: the neurotransmitter is produced in the pineal gland. This gland has long been associated with all things spiritual.

Upon further research, I find a couple of articles which provide a long list of things one can do to boost serotonin and endorphin levels. They include:

* laugh more (echoing back to Mr. Cousins);
* take in the sunlight;
* make love;
* get a massage;
* take St. John’s Wort and 5-HTP;
* exercise (the “runner’s high” is caused by the release of endorphins);
* eat healthy, high carb meals;
* eat chocolate (good quality, high cacao-content is best);
* eat pineapple, banana, nuts and plums (these foods naturally contain serotonin);
* take B vitamins, folic acid, and vitamin C (they help the neurotransmitters work);
* eat spicy foods like chili peppers. [9]

In conclusion, let us thank the brain chemists for discovering the importance of serotonin and endorphins. And — let us take advantage of all of the natural ways to increase the levels of these vital neurotransmitters.

Have a blissful day!



(All web cites valid as of March 2, 2011)

[1] Serotonin

[2] Cannot measure serotonin in brain

[3] Meditation and serotonin

[4] Acupuncture and serotonin There are many studies which provide evidence for this statement.  The title of one study:  “Acupuncture Stimulates the Release of Serotonin, but Not Dopamine, in the Rat Nucleus Accumbens”

[5] “Endorphins are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters. They … resemble the opiates in their abilities to produce a feeling of well-being.”  Cite for definition

[6] QiGong

[7] Norman Cousins

[8] Psychotherapy effects biochemistry

[9] Things which increase serotonin and endorphin levels

About musingsofadisciple

What is essential to say? My name is Prahas. I have worked in the arts, in technology, and in business. I spent ten years in a school of meditation. Love.
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