Definition, function and effect
As endorphins are a group of opiods that reduce the sensation of pain in humans. The term "endorphin" derives from that of the "endogenous morphine" (endogenous = coming from within), and indicates the fact that the human organism synthesizes these opioid peptides themselves.
In essence, three types of endorphins are distinguished: alpha endorphins, beta endorphins, and gamma endorphins. The picture on the right shows an example of an alpha endorphin (C60H89N15O13) chemically represented.
The spinal cord is the first switch in pain in the human body. All sensations are directed to a spinal cord, and from there to a brain. In a second step, the brain interprets these signals and decides whether or not the stimulus is "painfully pernicious". In dangerous situations, pituitary glands and hypothalamus release endorphins. The endorphins dock to specific opioid receptors of the nerve cells of the spinal cord and brain, thereby inhibiting or blocking the transmission of stimuli. Consequence: A pain perception is missing.
Evolutionary brings with it a significant advantage in the discharge of endorphins, associated with a reduction of pain sensations, in life-threatening situations. Usually, pain is a warning function: they convey that something is wrong with the body and thus prevent an even greater injury. In life-threatening situations (so-called fight-or-flight situations), the pain would only hinder. The fact that the body switches off the pain sensations in the short term releases resources for fight or flight. From an evolutionary point of view, it can therefore make sense to accept a much greater injury, but to stay alive.