Are your meds blocking your brain’s feel-good chemicals?

From time to time we all get the blues…

And the reasons we do are many. The blues tend to accompany stress, pain or injury… dramatic or traumatic life events… even seasonal changes. The blues may also be a side effect of a medication you’re taking…

But what you may not know is that much of your experience is influenced by opioids in the brain…

There are four different opioids — mu-opioid, delta-opioid, kappa-opioid and nociceptin. These are substances that connect with receptors in the brain and contribute to your experience of pain and your feelings of highs and lows.

For instance, you’ve probably heard of endorphins, the feel-good hormones. These pair up with mu-opioids to produce their positive effect.

There are opioid medications (such as morphine) used to treat pain. These are designed to mimic natural neurotransmitters by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain. Once they attach to receptors, they signal the brain to stop pain, feel good and lower levels of stress.

The internal production of natural opioids works in much the same way. In fact, researchers have recently discovered that they act as neuromodulators that engage electrical activity in the brain, and influence the dynamic moment-to-moment information flow that occurs throughout the brain’s circuits.

But if you’re taking certain medications regularly that hamper your brains production of hormones, like cholesterol-lowering statins, your brain’s receptors won’t make the necessary connections. Your brain needs cholesterol to grow new nerve cells and for these nerve cells to work properly — that’s why 25 percent of the total cholesterol in your entire body resides in your brain. So you may end up feeling blue without any external causes…

But you can fix that. Start by looking at your medications and deciding if they’re really necessary. Then take steps to trigger the internal production of your natural opioids so you can experience their pain-reducing, mood-improving effects. Here are a few ways to do that…

Acupuncture. Acupuncture has been shown to create and release internal opioids. When researchers compared two groups in the emergency department (one group having acupuncture, the other given morphine), the results showed that acupuncture outperformed the medication — 92 percent effectiveness for acupuncture, 72 percent effectiveness for drugs.

Exercise. Even though you’re exhausted after a workout, you also feel good due to the release of those natural endorphins. Both aerobic and strength training on a regular basis will result in a higher everyday feel-good effect.

Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland in the brain involved in regulating sleep and wakefulness. But, it can also increase your production of beta-endorphins, which trigger those opioids and result in mood-enhancing and pain-reducing effects. You can take melatonin supplements or eat more melatonin-boosting foods — bananas, tomatoes, oats, sweet corn, orange and pineapple.

Sleep. There are several neurotransmitters involved in the sleep/ wake cycle. If you’re not getting adequate sleep (7.5 to 8 hours each night), your natural cycle can be interrupted and result in changes to the release of hormones and neurotransmitters and their subsequent interactions with opioids.

Learn. Opioids are stimulated through electrical activity, and one way to fire up your brain’s natural electrical current, is to learn. Take a course, read a book, learn a new skill or hobby, and you’ll not only feel great about your newly acquired knowledge, but you’ll always be on a natural high as well.

Editor’s note: Research shows that cholesterol and heart disease aren’t that closely connected after all. In fact, unnecessarily lowering your cholesterol levels can harm your brain, your memory and your sex life. To learn the truth about your mind’s most essential nutrient, read The Cholesterol Super-Brain. Click here to get your copy today!

  1. Winters BL, et al. Endogenous opioids regulate moment-to-moment neuronal communication and excitability. Nature Communications. 2017;8:14611.
  2. (2017). Retrieved 3 April, 2017, from
  3. Grissa MH, et al. Acupuncture vs intravenous morphine in the management of acute pain in the ED. Am J Emerg Med. 2016;34(11):2112-2116.
  4. Epstein MD, et al. (2015). Improving sleep: a guide to a good night’s rest. Harvard Health Publication. 16-22.



Jedha Dening

By Jedha Dening

Jedha Dening is a qualified nutritionist (MNutr), researcher, author, freelance writer, and founder of type 2 diabetic nutrition site Diabetes Meal Plans. Her masters thesis on nutrition and inflammation was published and then presented at a national scientific conference. She has millions of words published in the health industry across various print and online publications. Having been in the field for over 15 years, she’s incredibly passionate about delving into the latest research to share the myths and truths surrounding nutrition and health. She believes when armed with the right knowledge, we’re empowered to make informed choices that can truly make a difference.