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Scientists discover that having lots of friends is a better painkiller than morphine... but the wrong friends can be TOXIC!


Endorphins

(NaturalNews) A recent study conducted by researchers at Oxford University has produced intriguing results suggesting that people who have a lot of friends also have a higher tolerance for pain.

The research focused on the effects of endorphins – natural painkillers produced by the human body – and how their levels are affected by social interaction.

The "feel-good factor"

Endorphins are more powerful than morphine and "are part of our pain and pleasure circuitry - they're our body's natural painkillers and also give us feelings of pleasure," according to Katerina Johnson, experimental psychologist at Oxford University and co-author of the study.

"Previous studies have suggested that endorphins promote social bonding in both humans and other animals," she continued.

"One theory, known as 'the brain opioid theory of social attachment', is that social interactions trigger positive emotions when endorphin binds to opioid receptors in the brain.

"This gives us that feel-good factor that we get from seeing our friends.

"To test this theory, we relied on the fact that endorphin has a powerful pain-killing effect - stronger even than morphine."

The 101 participants in the study were asked questions regarding their social networks before being subjected to a "non-invasive, physical pain test."

Participants were asked to squat against a wall with their knees at a 90-degree angle for as long as possible.

The results showed that those who had larger social networks were able to remain in the position longer, apparently due to a higher tolerance for pain.

Johnson said:

"These results are also interesting because recent research suggests that the endorphin system may be disrupted in psychological disorders such as depression.

"This may be part of the reason why depressed people often suffer from a lack of pleasure and become socially withdrawn."

The study also found that participants who were fitter and those with high stress levels were more likely to have smaller social networks, suggesting that perhaps people who exercise regularly have less time to engage with others.

"However, there may be a more interesting explanation - since both physical and social activities promote endorphin release, perhaps some people use exercise as an alternative means to get their 'endorphin rush' rather than socialising," Johnson noted.

Regarding the findings about those with higher stress levels, Johnson said that larger social networks may "help people to manage stress better, or it may be that stress or its causes mean people have less time for social activity, shrinking their network."

Quality rather than quantity

The study didn't address the "quality" factor of friends within one's social network, and it stands to reason that, if you have a lot of friends who fall into the "toxic" category, then the beneficial endorphin effects might not be as pronounced.

In fact, toxic relationships may have the opposite effect, making one actually feel worse overall.

From Psychology Today:

In a long-term study that followed more than 10,000 subjects for an average of 12.2 years, researchers discovered that subjects in negative relationships were at a greater risk for developing heart problems, including a fatal cardiac event, than counterparts whose close relationships were not negative.

It's important to have friends who have a positive effect on your sense of well-being. Despite the findings that larger social networks have an influence on endorphin levels, it would seem logical to assume that having a smaller network of true friends is preferable to a larger group that contains questionable or toxic people. According to Psychology Today:

Healthy relationships are characterized by: compassion, security, safety, freedom of thinking, sharing, listening, mutual love and caring, healthy debates and disagreements, and respectfulness, especially when there are differences in opinions.

Toxic relationships are characterized by: insecurity, abuse of power and control, demandingness, selfishness, insecurity, self-centeredness, criticism, negativity, dishonesty, distrust, demeaning comments and attitudes, and jealousy.
Psychology Today says that, basically, "healthy relationships tend to leave you feeling happy and energized," while toxic ones "tend to leave you feeling depressed and depleted."

Be sure to choose your friends wisely. For more helpful, healthful tips and information on how to improve your quality of life and well-being, be sure to check out the Natural Medicine, Healing & Wellness Summit!

Sources:

Telegraph.co.uk

Nature.com

PsychologyToday.com

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