Neurotransmitters as Natural Aphrodisiacs
Scientists believe that chemistry exists between lovers. Chemicals and hormones are released in the body by the activity of the brain and that leads to love. The role of hormones in sex life will be discussed in chapter seven. In addition to hormones there are cascades of brain chemicals that play a significant role in sex chemistry. Without them, sex is not possible. By their help, the brain connects different aspects of sex such as physical, psychological and emotional, which can stimulate or inhibit sexual performance. These chemicals are known as neurotransmitters. Erotic thoughts or fantasies give arousal via neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters transmit information across the junction from synapse to the other nerve cell, and are stored in the axon of a nerve cell. When an electrical impulse traveling along the nerve reaches the axon, the neurotransmitter is released and travels across the synapse, either prompting or inhibiting continued electrical impulses along the nerve.
The number of accepted neurotransmitters has significantly increased during recent years with now more than 300 known neurotransmitters. Some of the prominent neurotransmitters are dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine, norepinephrine, adenosine triphosphate, and nitric oxide. Neurotransmitters transmit information within the brain and from the brain to all the parts of the body. These chemicals play a significant role in human physiology. Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and clinical depression, are found to be connected with abnormalities, malfunctioning and imbalance of certain neurotransmitters.
Types of Neurotransmitters
b. Aminoacids: Glutamate, γ-aminobutyric acid, aspartate and glycine
c. Monoamines: Norepinephrine, phenylethylamine, dopamine, serotonin, histamine and melatonin
d. Purines: Adenosine, ATP and GTP
Neurotransmitters also act as natural aphrodisiacs and do play a vital role in our sex life. Among the neurotransmitters, dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, norepinephrine and phenylethylamine (PEA) cause sexual attraction. PEA is considered the infatuation-inducing stimulant. Acetylcholine and nitric oxide are responsible for erection. Serotonin and acetylcholine regulate the orgasm. They all work in unison.
Temporary elevation of dopamine levels often lead to an improvement in mood, alertness and libido. The initial phase of the sexual act is libido that means sexual desire. Dopamine promotes libido. Estrogens also promote libido where as prolactin reduces libido. Acetylcholine and nitric oxide control arousal of genital tissues, lubrications of the genitals, an erection in men and swelling of clitoris in women. Serotonin and norepinephrine regulate the orgasms in both the sexes.
Norepinephrine and epinephrine are responsible for the flaccid stage of the male organ. Frequent release of norepinephrine contracts the arteries in the penis and contracts the smooth muscles of the corpora cavernosum and keeps the penis soft (Stahl 2000, 1998b; Meston and Frohlich 2000).
Endorphins as Neurohormones
Endorphins are polypeptide compounds produced by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus during strenuous exercise. Technically, endorphins are not neurotransmitters but their action is similar to neurotransmitters. They are related in function to both neurotransmitters and hormones. They can be termed as neurohormones. Endorphins are produced in the brain in response to a variety of stimuli. John Hughes and Hans Kosterlitz discovered them in 1975 in the brain of a pig and named them endorphins enkephalins (from the Greek egkephalos, in the head). Several other types of endorphins were discovered later. At least 20 types of endorphins have been demonstrated in humans. The word endorphin itself is abbreviated from endogenous morphine, which means morphine produced naturally in the body.
Types of Endorphins
There are four main types of Endorphins: alpha, beta, gamma, and sigma (α, β, γ and ∑). These contain 16, 31, 17 and 27 amino acids respectively. The most effective and potent endorphin is the β-endorphin that gives the most euphoric effect to the brain. It is composed of 31 amino acids.
Endorphins have a close functional resemblance to morphine, and are “enodegnous morphin like substance in man.” These are polypeptide compunds that have similar pharmacological activity as corticosteroids and can serve as anti-stress hormones that relieve pain naturally. It may be nature's gift to cure for high levels of stress. Chemically, these are a small-chain of peptides, which activate opiate receptors, producing a feeling of euphoria resulting in insatiable desire. Endorphins also affects mood, perception of pain, memory retention, and learning. The actual receptors in the brain that the morphine connects to are endorphins. Endorphin neurotransmitters function in the transmission of signals within the nervous system. Pituitary and hypothalamus produce endorphins.
Mechanism of Action of Endorphins
The mechanism of action of these compounds is not fully understood. However, it is considered that endorphins bind to the opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord that resultsthat result in disinhibition of the dopamine pathways, causing more dopamine to be released into the synapses.
Endorphins regulate feelings of pain and hunger and are connected to the production of sex hormones. Stress and pain are the two most common factors leading to the release of endorphins. Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce our perception of pain, having a similar action to drugs such as morphine and codeine. Unlike drugs, however, activation of the opiate receptors by the body's endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence addition to decreased feelings of pain. Secretion of endorphins leads to feelings of euphoria, modulation of appetite, release of sex hormones, and enhancement of the immune response.
According to some reports, laughter also releases endorphins in the brain. So, besides widening the blood vessels, suppressing the production of stress hormones and raising antibody levels in the blood, laughing would thus also have an analgesic effect.
One theory of why some people find BDSM (different patterns of sexual behavior such as bondage and disciplines, domination and submission, sadism and masochism) activities pleasurable is that these activities stimulate endorphins in a controlled way.
Some scientists presume that people who suffer from severe headaches have lower levels of endorphins. High endorphin levels decrease pain and stress. Endorphins have been indicated as modulators of the so-called “"runner's high”" that athletes achieve with prolonged exercise. While the role of endorphins and other compounds as potential triggers of this response have been extensively controversial in the literature, it is considered that the body does produce endorphins in response to prolonged, continuous exercise. However, some researchers question the mechanisms at work believing the high comes from completing a challenge rather than just through the exertion.
Release of Endorphins
Release of endorphins varies among individuals. Two people who exercise at the same level or suffer the same degree of pain will not necessarily produce similar levels of endorphins. Certain foods, such as chocolate or chili peppers, can also lead to enhanced secretion of endorphins. In the case of chili peppers, the spicier the pepper, the more endorphins are secreted. The release of endorphins upon ingestion of chocolate explains the comforting feelings that associate with this food and the craving for chocolate in times of stress.
Even if you don't participate in strenuous athletics, you can also try activities that increase your body's endorphin levels. Studies of acupuncture and massage therapy have shown that both these techniques can stimulate endorphins secretion. Sex is also a potent trigger for endorphin release. The practice of meditation can increase the amount of endorphins released in your body. Alpha sound frequency music also tends to stimulate endorphins and gives pleasure. Ultraviolet light may also stimulate the release of endorphins. Some people enjoy sun tan and feel more relaxed due to the release of endorphins. This also explains Sun Worship during sun rise early in the morning in India.
Functions of Endorphins
Endorphins play significant role in a human body. Some of the functions are described as follows:
1. Enhance immune system
2. Block the lesion of blood vessel
3. Have anti-aging effects
4. Are anti-stress hormones
5. Have a pain-relieving effect
6. Help improve memory
7. Relieve pain
8. Enhance low libido
Nitric Oxide as Neurotransmitter
Nitric Oxide (NO) plays a significant role in sexual arousal and acts as a natural aphrodisiac. It is responsible for erection and engorgement of the sexual organs. During recent years, this molecule has awakened great interest in the scientific community (Koshland 1992). With increased work in this field of scientific research, nitric oxide has gained great recognition; it has become known as the magic gas, the wonderful molecule and the secret messenger. Viagra acts via the release of the nitric oxide (Stahl 1998a, b, c)
Robert Furchgott, Louis Ignarro and Ferid Murad, who demonstrated the role of nitric oxide in the process of cellular communication, received the 1998 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Before the findings of nitric oxide, scientists were baffled about the complexity of dilating and constriction of blood vessels. Research has revealed the existence of a chemical messenger-the nitric oxide molecule. It is this molecule that gives instructions for the blood vessels to dilate. The endothelium cells are responsible for the production of the nitric oxide messenger. Every nitric oxide molecule lasts about 10 seconds. It is designed to communicate its message within this short time to the relevant recipients and do this perfectly without fail.
Role of Nitric Oxide in Erection
The messenger nitric oxide molecules secreted by the endothelium cells are dispersed with great speed in every direction. Those that are directed towards the smooth muscle cells enter the membrane of these cells. The smooth muscle cell membrane acts as a selector giving entry to the nitric oxide it recognizes. Without wasting any time, the nitric oxide molecule that enters the smooth muscle cells finds a special enzyme called GC (Guanylate cyclase) enzyme and communicates its vitally important message. As a result, a series of complex chemical reactions occur within the cell. When GC enzyme in the smooth muscle cells receives the message brought by nitric oxide, it begins its activity by converting the GTP (Guanosine triphosphate), the energy-carrying molecules, into cGMP (3, 5 cyclic Guanosine monophosphate). Many reactions occur between these stages that are still unknown (Stahl 1997a, b).
At the end of the activity of the enzymes, the concentration of calcium in the muscle cell diminishes, causing a separation in the fibers and the relaxing of the muscle cells. As a result of this, the vessels dilate.
Neurotransmitters play a significant role in controlling sex drive since these are involved in physical, mental, psychological and emotional aspects of life. Though neurotransmitters are produced in a very small quantity but carry very strong effects. Dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and endorphins have great influence on sex. If their levels are inadequate, they can cause lots of physical and mental problems in the body. It is very pertinent to keep them in balance. Neurotransmitter levels can be determined by a simple urine test. Monitoring ones neurotransmitter levels can help to prevent some diseases from occurring in the future. Some natural preparations are being sold as nutrient supplement on the Internet as BrainBalance formulations for balancing neurotransmitters. These preparations are composed of aminoacids and vitamins. The ingredients are advertised as precursors of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine and GABA etc. Consumers should consult their physicians before incorporating these preparations in their daily regime otherwise consumption of these formulations can leads to some serious complications.