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Love. It’s a hot topic this time of year. We tend to focus on romantic love, likely because companies are shoving it down our throats. There’s money to be made! But love, in all of it’s forms, is better than any drug on the market, any box of chocolates, and adrenaline rush. Love is the ultimate high for us humans, when it goes right. It’s also the catalyst for some of the ultimate lows, but we’re going to focus on the positive today.
There is some gooood stuff that happens when our brains fall in love. Talk about a potent chemical cocktail! Nerve growth factor, serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine, to name a few. No wonder we want it so badly. From finding a spouse, to having children, adopting a new pet, or even finding a fantastic pair of shoes, the prospect of love is exhilarating. Here’s what those chemicals do for your brain…
Serotonin – This neurotransmitter is thought to be responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness. It also does a lot of regulatory work in the gut. Forget Activia, just fall in love! But seriously, this feel-good chemical regulates mood, appetite, and sleep. This is also the chemical released upon initial attraction, or in the “infatuation” phase, and has a similar chemical appearance to obsessive compulsive disorder. So that’s why you want to drive by your love interest’s house at 3am!
Dopamine – Is this how drugs were coined with the word dope? Because stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine amplify the affects of dopamine in the brain. But we don’t need no stinkin’ drugs, all we need is love. Another neurotransmitter, dopamine is linked to motor control, motivation, arousal, and reward. Have you met an attractive person and felt a surge of motivation to make yourself more presentable? You were likely doping on dopamine!
Nerve Growth Factor – In 2005 Italian scientists discovered that this protein molecule has high levels when people first fall in love. After one year though? Levels are back to normal. I have no idea what that means, but NGF is critical to the survival of sympathetic and sensory neurons. You need this stuff for certain neurons to grow, be maintained, and survive. To me it sounds like we should be falling in love at lease once a year to spike this protein!
Oxytocin – Now this hormone is the one that gives us the push to create a long-term relationship with someone, or have children. Also known as the “bonding hormone”, oxytocin is released in large amounts after orgasm, childbirth, and nursing. This is a long-term love chemical. Those couples that have been married 60+ years and love each other more than the day they got married must produce oxytocin up the wazoo!
Leading up to this Valentine’s Day, whether you have a valentine or not, take a moment to think about the biology of love. It may not be the most romantic thought, breaking our experience of love down into chemicals, but it sure does help to explain a lot!
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