Ah, Valentine’s Day. We exchange cards, gift flowers and toast to love. Love is one of the
most universal and consuming of human emotions. For centuries we have sung about it,
created paintings and plays about it, and last weekend, we celebrated it. As social animals,
we have a human instinct to seek and build love. Love not only inspires and motivates us,
but it also has a big impact on our brains and bodies.
Significant research has been done in the last few years to uncover the science behind
what happens when you fall in love and what happens to your brain years into a secure
relationship. Helen Fisher is a biological anthropologist who studies love and addiction.
According to her research, a cocktail of chemicals are released in your brain at different
stages of love, triggering attraction, motivation and attachment. Below outlines the different
chemicals and their role in love and how they affect your overall health.
Dopamine is the main chemical released when we fall in love. It plays a role in
our reward systems, triggering goal oriented behavior. Dopamine helps
individuals feel excited and energetic about the relationship. While it is the same
chemical released in both gambling and drug use, it’s also present in both early
and long term romantic love.
The second ingredient in the love cocktail is norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a
stress hormone that plays a role in that “can’t eat, can’t talk”, nervous feeling
that you get when you are first falling in love. You can thank this chemical for all
the nervous twitches, sweaty palms and fumbling – everything that basically
works against you looking cool and confident, and gives you butterflies in the
stomach and flushed cheeks instead.
The good news is, the awkward stage doesn’t last forever. While the chemicals
released in the early stages of love have no proven health benefits, oxytocin has
been linked to a variety of health benefits. Longer, secure love releases
oxytocin, a chemical that bonds couples together, and promotes long term
But if you are thinking that oxytocin is only present in romantic love – think
again. Oxytocin levels rise in people with close friendships and close family
members. It also surges in new moms, as they feed and bond with their new
baby. Basically, oxytocin increases with human touch: hugging, cuddling, holding
hands, kissing and touching. Physical affection between loved ones can help the
brain, heart and other regulatory systems.
Health benefits of secure love
- Fewer doctors visits
- Less depression and alcohol abuse
- Lower blood pressure
- Less anxiety
- Natural pain control
- Better stress management
- Fewer colds
- Faster healing
- Longer and happier life.
However, if you need a boost, experts suggest giving and receiving daily hugs, plus following the tips below to get all the health benefits of love and the associated love chemicals.
How to increase these levels:
- Foster relationships
- If depressed, get treatment
- Work on communication skills
- Participate in challenging and exciting events with loved ones
- Celebrate successes