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Being in love is not a total eclipse of the heart. Love, actually overwhelms our brains with chemicals that induce feelings of pleasure and attachment. These chemicals cause reactions throughout the body, which might help explain that giddy feeling we get when we see a loved one.
Love moves in mysterious ways—but not to science. Let’s stop the pop culture references and take a look at how love affects our mind and body.
Love may not be a drug, but it can definitely feel like one. Falling in love triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure center. The chemical plays an essential role in feeling happiness.
In one study, researchers scanned 2,500 brain images of 17 individuals who identified themselves as “in love.” Researchers discovered that participants who looked at a photo of the person they loved showed brain activity in two areas associated with dopamine: the caudate nucleus and ventral tegmental area. This phenomenon explains the “high” feeling new lovers often experience.
To some, realizing a simple “crush” has flourished into “love” can be stressful. There are many uncertainties, including whether they feel the same way, the chance of rejection, and the anxiety of when to say those three big words. According to a 2004 study, the initial stages of falling in love can increase levels of cortisol—a stress hormone. However, after retesting the participants 12 to 24 months later, their cortisol levels had returned to normal.
Kissing and hugging someone you romantically love can immediately reduce stress and increase feelings of tranquil, trust, and security. Your mood will also improve because of your reward center flooding with dopamine.
Elevated blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a life-threatening condition that increases your risk for stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure. Aside from proper medication and healthy lifestyle changes, research suggests that falling in love can serve as a natural and inexpensive way to reduce blood pressure levels.
One study that examined the relationship between marriage, physical health, and longevity found that happily married couples have lower blood pressures and reduced risks for cardiovascular disease.
Certain drugs and medications can light up your pleasure center. Love has a similar effect and can be addictive in its own way.
Official medical classification guides do not classify love as an addiction. However, a 2017 study suggests that there is a link between addiction and love. According to the authors, love can be addictive because it is a need that can be temporarily satisfied. Conversely, love can lead to destructive behaviors if not fulfilled for prolonged periods.
Think of the person you love most or the last time you ran into someone attractive. Time may have stopped, your palms may have sweated, and chances are your heart was pounding in your chest. It’s no wonder why people thought love arose from the heart. The truth is, love is all about the brain – which, in turn, makes the rest of our body go haywire.