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‘Love on the Brain’ Causes Natural Highs and Lows

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If you are like me, when it comes to Valentine’s Day, this is a love-hate holiday.  This Pepto-Bismol colored day reminds single people that we, yet again, get to spend another holiday alone without a significant other. Meanwhile, some of us just enjoy the fact that chocolate will be 50-70% off. Although many relationships are glorified today, do we ever stop to think about the different roles our body, specifically our mind, plays within relationships?

This was my very thought as I walked through Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta. Last Friday, the museum hosted its monthly FAD (Fernbank After Dark) event for February. Its theme was “Love on the Brain.” The dim lighting of the museum emitted the feeling of romance, as about 200 people gathered in the lower level.

The main attraction for the night featured mini interactive demonstrations ranging from sex to marriage, as well as informational booths set up around the museum that showed how biology influences our relationships. At one particular booth, I got a chance to learn about different chemical messengers called neurotransmitters, which play a huge role in how biology influences our relationships.

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers (hormones) that allow the brain to communicate with different parts of itself and the nervous system. They also control virtually all of the body’s functions, such as emotional response and movement.

Here are different neurotransmitters and the roles they play in relationships:

Dopamine – known as the pleasure hormone. When people say “love is a drug,” they are referring to the euphoria or good feeling this hormone triggers. So when you are in love, your brain releases dopamine into your bloodstream, triggering an intense rush of pleasure. Dopamine has the same effect on the brain as cocaine or when you eat a red velvet cupcake! This hormone is also responsible for the addictive types of relationships.

Oxytocin – known as the love/bonding hormone. You know that warm, two shots of Tequila, feeling you get when you’re in love? Yep, that’s oxytocin and another hormone called vasopressin.  It is also actively involved in childbirth and breast-feeding. It aids with empathy, trust, sexual activity, and relationship-building. Levels of this hormone are also increased during skin-to-skin contact, such as hugging and orgasms. This also enhances the monogamous bond between both partners.

Cortisol – known as the stress hormone. Cortisol plays a role in emotion, learning and memory. It also regulates the body’s immune system and contributes to the feelings of depression and fear. Levels of this hormone increases during the initial phase of romantic love. This is only natural, as we often worry about the unknown future with our newly beloved.

Serotonin – known as “Honeymoon Phrase.” It plays a role in maintaining mood balance, appetite, sleep, memory, sexual desire, and sexual function.  During the attraction phrase in a relationship, serotonin decreases, which could be the reason for those sleepless nights. Couples may experience the feeling of exhilaration and the carving to be with their partner. These changes usually only last a few months or less before the attraction fades or the attachment phase takes over. Fun Fact:  Low levels of this hormone is also linked to with people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

 

So we’ve learned how all these different hormones play a key role in influencing our relationships and life.  We can now stop blaming Cupid for our love mishaps.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

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