The Chemistry of Falling In Love
Mon, April 19, 2021

The Chemistry of Falling In Love

Love has been researched so widely by scientists but still seems to not be understood / Photo by: rido via 123RF

 

Love has been researched so widely by scientists but still seems to not be understood. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, found evidence of romantic love that renders one breathless and euphoric. Such a presence, according to Schwartz, an associate professor of psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont, is a sign that romantic love is being kept alive by something biological in nature. Scientists explain that when people are in love, chemicals linked to the reward circuit swamp the brain, generating physical and emotional reactions such as flushed cheeks, racing hearts, sweaty palms, and the like. Cortisol, the stress hormone, elevates while serotonin gets depleted producing the obsessive-compulsive behaviors related to love.

When the love bug bites, the reward-producing hormone dopamine is released to make love a pleasurable experience. The effect is akin to a “high” of alcohol or cocaine. At the same time, the love hormone oxytocin works its magic to trigger feelings of satisfaction, serenity, and security. When in the throes of love, the neural machinery tasked for critical assessment powers off, making true the old adage, “love is blind.”

As time goes by, stress slowly fades as cortisol and serotonin return to its normal levels. Love is now a buffer against stress. Social psychologists James Olds and Shalom Schwartz theorized that euphoric love eventually changes to a deeper love the longer the relationship continues. A study conducted by Stony Brook University in New York found that staying madly in love after years of togetherness is highly probable. Experiments conducted on long-married couples suggest that the excitement of romance can remain while anxiety is lost. Romantic love buried because of work, children, and old parents can be rekindled with sexual activity that increases oxytocin in activating the brain’s reward circuit to make couples desire each other more. This can bring back the exciting early days of love.

Chemicals in Each Stage of Love

Supposedly, heads should govern the hearts, but in reality, chemicals do. Dr. Helen Fisher says that each stage of love is driven by a specific chemical reaction.

Stage 1: Lust

People often get excited about the attractive opposite sex. They get aroused and hanker for sexual encounters. This is in response to the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen generated by the hypothalamus of the brain. As potent aphrodisiacs, testosterone and estrogen increase the libido in both men and women.

Stage 2: Attraction

Relationships may start with lust but can grow into romantic love. Chemicals at this stage make one feel dreamy and anxious at the same time. In the early phase, sleep and appetite decrease.

• Phenylethylamine or PEA: This chemical naturally occurs in the brain to stimulate norepinephrine and dopamine release. This chemical is responsible for the "head over heels feeling” that couples feel.

• Norepinephrine: PEA triggers the release of this chemical that makes the heart pound and the palms sweat.

• Dopamine: This is the brain’s pleasure chemical that makes couples feel devoted to each other, wanting to spend all their free time in the company of their special someone. This chemical is closely associated with mate selection.

People often get excited about the attractive opposite sex. They get aroused and hanker for sexual encounters / Photo by: Aleksandr Davydov via 123RF

 

Stage 3: Attachment Chemicals that help in staying connected and deeply committed include the following:

• Oxytocin: Dopamine triggers the release of oxytocin, the "cuddle hormone" that bonds couples to promote intimacy. This chemical triggers hugging, kissing, and touching.

• Serotonin: This chemical increases dependence on another person.

• Endorphins: Once the honeymoon period is over (around 18 months to 4 years), endorphins are released. These chemicals are related to feelings of attachment and comfort like opiates that calm anxiety, relieve pain, and reduce stress.

Crazy Little Changes When in Love

Scientifically speaking, there are several hormones that trigger crazy little changes in the bodies of people in love.

1. When falling in love starts, vasopressin, adrenaline, dopamine, and oxytocin are released to provide euphoric pleasure and purpose. There is a feeling of addiction to the one you love. Similarly, when separated from the one you love, the corticoliberine hormone puts the body in a state of unrest until you are together again.

2. Oxytocin, when in love, lowers inhibitions, decreases anxiety, and builds confidence to make one outgoing and be “drunk in love.”

3. The adrenaline and norepinephrine make the face flush, palms sweat, and heart race, leading to a sensation of craving and desire for a particular person.

4. The strong attraction to a special someone stimulates the dilation of pupils or “mydriasis” as known in the medical field. When aroused, pupils expand to take in the whole of the surroundings to get ready for anything.

5. When beginning to like someone, cortisol acts up to upset the stomach, causing loss of appetite and nausea at times.

6. The first few months of being extremely in love make chronic pain disappear.

7. Couples falling in love could synchronize their heartbeats and breathing patterns when sitting close to each other. Women being naturally empathetic can likely adjust and match the partner’s heartbeats.

8. Voices may actually get higher in the initial phase and when the relationship deepens. Studies have found that women’s voices get higher and more feminine when around men they find attractive.

When all else fails, trust in your body and let those chemicals do the talking!

When falling in love starts, vasopressin, adrenaline, dopamine, and oxytocin are released to provide euphoric pleasure and purpose / Photo by: Alena Kratovich via 123RF