It might sound unfair to clinically dissect love and term it a function of a few naughty genes or chemicals with a few ‘college-going’ molecules or proteins that have mastered the art of sending a few lovelorn SMS to the brain. Probably Dr Spock of Star Treck would have loved to knit his brows and wonder why people go crazy over love.
Studies have shown that falling in love physically is very similar to taking drugs. It has an effect on the heart, shows typical signs of withdrawal symptoms and a few may get addicted too! That later.
Being attracted to someone is actually the result of a series of chemicals and hormones at work. The first spark comes from the brain that releases a neuro-transmitter chemical called dopamine. This results in a chain reaction leading to the heart pounding three times faster than normal. The extra gush of blood finds its way to the cheeks and sexual organs. This sudden diversion of blood makes your stomach feel a bit empty and this causes the feeling of butterflies in the stomach. Since the blood goes to specified areas, the hands and legs get a diminished supply of blood resulting in the palms getting cold and a slight shiver setting in. This is why many in love look a bit disoriented, nervous and they wear a new colour on their face.
Did I hear you say ‘how unromantic’? Well there is more.
How does the body benefit while in love? When in love, the body releases special chemicals that make you feel good, content and happy. This can spur creativity and that probably explains why most poets, artists, writers and people with extraordinary talents are also good at love.
Love can result in sexual activity and this can affect the entire body – from head to toe. Doctors believe that love-making is a good aerobic exercise that improves the circulation and can do wonders to the heart. Studies have shown that sexually active people tend to suffer from fewer heart attacks may be due to their better fitness. But you need to attain the right age to do this so that it can benefit the body.
It can also benefit in weight reduction. Intercourse can burn around 200 calories. And all this happens in just a few minutes work compared to a 15-minute workout on a treadmill at a gym.
In love-making the body releases endorphins, which can mitigate chronic pain of back ache, arthritis and migraines. Since brain chemicals are involved, sexually active people are less vulnerable to depression and suicides. Love-making is also good to calm anxieties, ease fear and can break down inhibitions – all this because of special hormones released by the brain and body.
Some research work has shown that frequent love-making can boost levels of key immune cells that can help fight colds and other infections.
A small study has shown that oxytocin and DHEA hormone released during love-making may prevent breast cancer cells from developing into tumors. Frequent love-making has also been linked to longer life – may be due to the beneficial effects on the heart and immune system.
But if love is just a chemical reaction, why is it that we do not fall head over heals over everyone. Why is that we get attracted to some and not to all? Well, again a bouquet of chemical is at work. Researchers say that the body releases special chemicals that the nose does not catch, but the brain does. And the brain selects the odour of somebody who has a very different immune system. That is why you seldom fall in love with a close relative.
For survival, mankind needs as diverse a gene pool as possible. Otherwise one disease will wipe out the entire humanity.
But if you thought that love involves a huge part of the brain, you are mistaken. In 2000, Andreas and Semir Zeki of University College, London, located the areas of the brain activated by romantic love. They took students who said they were madly in love, put them into a brain scanner, and looked at their patterns of brain activity. The results were rather surprising for such a wonderful emotion called love. The research showed that only a relatively small area of the human brain is active when a person is involved in deep love. But more parts of the brain are active and involved when the motion switches to ordinary friendship. “It is fascinating to reflect”, the pair conclude, “that the face that launched a thousand ships should have done so thorough such a limited expanse of cortex.” (As quoted in The Economist).
The second surprise was that the brain areas active in love are different from the areas activated in other emotional states, such as fear and anger. Parts of the brain that are love-bitten include the one responsible for gut feelings, and the ones which generate the euphoria induced by drugs such as cocaine. So the brains of people deeply in love do not look like those of people experiencing strong emotions, but instead like those of people snoring coke. Love, in other words, uses the neural mechanisms and pathways that are activated during the process of addiction. “We are literally addicted to love,” Dr Young observes.
When a person is in love, the special chemicals and hormones give the body an extra-ordinary feel-good envelope – an effect that is very similar to what cocaine or the drug Ecstasy does to the body and mind. Addiction experts say that attraction and lust are very similar to drugs – it leaves you wanting more. However, the ‘high’ is only temporary – just like in cocaine.
Brain scans have also revealed that the different flavours of love come different spots in the brain. Researchers say that love primarily comes in three distinct flavours: lust, romantic love and long-term attachment. In many cases there can be an overlap, but in essence these are separate phenomena.
Studies have proved that a dip in the chemicals and hormones involved in love result in a decrease in sexual activity. That is why people on drugs for certain ailments find themselves less active sexually because their chemical pool gets altered. Age will also do the same thing.
But love is much more than just genes, chemicals and hormones. So forget all this and just celebrate the different hues of love on Valentine’s Day. You can always fool the body’s chemicals and as someone said: love is in the mind and heart. Life, they say, is like a game of tennis. You need to first serve and it all begins with LOVE ALL.