The Chemical Quest for Love by Sophie Ball

With Valentine’s day just passing, everyone’s emotions have been tested; whether that means you were one of the lucky bunch that had the romantic company of your significant other or you were someone who shared brunch with their ‘galantines’ to make themselves feel a bit better. So what actually is the chemistry behind that fuzzy feeling?

In history, there have been many suggestions to how and why we fall in love. One scientist from Germany even suggested that relationships are affinity reactions and can be measured through browsing tables. More recently, although not completely understood, different chemicals within the body are thought to control the feelings of love.

When you bump into someone that takes your fancy, you tend to find your palms go sweaty, you stutter and your heart feeling likes it’s physically pumping out of your chest, so no wonder love was thought to come from the heart. However, *spoiler alert* love isn’t actually found in the blood-pumping organ but rather is just the brain (how unromantic!) making the rest of your body go a bit mad.

This feeling of lust is driven by the sex hormones, testosterone and oestrogen, from our evolutionary need to reproduce. Both hormones increase in both men and women when you see features that you desire – a symmetrical face and/or proportional body dimensions. This properly explains why the majority of people say they believe in love at first sight.

Next, follows attraction – being ‘star struck’. Once the initial butterflies have settled, the ‘reward pathway’ kicks in. When doing things that feel good such as spending time with your partner or having sexy time (whitwooo), dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters are released. This initiates the feelings of excitement and making you feel giddy when thinking about that special someone. Wow, doesn’t that play on your heart strings (wait sorry, *chemical reactions).

Attraction can also cause a decrease in serotonin hormones, involved in the response for appetite and mood. Scientists have found a similar pattern in those who have OCD suggesting this is what causes the brain to constantly fixate on your love and nothing else.

Finally, to keep out of that annoying friend zone, attachment is the final contributor in falling in love. Attachment is also involved in friendships, mother-baby bonding and other relationships but the addition of lust and attraction factors separate relationships from these other intimacies (well those who don’t have their own problems to deal with).

Oxytocin, known as the ‘cuddle hormone’, is released to make us feel this attraction and want to be close to our other half. It is stimulated by touch and trust – from feeling supported to an orgasm. This increase in oxytocin over time builds a cycle of social trust.

Given these oxytocin attachments’ powerful nature, they are hard to break causing severe heartbreak when losing a loved one. This is why falling in love is seen to follow similar behaviour to drug addictions (although much healthier than recreational drugs, of course). Similarly, endorphin is stimulated by physical pain to reduce its effect and trigger a positive feeling. If it’s a loved one that stimulates this hormone, the brain can learn to associate the pain with a better feeling, allowing people to tolerate painful relationships.

So although there is no particular ‘formula’ for love, it’s understanding is being improved. Love can be one of the best things and worst things that happens to you but everyone is capable of it – it’s just a bit of hormone fluctuation!

Hopefully, you will find that chemistry soon if you haven’t already, happy belated Valentine’s!


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