Valentine’s Day Special: Neurochemicals of Love

Fall in love

Oxytocin and Vasopressin
If oxytocin is Juliet, then vasopressin is Romeo of the neurotransmitter world. They are two neurochemicals important in bond formation for females and males during the attachment stage where oxytocin is implicated in female bonding whereas vasopressin in male bonding. Interestingly, a series of studies on the naturally monogamous prairie voles found that the subjects could not bond no matter how often they mated and were more receptive to other partners when levels of oxytocin and vasopressin were decreased in females and in males respectively.  Also known as “cuddle hormones,” they are secreted when partners cuddle–so the rule of thumb is to be careful who you cuddle with, lest you want to end up like Romeo and Juliet.

Fall out of love

Ironically, one of the side effects of antidepressants that are SSRIs is that patients report a decrease in personal connection with their partners. The trade-off between emotional relief and emotional connection is one that needs to be addressed if you notice negative side-effects impeding quality of life. Those in love usually have lowered levels of serotonin, causing symptoms similar to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (also characterized by low serotonin level).  No wonder they’re always on our minds!  

Make me forget!

Memory consolidation is associated with epinephrine, a neurotransmitter that can be inhibited by antagonists such as the drug Propanolol.  Originally developed for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this drug significantly reduced symptoms in human clinical trials.  And while experiencing a bad breakup may have similar symptoms with PTSD, it certainly is not equivalent but the overlap between these experiences prompt an interesting ethical debate in medicine.  You cannot buy this on amazon (I haven’t checked) but you can take solace in knowing your memories can be altered should you make some questionable choices. Although it may be more cost effective to work on personal concerns in counseling and improve communication to improve quality of relationships.

Fall in lust 

What’s the difference between lust and love?  According to eHarmony’s relationship expert, Dr. Helen Fischer,  lust is characterized by an intense attraction and desire for physical intimacy whereas love is a more enduring and emotional experience.  It is associated with an increase in dopamine–the same feel good chemical affect when one does drugs. So, I suppose you could offer someone a dopamine laced cupcake, after all, animals studies show that an increase in dopamine results in the subject falling for the first thing walks through the door.  Though if you tried it on a person, it might just make them feel really good and like you a little bit more for providing free dopa-cupcakes. 

More desirable

What list of natural love potions would be complete without the grandmother of the bunch, pheromones? These chemicals are secreted into the environment to signal mating cues to the opposite sex and it is so notorious in popular culture that you can even buy pheromone infused Victoria’s Secret perfume!  In a strange but true study, female subjects smelled t-shirts worn by men and indicated their preferences; these men were later ranked based on their attractiveness and researchers found a strong correlation between body odor and attractiveness.

Bottom Line

All interesting studies and informative facts that serve to allow us a better understanding of ourselves. Though, I believe in a holistic view of human-kind-that is, we should not reduce the human experience to hormones coursing through our veins and tissues. We have only begun to understand the depths of our existence whether biological or psychological, though the first step it seems, is always first seek to understand. Also, just for fun 🙂