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The Spark: Neurophysiology of Romantic Love

by Julia Scalise, DN, PhD

Many of you have heard the song or have seen the movie, “Love is a many-splendored thing”.  Yes, Romantic Love IS a many-splendored thing, a complex dance of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual connectedness.  It transcends feelings you have in any other relationship such as familial or friendships. True, unconditional love for a romantic partner, which survives the years, is rare indeed and should be appreciated and valued.

Valentine’s Day is approaching, and you may find yourself saying, singing, or thinking, “I’m in the mood for love, simply because you’re near me”.  But whether it’s Valentine’s Day, or any other day in your life, some of you may not know why you are feeling the way you do or what is going on inside your body when it comes to feeling “in love”.

In all its complexity, there are some basic neurologic and physical reactions taking place that intensify your emotions and forge stronger bonds with the person for whom you feel romantic love.

ESTROGEN AND TESTOSTERONE:   Men and women possess both hormones, in differing amounts, that come into play and contribute to levels of libido. Both are necessary and help with energy, feelings of self-confidence, attraction and lust, and based on your unique levels, contribute to your preferences and desire when looking for a romantic partner. But they are not the only hormones involved when it comes to finding, and more importantly, choosing and staying with a mate. A successful long term relationship is much more than “skin-deep” or superficial attraction.

ADRENALINE AND CORTISOL:  During times of stress, these 2 hormones kick in and are also known as the “fight or flight” hormones. But they are activated not only during times of negative stress, but also when excited from a positive stimulus.  They make you feel energized, your heart may race, and you may feel more alert, aroused and feel more aware.  Colors, sights, sounds, scents/smells, seem more intense. A strong imprint is being made in your brain, as there are feedback loops to the limbic system in the brain where we store memories and emotions.  When there is a “positive stimulus”, positive memories and emotions are imprinted.

DOPAMINE:  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which is produced in the brain but also in small amounts in the adrenal glands during times of stress (good or bad). Dopamine receptors on the brain receive this chemical which stimulates feelings of pleasure, motivation, and increases sexual arousal.  It is part of the reward system in our physical chemistry.

In fact, very low levels of dopamine contribute to Anhedonia, which is the inability to experience pleasure, where the world looks colorless, may impede your ability to love, and in some instances, lets someone have no remorse for bad behavior.  So the more dopamine you release during a pleasant stimulus increases your ability to experience pleasure, see your world as more colorful, and increases your ability to love.

It’s understandable then how and why, if a person to whom you are attracted reciprocates attention and interest, levels of dopamine increase but then so do your feelings for that person.  It is as much about the individual you desire as it is about your own internal chemical reaction that increases a romantic bonding.  Your partner can become your own “feel good drug” because they are able to stimulate these chemicals for you and they continue to supply what YOU need to maintain that feeling of overall euphoria.

NOREPINEPHRINE:  This chemical functions both as a hormone and neurotransmitter, and yes its production is stimulated by stress. It also plays a part in arousal, energy, drive, and when low, can contribute to depression.  This is another reason why love can work as an anti-depressant, both emotionally and biologically, for the positive stress experienced increases yet another chemical that increases feelings of euphoria.

SEROTONIN:  Serotonin is another neurotransmitter and plays a significant role in “obsessive” romantic love.  LOW serotonin can cause one to obsessively think about the other person but when in EXCESS, can actually SUPPRESS some of the thoughts for romantic love.  The proper balance of serotonin is the goal.

In proper amounts, it contributes to emotional stability, maintains rational expression of emotions, combats irritability, and eliminates irrational or unexplained fears (lack of security in a relationship, jealousy, etc.)   TOO MUCH serotonin decreases romantic feelings, yet TOO LITTLE can cause depression and the other negative thoughts and feelings already mentioned. As with most things in life, balance is key.

OXYTOCIN:  Oxytocin is a hormone stimulated after orgasm and during and after childbirth.  It is also known as “the bonding hormone”. It increases feelings of nurturing, boosts desire for socialization, and increases trust, feelings of generosity, decreases wariness, and forges stronger monogamous pair bonding.

Therefore physical intimacy has an emotional component but also a physiological reason for increasing chances of long term, monogamous relationships due to the production of this post-orgasmic “bonding hormone”.

CHOCOLATE:   How can one discuss love and not mention chocolate and why after a break-up, this treat is craved and consumed. Interestingly enough, the chemicals in chocolate induce some of the same physiological reactions as are produced by love.

Chocolate can increase adrenaline due to its caffeine component, can increase serotonin to help soften obsessive thinking and boost your mood, and can increase dopamine due to its phenylalanine (amino acid) content.  But the feelings don’t last and last time I checked, chocolate cannot hug you back.

A Hunk, a Hunk of Burning Love…

All in all, there are several neuro-physiological components to romantic love. Hormones and neurotransmitters increase the chances of attracting a partner and then maintaining interest and attraction for long term relationships.

Note that in order to have a ready supply of the necessary components to make hormones and neurotransmitters, your ability lies with your intake of proper nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, for after a while, production of these substances can decrease when nutrient stores are depleted.

Therefore, maintain a healthy intake of adequate nutrients, so that you may be at your best to produce and sustain all that is necessary for giving and receiving love, once your interest is peaked.

Aside from the physical stimulation of hormones and neurotransmitters produced, never discount the complexity of emotions, thoughts, and spiritual aspects that true, enduring, romantic love requires.  Physical attraction may be a key to open a door, but it’s a person’s unique energy, personality, character, core beliefs, mutual life goals, mystery, integrity, respectability, friendship, and an endless list of what YOU value that will keep YOU in a long term relationship, and not just physiology.

When you are blessed to find that special someone, value them, make them feel appreciated and respected, along with making them feel secure and loved.

Wishing you health, all the love you deserve, and living your best life.

About the Author Julia Scalise

Julia Scalise, DN, PhD is a Holistic Health Practitioner and author of the #1 Bestseller “Do One Thing Feel Better/ Live Better”. She is an expert in compassionately helping hundreds of clients eliminate underlying causes of health issues, discover ways to improve emotional well being, attain a more positive outlook on life and find their bliss. In practice over 16 years, she is a board-certified member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners, American Association of Nutritional Consultants, American Holistic Health Association and a Physiological Regulating Medicine Practitioner. She is also a contributing expert for several internet forums, websites, and newsletters.

To learn more about Julia, visit her website at http://www.JuliaScalise.com

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