We continue our theme of Love Your Heart by taking a look at the physical affects Love actually has on your heart.
As many of you will know first-hand what happens when Cupid’s arrow strikes: the quickening of the heart, the near-breathlessness, the flushed cheeks. However, did you know that there are real biological processes at work behind these apparently purely emotional reactions?
While the “starting gun” to falling in love exists outside you in the spellbinding allure that you find in someone else, what happens next is as much biological as it is emotional. Your body releases a cocktail of “feel-good” chemicals that trigger a range of physical reactions. These are the naturally produced internal “potions” that cause your palms to sweat, your heart to race and your cheeks to flush.
Levels of the “feel-good” neurotransmitter dopamine increase markedly when two people fall in love, producing powerful feelings of euphoria. So, too, do hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline. They’re responsible for many of the physical accompaniments to falling in love, such as increased heart rate, the widening of the pupils, the widening of the air passages and the narrowing of blood vessels in organs that aren’t essential at the moment the “love wave” overcomes us.
MRI scans shed more light on the physiology of falling in love. The brain’s pleasure centre lights up in states of amour, indicating that it’s receiving significant increases in blood flow.
Intriguingly, this is the part of the brain that’s implicated in obsessive-compulsive behaviours, which may account for why we can’t stop thinking about and dreaming about the target of our love. Love decreases the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin – something that commonly happens with people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorders – and may explain why we can think of hardly anything or anyone other than our partner during love’s early stages.
However, biology is at work in all three stages of love: lust, attraction and attachment. The desire we feel in lust is driven by hormones. In attraction, the brain’s pleasure centre receives markedly increased blood flow. In attachment, this near-compulsive fixation eases as the body begins to build a tolerance to the pleasure stimulants, responding less intensely to them. Even so, other chemicals are at work during attachment: the general sense of security and wellbeing associated with this stage are accompanied by elevated levels of endorphins and the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin.
So, love really does biologically affect your heart, as well as the rest of your body!
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