12 Julio 2017 09:50
'Love is a million different diseases at once'
They say that love is a million different diseases and they might be right. It might be a stranger, or someone at work, or maybe even your best friend... You never know when you're going to get that crush, when the love virus will infect you and not let you go.
And we should warn you: curing yourself of this disease is difficult and usually leaves long-term damage.
When we fall in love we all suffer from the same symptoms. No matter who you are, the pattern is going to repeat itself time and time again. But what is it exactly that we fall in love with? Is it the physical presence of the person? Their exterior aesthetic and attitude? Or is it the person's inner being and personality? And does the romantic attraction stem from our senses or from our intuition?
The answer to all these questions is much simpler than we might think.
The disease we call love is a simple matter of chemistry.
Adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, testosterone... our hormones play a fundamental role in each phase of falling in love
Some are shy in the face of love, some dive straight in at the deep end, others feel sick... Whatever our reaction, we are all victims of the same chemical processes. An explosive cocktail of drugs that our body is determined to push on us, whether we want them or not.
Let's have a look at what happens during each of these phases.
Desire is the first phase of love: the one that causes us to feel attracted to that specific person.
You're in a bar. You see someone across the room. Something about the person catches your attention. You like what you see... and your imagination fills in the blanks, making you like the person even more. This is when your body starts to secrete generous doses of estrogen and testosterone. The adrenaline starts racing through your body, causing your heart to beat faster. You start to sweat and your mouth becomes dry... Sound familiar?
The chemical love chain continues with dopamine, a neurotransmitter secreted by the brain and the adrenal glands that increase the release of testosterone.
The flow of dopamine is felt in various areas of the body, including the genitals and sweat glands, and it also affects the sensitivity level of the senses.
Dopamine gives us a fix of excitement, energy and motivation. The so-called 'brain reward pathway' demands its dose of butterflies. And so we become 'addicted to love'. We think about the person, or we approach them, to get more of that dopamine flow. And that makes us feel happy and dazed, and in a state of constant tension and excitement.
Meanwhile, testosterone boosts sexual desire and aggressive behaviour, giving us the courage to try and seduce our potential partner.
As we fall in love, our brain secretes more and more chemicals: pheromones, norepinephrine, phenylethylamine, serotonin... These substances act like amphetamines and stimulate pleasure receptors in the brain. And they cause the symptoms of the love 'disease': increased heart rate and excitement levels; loss of appetite and sleep.
Norepinephrine is the stimulant that makes us feel permanently alert and unable to sleep. It's also what makes us remember everything about our partners – down to the smallest detail.
That's right, remembering every little thing about every photo of your sweetheart's Facebook profile doesn't mean you're a psychopath. It's just your hormones.
Phenylethylamine is to blame for those feelings of vertigo and losses of appetite. If the relationship comes to an end prematurely, it's likely that levels of this hormone will decrease, causing you to feel depressed. Phenylethylamine is a hormonal precursor to dopamine, also secreted in large quantities during this phase.
The love disease reaches its peak with infatuation itself. The affection or attachment, the long-lasting bond that keeps a couple together, is partly regulated by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which also affect the brain's pleasure circuit.
It was once believed that this phase also had an expiration date, but a study carried out by Bianca Acevedo, a neuroscientist from Cornell University in New York discovered in 2009 that love can last.
In other words, the love chemistry can remain more or less stable over long periods of time.
A brain analysis of people in stable relationships (of 15 years or more) revealed that the liberation of dopamine and the activation of the brain reward system continued to function at about the same level as in the early phases of the couples' relationships.
The study found that other areas of the brain that secreted oxytocin and vasopressin became active too. Serotonin was also secreted and activity was found in the area of opioid receptors, which usually becomes active when antidepressants or painkillers are taken.
That explains why a long-term, stable relationship provides us with feelings of well-being and tranquility.
The phase during which the love disease seems to have faded and we can simply enjoy a lasting love with our partner.
Until it all comes to an end, the cycle begins again, and the love disease returns stronger than ever.