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Love, Lust and Logic

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Love, Lust and Logic

By Sarah Murray, Natural Solutions

At that very moment, the smoky air turned remarkably sweet. Wanda and Sam ducked out of the party and made their way to precious space behind closed doors. After months of shared glances, soul-spilling talks, and nights that ended too soon, they would surrender to their cravings. Her hand brushed his face. His forearm arrived across the small of her back with determination. Sam diverted his glance and prepared to tell the woman of his dreams what little he knew of truth: “Wanda,” he softly whispered. “I…I…I love dopamine.” Cut.

C’mon! Why should movie stars and troubadours have all the fun in defining love? The real love connection may belong to the chemists and evolutionary biologists. Sure, candles, roses, and serenades nurture the process, but truth-be-told, romantic love, lust, and long-term companionship can be explained quite movingly by science. A neurochemical release causes every sweaty palm, and evolution propels you to check your email every minute for that elusive message from him or her. The explanation of how human sexuality works remains both fascinating and downright riddling. Time to trade in those rose-colored lenses for a lab coat!

Love
We know that love shakes us down with butterflies, sweats, and shivers. But how does romantic love–as opposed to fleeting sexual attraction or long-term devotion–affect the mind? What triggers the euphoria, insomnia, and the obsessive feelings that positively turn your life upside down?

According to Helen Fisher, a leading researcher in the field of love at Rutgers University, “Love is a universal feeling, produced by specific chemicals and networks in the brain.” The most prevalent chemicals associated with these feelings are dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Elevated levels of dopamine enhance attention, motivation, and goal orientation. They boost feelings of ecstasy, accelerate breathing, and make the heart race. You can get the same sort of dopamine rush by smoking cigarettes or snorting cocaine, but falling in love is a whole lot healthier.

Norepinephrine acts like an upper in the brain, producing feelings of exhilaration, excessive energy, and sleeplessness. Together, norepinephrine and dopamine create the brain’s cocktail of love. Fisher conducted research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to watch the brains of people in love while they talked about their mates and looked at pictures of them. She found that the areas of the brain with high concentrations of receptors for dopamine, like the caudate nucleus (a large C-shaped region at the brain’s center), showed an increase in blood flow when people were feeling amorous. In plain-speak, thoughts and images of people we love trigger a noticeable release of dopamine and norepinephrine, and along with them, all the above-mentioned heart-pounding side effects.

A look at the role of serotonin shows that the leap from love to madness may be but a short hop. Studies have linked decreased levels of serotonin to psychiatric disorders including depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and anxiety. According to research by Donatella Marazziti, a psychiatrist at the University of Pisa in Italy, when people fall madly in love, their levels of serotonin drop -closely matching the serotonin levels of patients with OCD. The scientific conclusion here is that new love can actually trigger feelings of depression, anxiety, and obsession akin to mental illness. But why would it be advantageous as a species to have coupling associated with something negative? Wouldn’t that make it difficult to fall in love and procreate?

According to Hagop Akiskal, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego and one of Marazziti’s coauthors on the new study, our feelings of obsession associated with serotonin are a perfect evolutionary strategy. “Without intense emotion, which typically creates an unrealistic image of the love object, nobody in their “right” mind would fall in love,” Akiskal says. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder -and in the blind quest to land what we perceive to be the perfect mate. Call it serotonin-induced delusion. But it works.

Lust
We all know what it feels like -intense desire coupled with unquenched and unbridled passion. But what actually causes it? A unique chemical process fires up lust (which we’ll define as a carnal longing gratified by sex alone). Both romantic love and lust share the fact that they are ultimately biochemical, governed by hormones, neurotransmitters, and other substances that interact in complicated ways to create familiar sensations. However, testosterone and estrogen top the list of causal agents for the throbbing, aching need for sex.

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Mel, selected from Natural Solutions magazine

Natural Solutions: Vibrant Health, Balanced Living offers its readers the latest news on health conditions, herbs and supplements, natural beauty products, healing foods and conscious living.

43 comments

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11:43AM PDT on Jul 3, 2010

Interesting break down of the chemical reactions which have been proven, but I don't believe CONSCIOUS love can be defined in an earthly language - it goes beyond measurement, emotion . . . and words to captures its essence.

5:22PM PST on Feb 21, 2010

good article thanks!

1:06PM PST on Jan 30, 2010

the 3 L's =D

1:48AM PST on Jan 29, 2010

i've noted, thanks so much :).

7:27PM PST on Jan 14, 2010

thanks

8:36AM PST on Jan 12, 2010

A can of worms here. What makes 1 persons lust rise may be anothers turn off. Love and romance is really like christmas, a bunch of added nonscence. Games to play. Missing the whole point of the actual reason. Lust and Love are always, continually confused with one another. As for cheaters rather male or female, thats due to the restrictive, controling nature of the relationship they are in 95% of the time. If they were truely happy, why cheat? Because they have too lie and hid their true feelings to please a false expected life style. Openness and respect disolves these senarios. Love has nothing to do with sex. It's Lust that really drives Sex in humans. Not dedication to 1 individual. Not romance, roses and money. Hormones, dna and chemicals demand, design and establish sexual desire/ need. Anyone who denies this reality to their selves is really confused. To follow some religious cults demand for celibacy/Monogamy is dening their God givin design of sexual pleasure and ability. Humans are the only mammal on earth who enjoys and can have at will; Sex of all forms. Why is that if we were made in Gods image and he supposedly denies sexual activity? Don't be fooled people by these would be control freaks of religious cults. Use your god givin brain for logical reason and not for being led down the road to slaughter. Ladies stop throwing away your right many died for of being able to openly enjoy Sexual acts. Virgins are for sacrifice remember? Thats history.

9:28AM PST on Jan 11, 2010

"Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,"
Shakespeare

10:50PM PST on Jan 10, 2010

Very well researched information - thanks Mel.

So the release of neurochemicals create our feelings or love, lust, bonding which we all share (also across species). But what is the primary source of these chemical changes, why we respond to particular people and not others - that's very individual matter. Of course there are some stereotyped 'attractive' people - like tall well built men on high incomes better than their opposites - but I find that a lot of this also comes down to our systems of value, at least when it comes to love. I can't fall in love with a picture of somebody. Lust might be a different matter.

10:27AM PST on Jan 10, 2010

So all human beings along with our pets/babies share these physiological responses to love, life, companionship, and friendship. All of my animals along with the love of my life, my husband and my daughter and grandson, and dear friends keep my blood pressure down and I can feel all of the love from them. Have you huggged or kissed someone today? A hug and or kiss keeps the doctor away!!

9:18AM PST on Jan 10, 2010

Fascinating. a programme on tv recently showed that oxytocin released when mothers feed and hug their babies is also released when people stroke and hug their pets especially dogs. oxytocin creates the bond. so hugging is important great news for me since i love hugs.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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