A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Love: Just what the doctor ordered

Molecules that spell out 'love' - chemicals of love illustration

Call them the chemicals of love. Oxytocin, vasopressin and dopamine affect your physical and mental health when you’re in love.

Who doesn’t love being in love? Romantic dates, feeling like you can count on someone and lower blood pressure are pretty great.

Yes, we said lower blood pressure. Besides making you feel warm inside, being in love is good for your physical and mental health.

“Humans do better when they’re in loving relationships and worse when they’re heartbroken,” said Dr. Justin Schoen, a Marshfield Clinic psychiatrist.

Why is love good for your health? It has to do with hormones, neuropeptides and neurotransmitters, Schoen said.

Being in love lowers stress, blood pressure

People in loving relationships have higher levels of the oxytocin, a neuropeptide released when you have physical contact with a loved one.

Oxytocin not only helps couples bond, it also calms the sympathetic nervous system, Schoen said. The sympathetic nervous system raises heart rate and blood pressure in response to threats.

Studies have shown oxytocin helps lower blood pressure. It’s been found to have a protective effect on the heart, at least in rats with heart injuries.

Skin-to-skin contact calms the HPA axis, a complex set of endocrine system interactions that release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol into your system. Cortisol is linked to weight gain, memory problems, decreased immune function and heart disease. Reduced cortisol levels mean you’ll feel less stressed.

Love makes partners protect each other

Long-term couples know relationships aren’t always hugs and kisses. We want to protect our loved ones when danger threatens. Enter vasopressin, a neuropeptide that can stop us from shutting down in the face of danger.

“Vasopressin seems to be involved in guarding our partners,” Schoen said.

Like oxytocin, vasopressin helps couples bond. It’s also linked to loyalty between partners. These neuropeptides combine to help couples strike a balance between caretaking and protecting, he said.

Love struck? Blame your brain chemicals

New couples: Don’t feel left out. Neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, play a role in how you think and feel when you meet a new romantic interest.

New couples have higher levels of dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical. It fuels sexual attraction and makes couples feel energized and excited about their relationship.

There you have it – the biochemistry of love. And you thought science wasn’t romantic.

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