Music, literature and fine art all present variations of seemingly infinite attempts to understand the confusing rush of passionate emotions that overwhelms couples when they first meet and fall in love. Some relationships see a slow burn on their journeys to eternal passion, carefully nursing an ember over time as it blossoms into an inferno of love. But those are the exception. Regardless of how it happens, of course, most people will – at some point in their lives – experience about the same range of emotions, from fear and anxiety all the way to euphoric joy, shortly after cupid’s arrow strikes.
The truth, however, is that every individual reacts to love, lust and romance differently. One of the most common sayings about romance is that nobody chooses who they fall in love with. After performing research studying the physiological effects of love, scientists determined that when it comes to whether we choose who we love, the resounding answer is, well, “maybe”.
What is known for a fact is the strange spectrum of intense side effects that nearly all humans enjoy and endure for love.
10. Love Does the Same Thing as Cocaine in the Brain
Researchers studying the effects of love have discovered that the way the brain reacts to falling in love is similar to the way it reacts after taking a hit of cocaine.
When the love chemicals are triggered, the brain releases a flood of neurochemicals such as norepinephrine, dopamine, adrenaline and oxytocin. The main result of all these brain chemicals is an overwhelming sense of euphoria and well-being, also triggering physiological responses such as butterflies in the belly.
A total of twelve different parts of the loved-up brain absorb these chemicals at the same time, making this emotion an incredibly powerful and complex neurological phenomenon.
9. Love is Physically and Mentally Addictive
In order to figure out if there’s a scientific difference between love and lust, researchers monitored the brain closely to see which areas of the mind lit up during erotic thoughts and which ones lit up due to romantic love.
Scientists found that lust correlated with parts of the brain that control thirst, hunger and arousal while love lights up the portions of the brain responsible for craving , addiction and euphoria. This means that love is literally addictive in the same way that illegal, euphoric narcotics hook the mind and body, resulting in the same type of withdrawal when love no longer rules the brain.
8. Love is a Natural Pain Killer
Love is one of the most underrated painkillers in the world. Couples who cuddle enjoy a significant increase in oxytocin, which helps the body reduce pain, even completely eliminating headaches in four hours.
Another study shows that when deeply connected lovers hold hands, their levels of pain and stress are reduced. Amazingly, the other person doesn’t even need to be present to enjoy the painkilling force of pure love. Scientists ran an experiment that simply showed a picture of a loved one to participants before engaging in word puzzles. Those who viewed pictures of loved ones before the puzzles experienced pain relief much greater than those who didn’t see a picture.
7. Heart Rates Synchronize through the Lovers’ Gaze
Physiological studies that took place at the University of California’s research campus at Davis have revealed that there’s an invisible communication that lovers express through their eyes.
The experiment monitored couples who were asked to gaze into each other’s eyes for three minutes without looking away. Scientists monitored the heart rates, specifically showing adjustments in heartbeat that take place after the couple stares at each other. Somehow, the heartbeats of the two lovers showed synchronization, with women tending to adjust their rates more frequently than men.
Nobody knows why or how this occurs, although it’s theorized that people in love simply experience heightened empathy towards their lovers.
6. Broken Heart Syndrome is an Actual Disease
There are very few life events more painful than the breaking of a heart. When people lose love, the amount of stress that floods the body can be so severe that it actually results in a physically damaged heart.
While most people recover from broken heart syndrome relatively quickly, those who suffer the most severe form of BHS can experience muscle failure within the heart which, in rare cases, can be fatal. The symptoms of BHS can be so strong that they can be mistaken for a heart attack. BHS can be experienced by anyone, including those with strong health, with symptoms including chest pain, an erratic heartbeat and shortness of breath.
5. Love Short Circuits Neural Pathways for Judgement
Nearly everyone has seen a couple in love that probably shouldn’t be together, maybe because they’re wildly mismatched or one member of the couple just plain behaves badly.
Despite the advice of family and friends, who protest against the obvious bad match, a new couple is likely to stay together even against glaring odds. Scientists believe that the portions of the brain responsible for making sound decisions is all but disabled by the rush of brain chemicals that results from new love. Hence, areas such as the prefrontal cortex become weak, resulting in diminished social judgment at the cost of other vital decision-making processes.
4. There’s A Disease that Prevents Romantic Love
The Mayo Clinic describes hypopituitarism as an uncommon condition in which a pituitary gland is unable to create one of many possible types of hormones, depriving the brain of normal function through whichever chemical that’s missing or inadequate.
One of the tragic results of this rare disease can be the inability for a human to experience the full range of rapture when romantic love occurs. While there is no cure for this disease, a variety of medications exists to help regulate this condition. However, taking medication to be able to experience love can be seen to be the antithesis of the romantic process, which makes the disease all the more depressing.
3. Secret Love Deepens Emotions
One of the most popular tropes of passionate, enduring love is a Romeo and Juliet story in which a pair of lovers have to keep their relationship a secret because of societal pressure.
Researchers have discovered a physiological phenomenon that takes place in the brain during clandestine romance: A neurochemical called phenylethylamine becomes elevated when people have to keep their relationship a secret. Phenylethylamine is also present in chocolate in great quantities, but breaks down too quickly to be absorbed in the system.
Of course, once the love is revealed, the couple has to deal with the withdrawal of this exciting neurochemical.
2. Brain Chemicals Help Promote Fidelity
People who are in a committed, loving, long-term relationship have moved on from the initial phase of romantic love, which usually lasts a year or so. In the next phase of the relationship, the brain expresses love through a new neurochemical profile.
Part of the new balance is a chemical called oxytocin, which is a hormone responsible for generating feelings of trust between individuals. In serious relationships where both partners are in love, oxytocin has been found to curb infidelity among males. Specifically, the more oxytocin in a male’s system, the more uncomfortable committed partners were with advances from the opposite sex.
Nevertheless, oxytocin doesn’t completely prevent the impulses which lead to infidelity, as all the men in the study were capable of considering other woman attractive.
1. Love Triggers the Same Effects as OCD
Despite the euphoria of love, the negative side effects can be devastating. Falling in love contributes to increased levels of cortisol, which causes stress, and a decrease in serotonin, which helps create feelings of overall contentment.
The combination of these two side-effects can trigger symptoms that are exactly like obsessive compulsive disorder, which would explain a lot of the strange behavior that people exhibit when falling in love. In fact, the serotonin in the brain can drop by as much as 40%, which is typically the level of someone who endures a clinical case of OCD.