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Relationships -- Biochemistry and Hormones

Mukunda2010-07-04 20:48:18 +0000 #1
A student just sent this and i found it most captivating. mukunda

The Magic of Love, The Molecules of Love

John Gottman, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail

Lust, attraction, attachment----all are phases of being in love, and all are controlled by specific molecules in our brains. Yes, sorry---even though this month will see more poetry, flowers, romantic dinners, and (probably) sex than usual, it's really all about chemicals.

Phenylethylamine (PEA) is the chemical in our brain that controls the levels of monoamines such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. It is this chemical that takes our feelings of lust (which are mediated by our sex hormones) and turns them into attraction. It's this PEA-mediated surge of hormones that gives you the ability to go without sleep and food and causes you to obsess about your new-found partner. Studies have shown that levels of serotonin are similar in those newly-infatuated to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. By the same token, if you take antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft, which change serotonin levels, you may actually find it very difficult to fall in love. (Anecdotally, stopping an antidepressant may actually improve your relationship with your partner, or your interest, if it's waning).

High levels of PEA generated when we first fall in love last anywhere from 6 months to three years. They then fade away, which corresponds to that time in all relationships when the "zing" goes away. As this happens, we lose the epinephrine-rush of the early part of the relationship; this "rush" can become addictive, which explains why some people will drop a relationship at this point and go back out in search of someone new and the PEA surge that comes with them. However, for attraction to evolve into attachment, our bodies produce two different hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin is produced with uterine contractions during labor and during breastfeeding; it may have evolved to help new mothers bond with their infants. It is also produced in both men and women during orgasm. This fact leads to many implications. It explains why someone would feel more attached to someone new immediately after sex than they really are, causing them to profess a love they don't really feel. It also explains why long-term relationships that involve a healthy sex life often are stronger than those that don't. (And by implication, if your relationship is rocky, try having more orgasms together and see if the bond improves!)

Vasopressin is a hormone that in some mammals helps to form a feeling of monogamy. In the prairie vole, large amounts of vasopressin are produced post-coitally in the male, and the couple will bond for life. Although there is an increase in vasopressin in humans, the levels are much lower, and the effect, alas, is not the same.

So as we move through the stages of love, our brain chemistry changes. We move from the impossibly easy (but exhausting) exhilaration of attraction and infatuation to the harder work of long term bonding. Studies have shown that how we communicate with our partners predicts whether or not we have a chance of long-term success. In the work of John Gottman, it has been demonstrated that arguing is not a problem. What counts is that each couple must have 5 times as many positive interactions as negative ones. In fact, habitual avoidance of conflict is a predictor of divorce, as is contempt. (For more information, see John Gottman's "Why Marriages Succeed or Fail." - www.amazon.com: www.amazon.com )

So where do the traditional Valentines habits of chocolate and strawberries come from? Each of these is loaded with PEA, so no matter how long you've been with your partner, enjoy these treats and the rush you may get, no matter how fleeting!


Hubert2010-07-04 20:53:05 +0000 #2
How come chemicals of such importance like PEA are to be found in the humble strawberries ? This indeed is a miracle. As it is a miracle that a chemical can have such effects.

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