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What’s Love Got to Do with It?

February 8, 2023

Valentine’s Day again. Flowers, candy, thoughtful little gifts and all those mushy Hallmark cards: “No matter what happens in life, things are always better with you by my side,” Life may change, but our love will always be the same. “I choose you. Now and forever” Really? Is that true? According to the US Census Bureau nearly 50% of adults in America are single and divorce takes place in the US every 13 seconds. (Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, 2020). So, what does one do with those odds and the consequences of today’s modern cultural shifts? I know. …I’m ruining it for all those hopeless romantics out there. And it’s not to say I don’t tip my hat to those who stay together for better or worse. But as the world is changing faster than a toupee in a windstorm, the search for “true” love forever can be elusive at best.

Although people experience love differently, the chemistry behind the initial rush of attraction shows us that there are biological explanations to the feeling. Dopamine, just one of several neurotransmitters is an initial part of our reward system in the central nervous system, which enhances the release of testosterone creates a sense of arousal. Dopamine affects, mood and emotions leading to feelings of excitement and happiness. Interestingly, anticipation alone can cause a biological response and stimulate the reward system. This is why the pursuit of the elusive lovebug is so powerful. We literally lust after those feelings.

After the first dopamine step, a feedback loop begins to form, and the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and PEA (phenylethylamine) leads to focused attention. Zeroing-in on the person, even to the point of obsession, which often gives a feeling of euphoria. Norepinephrine is a stimulant responsible for the feelings of giddiness when we’re in love and may even cause a loss of appetite or sleep. If the relationship doesn’t last, PEA levels fall and are partly responsible for the feelings of depression.

So why doesn’t it last forever for everyone?

 Professor Sue Carter, a biologist in the field of social bonding and love is quoted as saying:

“Oxytocin receptors in the brain region which mediates reward and motivation (the nucleus accumbens) are key to explaining many individual differences in behavior. In fact, scientists have found that people who have a greater amount of oxytocin receptors in this region is associated with a higher likelihood of forming lifelong pair bonds”. BBC, Science Focus Magazine 2021.

Here are some tips on how you can increase your oxytocin.

  • Vitamin D: naturally increase dopamine levels in the brain, and being deficient in Vitamin D can make you more anxious and more depressed.
  • Vitamin C: high doses increase the release of oxytocin, which then increases intercourse frequency, as well as increases mood and decreases stress(1). 
  •  Magnesium: Researchers have found that the oxytocin receptor requires magnesium to function properly, and it increases the action of oxytocin at the receptor (2-3). Besides supporting your oxytocin levels, it can also naturally increase dopamine, reduce anxiety. 
  • Caffeine: significantly increases the release of oxytocin (4-5). 
  • Estrogen has been found to increase the synthesis and secretion of oxytocin. It also increases the expression of oxytocin receptors in the brain (6). 
  • Lactobacillus reuteri probiotic: significantly increases oxytocin levels in the brain through the vagus nerve. (7-8). 
  • Fenugreek is one of the most popular herbal supplements that has been traditionally used to enhance sex drive. It also demonstrates antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects. (9-10). 
  • Touching: This obviously includes kissing, cuddling, and sex. But non-sexual touch such as hugging and shaking hands increases oxytocin as well (11,12,13).
  • Loving-kindness meditation, or metta, is a meditation practice designed to enhance feelings of kindness and compassion for yourself and others. (14)
  • Acupuncture can affect the synthesis, release and action of several neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, including oxytocin (15). 
  • Pets: One study found that oxytocin levels increased in both humans and dogs after just five minutes of petting. This may explain the emotional bonding between humans and our pets (16). 
  • Massage can significantly increase oxytocin levels and reduce stress hormones. (17, 18). 
  • Slow-tempo music has also been shown to increase both oxytocin and heart-rate variability. (19). 
  • Singing for 30 minutes significantly increases oxytocin levels in both amateur and professional singers, regardless of whether they enjoyed singing the song (20, 21).
  • Positive social interactions can also increase oxytocin levels (22). 
  • Receiving and giving gifts increases oxytocin levels in the brain. A study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior found that charitable behavior reduces stress and improves health by increasing oxytocin levels (23).

All of these tips have proved to be beneficial in reducing stress, increasing a general feeling of happiness and wellbeing and is an expression of self-love regardless of pairing with a mate. It’s important to remember the old saying: “How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.” Like a bee to honey, in loving yourself first you will attract others to desire that love they see in you.

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