Updated 08 June 2010

Madly in love?

Summer's not the only hot thing that's around this time of year. There's also romance. And not many will escape the trap of romance – the euphoria of love eventually hits everyone.


Summer's not the only hot thing that's around this time of year. There's also romance. And not many will escape the trap of romance – the euphoria of love eventually hits everyone.

They don't call it being 'madly in love' for nothing. Love is like a volcano. Hot, steamy, and ready to cause some explosions. When two people are in love, there is a virtual explosion of adrenalin-like chemistry rushing through the body.

Love, love me do
When we fall in love, different hormones and neurotransmitters are triggered from the lower part of the cerebellum to the frontal cortex of the brain. It is almost as if a volcano has awoken from its dormant state. The feeling of euphoria, wooziness, butterflies in your stomach, and hot flushes, as well as sweaty palms, can all be blamed on the neurotransmitter, dopamine.

The chemical noradrenalin is responsible for making your heart rush, and causing all the excitement. Together with dopamine, the release of these two neurotransmitters can make you feel excessively energetic, insomniac, disinclined to eat and very focused. These reactions can eventually lead to your deciding to pursue a long or short-term relationship.

Love at first sight
You’re standing at a bar, waiting for the barman to pour you a drink, when you notice that sexy something leaning against the jukebox. Simply staring into someone’s eyes can spark a feeling of mutual attraction. Let’s hope the person is staring at you, and not the weirdo behind you. Then of course, you may be staring into the eyes of some love junkie, who thinks they are a gift to man- or womankind. Don’t choke on your drink.

A feeling of attraction is usually stimulated by sight, smell, hearing, or touch. Generally, men produce noradrenalin and dopamine far more quickly than women do. Men just have stronger visual perceptions when it comes to pretty women. This explains why some men, but not all, may look at many other parts of a woman, before looking at her face.

Obsessed with love?
Researchers from London’s University College have discovered that those in love have lower levels of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Lower levels of serotonin are often associated with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Researchers believe this is why many people become so obsessed with their lovers.

Was it the eyes?
For many people, there are specific things that make others attractive to them. Here are a few traits, which people concentrate on when scanning the room for a possible mate:
Appearance – facial features, hair colour, eye colour, and skin colour - all form part of the chemical process of love and attraction. Many people even look at your dress sense. Some men and women like a modern look, and others might like the 80s caravan park look. There’s no accounting for taste.
Pheromones – this is the part where we behave like animals. Many people are attracted to a specific scent, often a scent that we wouldn't think we'd recognise. Natural pheromones are produced in human sweat. But today, most of us make use artificial pheromones, such as expensive bottles of perfume. So if you’re in Johnny’s Nightclub and you smell good, chances are quite high that you’ll hit the attraction jackpot.
Personality – a person’s character plays a large role in the phenomenon of love. Researchers have suggested that humans tend to be attracted to those who have a similar character to their parents. Personality traits that could be appealing could include a dry sense of humour, honesty, diligence, and responsibility.

In the mood for some loving?
Although not necessarily proven, it is thought that certain foods can add some hot lava to that rumbling volcano of love. Here are a few:
Oysters – believed to increase levels of testosterone due to high levels of zinc. Oysters are said to increase libido greatly.
Chocolate – this popular gift contains large amounts of phenylethylamine, which in turn can provide a feeling of great well-being.
Asparagus – the high contents of vitamin E are thought to stimulate those sex hormones.
Chillies – believe it or not, but researchers suggest eating hot chillies could heat things up even further in the bedroom, due to the releasing of endorphins.

Lust or Attraction?
Puberty is often when lustful thoughts commence, and during this time, oestrogen and testosterone levels can surge to unbelievable heights. Lust involves a sexual attraction, an inquisitiveness to find out what it would be like to get physically intimate with a specific person. Without lust, it is virtually impossible to find that special person. Pheromones and appearance are usually the two factors that lead to lust. However, lust can be dangerous. Choose your partner carefully.

Attraction could be the next step to follow on the initial feeling of lust. This is when two potential lovers spend more time with each other than what they would with a friend. Attraction often leads to people desensitising themselves from the flaws of their partner, and they cannot stop thinking about them. If all this pays off, the attraction will eventually become an attachment.

When the volcano erupts
During lovemaking, the hormone oxytocin (the cuddling hormone) is released to heighten the sensitivity of nerve endings and stimulate muscle contraction. Bang. Additionally, oxytocin is believed to help maintain a healthy relationship and a feeling of closeness with each other. Endorphins are also produced and give lovers a sense of well being through intimacy, leaving them feeling relaxed, peaceful and secure.

Furthermore, when phenylethylamine, dopamine, and noradrenalin combine, a feeling of infatuation is created. This chemistry is suggested to be the explanation why many lovers can make love and talk for hours on end without getting bored.

However, it is possible for the novelty to wear off eventually. This happens when the body builds up a tolerance to these chemicals. It will then require an increasing amount of the above-mentioned chemicals to bring on that feeling of love and infatuation.

If this is where your relationship is, whispering sweet nothings into your lover’s ear could get these chemicals going again. A lover's voice, look or even a fantasy can trigger the production of oxytocin. Don't hold back.

Is love a medicine?
Many people believe that there is nothing better than being in love, and say it helps them overcome many difficult situations. Others say love is like being on drugs, as it is more addictive than any injection, pill or powder.

A love letter can often describe one’s deeper feelings that are not easy to explain verbally. If written tactfully, a love letter can even sweep your partner off his/her feet, or enable you to move to another level of your relationship. It is all about being creative.

The bottom line is, love means many things: chemical reactions, steam, passion and joy. Get those juices flowing.

(Matthew Louw, Health24, updated January 2012)


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