February 12, 2019
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Emad Noor, M.D. contributes to topics such as Neurology.
By Katie Lynch
From chasing your childhood crush on the schoolyard, to going on your first date and growing old with someone – falling in love is a beautiful and dynamic experience. But many have experienced the ‘spark’ change a little throughout the years. You might see the butterflies you used to get from holding hands dwindle a little as a deeper and more meaningful relationship evolves. One stage isn’t better or more important than the other, they’re just different.
Looking at those different phases of a relationship made us wonder, is there a scientific difference between the initial attraction and lasting love?
Although the heart is more commonly associated with love, your brain is really where the magic happens. We spoke with neurologist and clinical neurophysiologist, Emad Noor, M.D. about what actually happens to your brain when you are falling in love.
- Lust – Feeling Innate Longing
“Feelings of lust are much more primal than feeling romantically attached to someone. Lust is driven by physical desire,” shares Dr. Noor. “So this initial burst of sexual desire happens when key regions of the brain are activated: the amygdala and hypothalamus. These are the regions that provoke the sex drive and release estrogen and androgen – vital hormones for libido.”
- Attraction – Identifying a Strong Potential Partner
When looking for a potential partner there are common factors you may evaluate before beginning a relationship, such as whether or not you’re attracted to each other, intelligence, values and even socio-economic status. However, did you know your body may be sending messages chemically to your possible mate?
“When you’re in an initial state of courtship, we may not even realize it, but our brains and bodies are analyzing the potential partner to see if they may be a match. We may be unconsciously secreting chemicals to communicate information surrounding our health – pheromones. It has been debated in the scientific community, but there is evidence that shows that human pheromones can play in a role in determining when and who you choose to reproduce with,” Dr. Noor says.
Also during this phase are a number of chemical increases in your body that can trigger physical responses.
“Dopamine floods in through the neurons, which can create a euphoric-like state. Adrenaline and norepinephrine will increase your heart rate, and result in physical reactions like increased heart rate, sweaty palms or flushed cheeks,” shares Dr. Noor. “Falling in love is actually something you can see physically.”
“Another interesting effect that happens during the early stages of a relationship is that serotonin levels, a chemical that helps you manage stress, may drop, and the stress hormone, cortisol, may rise. These changes, along with the increase in dopamine may be why you can feel elated with this new relationship, but also quite stressed or worried,” Dr. Noor adds.
- Love – Developing Trust and Companionship
While the process of falling in love may be a roller coaster of emotions, the good news is that these high-intensity feelings of anxiety and obsessiveness will subside as time goes on and the relationship grows.
“Serotonin levels will begin to rise, to help you cope with stress. Couples also typically produce more oxytocin from the hypothalamus, which is known as the ‘love hormone’,” shares Dr. Noor.
Driven by various means of human contact, oxytocin can promote feelings of security, calmness and contentment, which can help solidify bonds between partners.
“Vasopressin is another primary hormone when it comes to love,” Dr. Noor mentions. “Also produced from the hypothalamus, vasopressin is released and floods the brain, which much like oxytocin also creates feelings of social attachment, bonding and security. These are all vital feelings for a secure, loving relationship.”
The best part? Science has shown that love can last.
Analyzing MRI brain scans of couples who had been in love for over 20 years, as well as those who were newly in love, researchers found similar activity in the dopamine-rich areas of the brain.
“This study simply shows that the excitement and joy of being in love is still present in a lifetime relationship, but perhaps without the anxieties and pressures that new romance can bring,” says Dr. Noor.
Practicing at the JFK Neuroscience Institute at JFK Medical Center, Dr. Noor is a board certified neurologist and expert in neurology and neurophysiology. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Noor call 732-321-7010. To find a provider near you, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.
NCBI, U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (1)
NCBI, U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (2)
NCBI, U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (3)
NCBI, U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health (4)