L’amour Chemicals

Back in the summer of 2007, Phillip, my husband, (he was my fiancé then) introduced me to a Radiolab podcast called This is Your Brain on Love from NPR.  For those of you that don’t know about Radiolab, it’s a radio show hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich (who appears regularly on ABC’s Nightline and ABC News Tonight).  This agnostic duo take simple ideas and questions like: “why do humans need sleep?”, and explore the science behind that question in an entertaining yet educational way.  This particular podcast was about how we, as humans, fall in love.  Apparently it’s a lot more than just boy meets girl…some stuff happens….and then live happily ever after.

Fast forward to present day-ish.  Last Saturday I was in class and we were learning about the neurotransmitters, dopamine, norepinephrine, endorphins, oxytocin, etc.  My ears perked up because I had heard these words my teacher was mentioning and how they manipulate our moods and feelings on Radiolab a few years ago.   Neurotransmitters are chemicals the brain secretes that affect our moods and feelings.  These chemicals are kind of like drugs that our brain makes in our own bodies.

As some of you know, yesterday was Phillip’s and my four year anniversary.  It was also a partial inspiration for this post.  Let’s all think back to when we met that special someone, whether it be a life partner, spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, whoever.  The initial attraction to that person was actually caused by dopamine.  Dopamine is what makes us giddy when we see or think about that person but dopamine wouldn’t be anything without norepinephrine.  The two go hand-in-hand.  It’s a mood elevator, so it communicates good feelings.  The faster it communicates the better your mood will be and the more “in-love” you will feel.  Now, once the whole initial giddy, starry-eyed, lovey stuff has past, it’s the neurotransmitter, oxytocin that keeps us in long-term relationships.  Oxytocin is probably the most diverse chemical (it also plays roles during childbirth) but in this sense, it is released and maintains deep, true love and friendships.  Even though Phillip and I just celebrated our four year anniversary, we’ve been together for ten.  The oxytocin is going strong.

There’s one more neurotransmitter I want to write about and that’s endorphins.  Whenever I hear the word endorphin, I think of this quote from the movie Legally Blonde:

“I just don’t think that Brooke could’ve done this. Exercise gives you endorphins. 
Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands…”

Endorphins are the chemical that get released when performing physical activity and attribute to a feeling of euphoria afterwards.  If you’ve been to a fantastic yoga class, or had a great run (for example) and experienced what’s known as “runner’s high” then you know what I’m talking about.  These are the endorphin’s at work and it’s something people get addicted to.  It’s actually similar to morphine.  Weird, right? The human body creates a “drug” similar to morphine.  It’s a natural pain reliever so when you’re sore from a previous day’s work-out but you’re going at it again, the endorphins mask the pain and get you through the activity.

Jad and Robert debate whether love is strictly chemical or something a bit more magical.  Take a listen, and comment your thoughts.  I think the story, evidence, and cool banter is very engaging.  You will be sure to enjoy every minute, like I have, in discovering the link all our neurotransmitters, drugs, and feelings play together to make people happy and in-love.  Is there anything better than…..l’amour?