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Does love really have the power to influence our body and mind? For several years now, the state of love has been analyzed scientifically. And several results today are able to show that yes, love does have multiple, sometimes surprising, effects.
Butterflies in the stomach, a racing heart; we had clearly noticed that love had some physical effects on lovers. But this state of affairs is now being seriously studied through the prism of science. And the newspaper Daily Mail had the good idea of compiling all the studies which demonstrate the virtues of love on both physical and psychological life. Discover these effects.
The brain prioritizes the loved one
One of the most recent studies, published in the journal Behavioral Sciences, revealed that the brain reacts differently when a person is in love, essentially placing the loved one at the center of its attention. The Australian researchers behind the study surveyed 1,556 young adults who identified as “in love” about their emotional response to a partner, their behavior and the attention they paid to them. They concluded that in romantic love, a mechanism known as the behavioral activation system is triggered, which causes a person to prioritize their beloved above all else. The particular importance given to loved ones is due to the combination of oxytocin and dopamine (the feel-good hormone), which our brain releases during romantic love. Lead researcher, anthropologist Adam Bode explains the purpose of this change: “Even though love is about strong emotions, ultimately the goal of evolution is behavior – to inspire us to pursue our partners, care for them, and have lots of sex.”
Being in love improves your sleep
Do you think sharing a bed would lead to more disturbed or even shorter sleep? Sleeping with your partner actually appears to increase REM sleep important for regulating emotions, memories, and creative problem solving. In a 2020 study in Germany, the brains of young couples were scanned over four nights, while they slept together and apart. This showed that although sharing a bed led to more disruption from limb movements, it also led to better quality sleep.
Love strengthens your microbiota
We are far from romantic effects, and yet it is a fact, being in love and in a relationship would also improve our microbiota and therefore our intestinal health. According to 2019 research from the University of British Columbia, people in close relationships, with sustained physical contact, have the most diverse gut microbes of all. Published in Scientific Reports, the study builds on previous research showing that a simple kiss can transfer around 80 million bacteria between couples.
Love reduces chronic inflammation…and pain
One of the best-documented effects of love is how it can reduce chronic inflammation and, therefore, the risk of serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. A study last year from the University of North Carolina found that spending time with a partner reduced the level of C-reactive protein (CRP), a key indicator of chronic inflammation. Scientists tested CRP levels in 100 people in relationships. Result ? The more time participants spent with their partner, the lower their CRP levels were the next day.
Meanwhile, a 2019 study found that being in the presence of a loved one can also reduce pain, even if you don’t touch or talk to them. Researchers from the Austrian University of Health Sciences recruited 48 couples and tested their resilience to pain when they were alone and then when their loved one was in the room. They found that both men and women seemed more resilient when they were with their romantic partners.
Love reduces symptoms of stress
The release of oxytocin (which is also responsible for the euphoria we feel when we fall in love) underlies many of the physiological effects of attachment. Oxytocin is well known for relaxing us, helping us bond with our partner, and reducing stress. And it can help with stress-related intestinal problems. A study from Penn State College of Medicine in the US, published in the Journal of Physiology, showed that oxytocin can reduce stress-related digestive symptoms, including constipation, bloating and nausea, by increasing muscle contractions of the stomach.
Love promotes hair growth
As curious as it may seem, researchers have also discovered that the love hormone (stimulated by touch and hugs) promotes hair growth. The 2023 study, published in Scientific Reports, builds on existing research that shows oxytocin promotes the growth of dermal papilla cells that play a critical role in hair growth.
Love boosts your dopamine
Love also promotes an increase in dopamine, which influences many bodily functions such as memory, movement and mood. In January, a study by neuroscientists in the United States showed that dopamine levels increased when we planned to be with our lover. If we have to meet a partner for dinner, for example, dopamine will increase in the hours leading up, motivating us to make the trip. “The dopamine rush caused by love is beneficial to our health, neuroscientists say, because it pushes us to maintain these connections.”
It goes to show that love doesn’t just give you wings, but a cascade of reactions.