Valentine’s Day Special – the chemistry of love

For many of us February is the warmest month during winter. Why? Because there’s a Valentine’s Day right in the middle of the month. Because the date of February 14th is getting closer, together with Elena at Perfume Shrine and Gaia at the Non-Blonde we decided to throw a little event together. Each of us will talk about different stuff connected with love. For I am a chemist I will tell you about the very chemistry of the thing called LOVE. Get ready for a dose of interesting facts.

The first thing that one has to realize is that it’s true that being in love really influences our bodies by causing some processes to work differently and also inducing some new reactions inside us. Many people think that the feeling of love is strictly connected with our hearts. I guess it’s because big red heart is the most common symbol of deeper feelings towards other person. But you have to know that love has nothing to do with our hearts. It’s not one’s heart that falls in love… It’s our head, our brain where the feeling of love is born. The avalanche of chemical reactions happens with a mediation of group of molecules known as neurochemicals. They occur in our brains and trigger some events.

The main neurochemicals that are involved in falling in love are named serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine and norepinephrine. The infatuation is the first stage when being in love. This state is induced by the lower level of serotonin. In your brain it works by inducing a state similar to having an OCD. This explains why people in love cannot focus on even simplest activities and cannot stop thinking about their object of feelings. Low level of serotonin make people in love idealize their objects of affection. Oxytocin is kind of “social hormone” – it’s responsible for pair bonding and social recognition. Its fair amounts are also released into your limbic system after reaching an orgasm. Dopamine and norepinephrine usually co-work when it comes to love. The first one, also known as “pleasure chemical” gives you the feeling of bliss while norepinephrine has a similar effect on the body as adrenaline – it causes the feeling of excitement, gives you sweaty palms and racing heart. Those are so-called “butterflies in your stomach.”

Scientific researches show that when we go head over heels certain parts of our brains literally shut down, like they were switched off by love. The brain parts we’re talking about are frontal cortex – responsible for judgement. When it’s not active the criticism in your head is suspended. Other brain parts that undergo working changes are amygdala – you don’t feel fear and mid-temporal cortex which controls negative emotions.

One can’t deny the importance of our visual appearances and personal sexappeal when it comes to falling in love. Hormones: testosterone for men and estrogen are what makes us potentially attractive for one another. This leads us to the topic of natural pheromones. These substances don’t have their own scent (comparing to molecules of fragrance compounds) and they can be perceived by other individuals on a different surface. Many people, but not all of them have a vomeronasal organ in their noses. This very small field inside the nose is able to pick up pheromones found in human sweat. Many experiments were carried in which females were asked to smell used (sweaty) t-shirts of males and point one men they felt most attracted to based on what their noses were telling them. Most women chose a men with most different immune system comparing to their own – as this guarantees a healthy offspring. The very same rule applies in the animal world.

Finally as for the Valentine’s Day and pleasures of the day there’s a group of products, food and beverages that are believed to enhance feelings coming from more intimate contacts with other person. Those aphrodisiacs (named after Greek goddess Aphrodite) have the power to make us feel aroused, relaxed and more open. There are many doubts about aphrodisiacs magical power of lust and desire and most probable theory is that it’s our belief that makes us feel in a certain way after eating those. A simple placebo effect.

On the other hand a vast number of fruits, herbs or other things considered as aphrodisiacs contain chemicals or specified groups of substances that could have a possitive effect on stamina and libido. What is interesting – many of those have a suggestive shape of sexual organs of either men or women. Anyway, here are a couple examples of aphrodisiacs. These may or may not work on you as this is a very subjective matter. In fact I think that each of us could find at least one thing that is not normally an aphrodisiac but it has an erotic influence on us.

Probably most known aphrodisiac is seafood – oysters in particular. They contain a lot of zinc which is a necessary element for efficient production of testosterone. The latter one increases libido of both partners. Vitamin E in asparagus stimulates sex hormones. The same applies for almonds. Additionally the aroma of almonds is said to light the fire of passion in females. Folic acid, potassium and vitamin B6 boost immune system while nutrients from bananas can enhance male libido (that explains a fruit shape, doesn’t it?) Figs are also believed to enhance sexual experience.

Aphrodisiacs or not there’s always a way to cheat a little bit on our organism. One of the neurochemicals in our brains called phenylethylamine (PEA) is responsible for releasing dopamine and norepinephrine: hormones of joy and satisfaction. This chemical (I mean PEA) is also widely available in chocolate. The pleasure that you feel eating the melting delight however is mostly influenced by sugar and sweetness in your mouth rather than by phenylethylamine – it’s rapidly metabolized before it reaches your brain.

Drinks and herbal specifics can also have an influence on the way we feel while being close to the person we’re attracted to. Champagne, wine, beverages based on ginger, cinnamon or even a tea with ginkgo can boost appetite for carnal pleasures. However I doubt if they contain any chemical substances that affect the organism but I couldn’t find an information on that so I might be wrong. Alcohol definitely plays a role here making us feel happier, less-stressed and open-minded. In Poland we say – everything is for people if you know how much to use.

Because we live in an open world I didn’t want to neglect our brothers and sisters of homosexual orientation. First brief online searches gave me no satisfying results but as I searched deeper in this area I found an article inclining that serotonin, the infatuation-inducing hormone which I mentioned earlier , and it’s very low level, plays a role in behaviour of a male to male or female to female attraction. This single study is not sufficient enough to make a clear conclusion. I believe that future studies will shed some more light on the topic.

Another interesting chemical compound is the hormone of happiness – endorphin. This complicated molecule is actually a morphine-like substance produced in our bodies. Its level rise not only when we’re in love but also during sport activities, excitement, while feeling pain or eating spicy food. Simply said endorphins give us a feeling of well-being. Because of them we’re happy and cheerful. Even chocolate releases endorphins. So when someone says that “love is like a drug” they are partially right. The neurochemicals released in our brains while in love often have a similar effect on us as narcotics.

Changing our direction a little bit here – have you ever wondered who falls in love more easily? The first answer that many of us would give is women. And they are wrong! It’s men who fall in love more easily – it’s a proven fact. Scientific experiments on both sexes were conducted and results showed that men fall in love faster, mostly because a vast number of them are visual types. On the other hand women get more attached to their partners earlier and break up is more dramatic for them.

In the end I’d like to mention a couple of aromas that are considered sexy and thus can stimulate your body and mind. Vanilla is the most popular fragrance aphrodisiac that especially affects men. Spices such as cinnamon, ginger, black pepper have warming properties and essential oils of these can stimulate the body by intensifying the blood flow in certain parts. Herbal aromas such as basil or lavender can both soothe you and be a prelude to a ravishing night. Finally flowers such as jasmine, ylang-ylang and roses speak to romantic side of ourselves. Smell of honey and almonds also stimulates your senses.

A couple of personal perfume suggestions that might rekindle the passion. Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille, Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur, Hermessence Ambre Narguile, Laboratorio Olfattivo Alambar, Farmacia SS. Annunziata Hyle, Van Cleef & Arpels Rose Velours, Gucci Envy for Men, Pour un Homme de Caron, Lorenzo Villoresi Wild Lavender, Atelier Cologne Rose Anonyme, Hiram Green Moon Bloom, Parfumerie Generale Ilang Ivohibe, Estee Lauder Amber Ylang Ylang, Annick Goutal Le Jasmin, Serge Lutens Sarrasins, Viktoria Minya Hedonist, and many many more…

It doesn’t really matter if you’re going to spend this Valentine’s Day with your beloved one at a fancy restaurant, theatre, cinema or on a couch in the living room. It’s ok if you are going to treat yourself to a bottle of sparkling champagne and strawberries with whipped cream but you can as well have a huge mug of hot tea instead. It’s all up to you but the most important thing is the confession of your feelings, of love. And not only on February 14th but every other day too. Be in love – now you know the chemistry of it. HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY next Friday!

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32 thoughts on “Valentine’s Day Special – the chemistry of love

  1. What a fascinating post Lucas…I’m all for eating as many oysters as I can! Happy Valentines Day!

  2. poodle says:

    Oh to be young and in love…. I remember those days. I’ve never been much of a Valentine’s day person. I love your chemical perspective on the topic. Very interesting.

    • lucasai says:

      Oh to be in love… (I’m still young so I skip that part)
      Valentine’s Day has been celebrated in Poland for like 10 years, maybe more, we didn’t have that tradition here earlier.
      Glad you liked the chemistry of love.

  3. ringthing says:

    Lucas, this article is fascinating, thanks so much. My husband introduced me to raw oysters when we were first in love but neither of us knew about the supposed aphrodisiac effects 🙂 I think we just like to eat.

    • lucasai says:

      I’m glad you liked what you’ve just read here.
      Maybe he knew about oysters aphrodisiac effects but he just doesn’t want to admit it 😉
      I guess he knew what he was doing offering you those to eat 😛

  4. Thank you Lucas so much for playing along and for diving right into the idea of love chemistry! 🙂 It makes for a fascinating post and I loved reading about the food (nodding my head on every sentence you wrote). I especially like figs because of their…shape!

    • lucasai says:

      Thanks Elena for inviting me to join for the event. Glad you liked the love chemistry aspect.
      You just made me laugh saying you nodded on every sentence about the food.

  5. jilliecat says:

    Well, I “loved” every word you have written here. I was never any good at chemistry at school, but you make it so interesting. You are right – we should love every day, not just on St Valentine’s!

    • lucasai says:

      Thank you, you’re so sweet 🙂
      I’m glad you found all the information I included to be interesting.
      Totally, love should be given daily not occasionally

  6. Tora says:

    Great Article!!!!!

  7. rickyrebarco says:

    Great explanation, Lucasai! A biochemist friend of mine had told me all the same stuff about the brain chemicals when one is “in love” or “infatuated.’ It’s very evident in teenagers when they first fall in love. Their still underdeveloped brains are completely over taken by these hormones. Thanks for an excellent article!

  8. Undina says:

    I love this holiday and appreciate any positive information, thoughts and suggestions around it.

  9. hajusuuri says:

    Bravo my dearest Lucas! I LOVE this post! I wonder — Could couples who have “lost the spark” buy some kind of LOVE PACK to rekindle love?

    Love ya!

    • lucasai says:

      Thanks sweet Hajusuuri! Glad you LOVE it! Wait, wait, wait… I’ve seen a mention on that at one of the articles I was using to write this post. I can’t remember which one (and I deleted them from my list) but if I remember correctly it had something to do with short-term separation.
      I’m afraid there’s nothing like a healing pack for them.

    • jilliecat says:

      In olden times a visit to the local witch for love spells might have helped ……..

  10. Gaia says:

    Dear Lucas, this was fascinating to read. I don’t eat oysters (I’ma vegetarian), but figs– I can eat them all day long and can never get enough (one more thing I have in common with Elena!).

    • lucasai says:

      Thanks Gaia! Your recipe sounds delish too, will give it a try one lazy afternoon.

      I tried figs 2 years ago when I was in Croatia but I didn’t like it. Maybe it was too ripe of over-ripe. I will give it another go one of these days to see if something changed.

  11. laniersmith says:

    I am feeling blissful, lightheaded and like I have OCD…I think I am in love with this post!

  12. Vanessa says:

    Lots of fascinating insights in this post – I knew about the smelly T-shirt experiment and the role of oxytocin, but the lower levels of serotonin were new to me. Shutting off negative thoughts about the object of one’s infatuation – I have definitely been there, haha!

  13. Pat says:

    Valentine’s Day – a very stupid day. Why do we always have to copy Americans in those most stupid things?

    • lucasai says:

      I wouldn’t say that it’s stupid, it’s just one of those modern lifestyle “events”.
      You don’t have to participate.
      I’m going to work tomorrow to forget about the date 😛

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