Love as painkiller?



Happy Valentines’ Day, everyone!

Love eases all pain. Sounds like a really cliché even on this day of hearts. But surprise, surprise. There is actually science behind this. No less than researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine who tell us – love can be a strong painkiller. Even as strong cocaine!

According to Dr. Sean Mackey, chief of the Division of Pain Management:

“When people are in this passionate, all-consuming phase of love, there are significant alterations in their mood that are impacting their experience of pain. We’re beginning to tease apart some of these reward systems in the brain and how they influence pain. These are very deep, old systems in our brain that involve dopamine — a primary neurotransmitter that influences mood, reward and motivation.”

The research was actually a collaboration between 2 scientists with seemingly contrasting fields of study. One specializes in pain, the other one.

The researchers had the perfect place for conducting their research. The university setting is full of undergraduates who are “in that first phase of intense love”. In other words, there was no shortage of willing and eligible volunteers. The prerequisite: the subject must be in the first 9 months of a romance.

“It was clearly the easiest study the pain center at Stanford has ever recruited for” said Dr. Mackey.”When you’re in love you want to tell everybody about it.”

The study entailed that each subject should take photos of their beloved person as well as photos of attractive acquaintances. The subjects were shown the photos while attached to a thermal stimulator that simulated mild pain. At the same time, an MRI took a photo of the brains of the subjects.

The results indicate that feelings of love when looking at photos of a loved one significantly reduces pain. The part of the brain in question was the “nucleus accumbens, a key reward addiction center for opioids, cocaine and other drugs of abuse. The region tells the brain that you really need to keep doing this.”

Which relates to another cliché – that love is like an addiction. Indeed, the areas of the brain activated by passionate love are the same areas targeted by analgesic drugs to reduce pain and feel good.

“When thinking about your beloved, there is intense activation in the reward area of the brain — the same area that lights up when you take cocaine, the same area that lights up when you win a lot of money.”

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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