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The Chemistry of Love

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R Perkins
It's why your knees go weak, your palms sweat, your stomach does flip-flops and you begin to stammer when you fall in love.

When sparks fly between two people, we're quick to say they have "chemistry." Not everyone realizes that such couples literally have do have chemistry--it's what's behind those sweaty palms, the jumpy stomach, thumping heart, and nervous jitters. Chemistry also contributes to that warm, comfortable feeling you get from being with a longtime partner.

In the mid-1960's, psychologist Dorothy Tennov surveyed 400 people about what it's like to be in love. Many of her respondents talked about fear, shaking, flushing, weakness, and stammering. Indeed, when human beings are attracted to one another, it sets off quite a chain reaction in the body and brain. But there's a perfectly logical explanation to those intense feelings.

The most well-known love-related chemical is phenylethylamine -- or "PEA" -- a naturally occurring trace ammine in the brain. PEA is a natural amphetamine, like the drug, and can cause similar stimulation.

This natural upper contributes to that kick-up-your-heels, on-top-of-the-world feeling that attraction can bring, and gives you the energy to stay up all night talking to a new love. Sometimes this energy translates into the triple-espresso jitters; other times it simply keeps you wide-eyed and alert long past the time when you'd usually be yawning. "I always get excited about somebody who can keep me up late at night," says Elan Freydenson of New Jersey. "I really value my sleep."

Feeling Dopey

You can also get a non-romantic dose of PEA from high-intensity activities like skydiving, or by eating chocolate. According to, chocolate contains small amounts of our love drug, PEA. That might be why some people use chocolate as "comfort food," getting the same warm, relaxed feeling from chocolate as others do from Mom's chicken soup.

One of the substances released by PEA is the neurochemical dopamine. A recent study done at Emory University shows that female voles (small rodents) choose their mates in response to dopamine being released in their brains. When injected with dopamine in a male vole's presence, the female will pick him out of a crowd later. Our love food, chocolate, also elevates levels of dopamine in the brain.

In turn, Dopamine stimulates the production of oxytocin, sometimes known as "the cuddle chemical." Oxytocin is best known for its role in mothering, stimulating contractions during labor and aiding with breast feeding. According to scientists now think that both genders release this nurturing hormone when touching and cuddling, with the oxytocin level peaking during orgasm.

Another euphoria-inducing chemical in your brain, norepinephrine, stimulates the production of adrenaline and makes your blood pressure soar when near the person you're attracted to. That's why you might experience a pounding heart or sweaty palms when you see someone you've got the hots for.

R Perkins

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