Love on the brain

12 February 2013

Love is where the heart is? It is actually your brain that gives you that loving feeling. Scientists at Glasgow Science Centre are exploring how your body works for their new exhibition and with the upcoming Valentine’s Day celebrations approaching, have been delving into the chemistry of love.

The heart has been long associated with love but that walking on air, butterflies in your tummy feeling is caused by chemical reactions in your body initiated by the brain. The brain is the body’s most complex organ and advances in science are helping us to understand how it works and how we can design treatments to help repair brain function.

We don’t foresee people sending cards with pictures of brains on them come February 14th but Dr Robin Hoyle, Director of Science at Glasgow Science Centre, explains the chemistry behind attraction and love and how our brains are actually at the heart of it.

So when you first meet someone, is it their looks, personality or sense of humour that you are attracted to? It may actually be love at first smell?
Dr Robin:

“Pheromones are odourless chemical compounds released through the skin and when secreted they dictate sexual behaviour and attract other individuals. These hormones are found throughout the animal world and help to influence sexual behaviour.”

The word pheromone is Greek from the words ‘Pherein’ meaning to transfer and ‘Horman’, to excite. Perfumes, scented soaps and aftershave may mask the scent that attracts the opposite sex so think before you spray when you are out on the pull.

As your relationship advances other chemicals kick in- oxytocin, vasopressin and endorphins play key functions when it comes to commitment and developing long term relationships. 

Dr Robin:
“Vasopressin is widely known as the monogamy chemical and endorphins produce a feeling of wellbeing, security and serenity. Oxytocin, known as the ‘cuddle drug’, is identified for its strong bonding role.”

These chemicals are released during sex and so the theory goes that the more sex a couple have, the greater the bond between them.

If you are cooking a romantic dinner this Valentine’s Day, you may want to add certain foods to your menu. Aphrodisiacs are believed to improve individuals' libido due to their chemical composition. 

• Chocolate- contains phenylethylamine and serotonin, two chemicals that  light up pleasure areas in the brain
• Pine nuts and Oysters- contains high levels of zinc which is believed to increase the production of testosterone
• Garlic- good for helping blood circulation which could increase the sensitivity of erogenous zones
• Chillies- the capsaicin in chillies stimulates nerve endings to release chemicals, raising the heart rate and triggering the release of endorphins

Whilst aphrodisiacs are thought to increase sexual desire, there is no substantiated scientific evidence that any particular food increases sexual desire or performance.

The human body is an amazing machine and complex chemical reactions happen every minute of the day to keep us alive. But how well do we understand it? Visitors to BodyWorks will become the experiment and the scientist as they discover the science behind their health and wellbeing.  As part of the exhibition, visitors will be able to learn more about the anatomy and function of the brain through exhibits like a 3D brain, real human brain specimens and a virtual autopsy table.

Scientists at Glasgow Science Centre agree that chemistry isn’t necessarily everything when it comes to relationships. There are more elements to a relationship. Personality, culture, circumstances, and scores of other variables help decide who turns your head and who leaves you cold.
Glasgow Science Centre wishes everyone a happy Valentine’s Day and hopes it’s full of chemistry!

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