Why do we love?
Besides being a distraction from work, a way to pass the time and a convenient comfort, does love do anything to directly impact our health? Does it affect our thoughts, physiology and perception of the world?
According to the history of humans on earth, recent evidence and my theories on health and disease it most certainly does. Love is one of our basic needs for survival as a species, hugely due the widespread effects of the “love hormone.”
I’m addicted to the Big-O…oxytocin, that is. This so-called hormone is actually a tiny 9 amino acid neuropeptide that plays a crucial role in multiple aspects of our lives. It is released from the brain when we’re with our tribe (family, friends, colleagues), during physical contact (including sex and handshakes) and when we help others. What’s particularly amazing is that not only does your oxytocin rise when you offer to help someone in need, but that person’s oxytocin also increases, as do the levels in anyone who witnesses the act. It is essential in creating social bonds and building trust.
We are fundamentally social and empathetic, which is the only reason we have survived evolution. We are wired to feel good when we act in a loving manner and help others. Oxytocin is another one of Mother Nature’s clever intentions and her way of keeping nice, naturally giving people in the gene pool.
So what does this tiny chemical do that is so damn impressive and worth reading about…
- Allows us to live longer – your instinct to survive requires collaboration with others
- Improves our cognitive abilities, making us better problem solvers – back in the early days, we relied heavily on teamwork to accrue food and fight or run from predators
- Boosts immune response – oxytocin modulates our inflammatory response, which is a major factor in the development of chronic disease
- Provides immobility without fear – namely during birth/labor, lactation, and consensual sex
- Decreases blood pressure – one of the greatest determinants of reducing heart disease risk
- Cements the maternal bond – trauma early in life has been associated with alterations in how this and other hormones are produced later in life, affecting things like social cognition
- Increases libido – studies have shown that it plays a key role in arousal and achievement of orgasm
- Reduces cravings and addiction – likely in attempt to promote selfless as opposed to self-serving behaviors
- Facilitates neurogenesis and tissue repair – it literally heals broken hearts, among other things
- Modulates the HPA axis, making us feel calm and safe – Not surprisingly, it is inhibited by cortisol. Oxytocin receptors are regulated by other hormones and factors that alter levels according to what the nervous system senses
- Inspires us to work together – This may be my favorite bit and a piece that is crucial for all those aspiring entrepreneurs out there. You don’t have to do it alone. In fact, it would be a major disadvantage to not reach out and ask for a hand while helping others who are struggling too.
So, this Valentine’s day, do yourself and the human race a favour – love with all of your heart, help those around you and get that oxytocin flowing!
***This post is dedicated to my two very good friends who got engaged to the love of their lives last week, the man of my dreams (who happens to be celebrating a birthday today) and the handsome rescue pooch I took home on a hunch, almost exactly a year ago today xoxo
Dr. Taryn Deane is a naturopathic physician and health writer based in Vancouver, BC. She specializes in holistic dermatology, improving sex-drive and boosting self-esteem. Learn more about Dr. Deane or follow her on Twitter: @drtaryndeane