The Chemicals of Love

Love Chemicals and Chemistry of Love

Neurotransmitters are responsible for those butterflies you feel in the stomach!
Neurotransmitters are responsible for those butterflies you feel in your stomach. Jonathan Kitchen, Getty Images

When you say you and a romantic partner 'have chemistry' you're right! There is a lot of chemistry involved in feeling attachment, sweaty palms, butterflies in your stomach, etc. Have you ever wondered exactly what chemicals are involved in feeling love? Here's a look at some of the key biochemical players:

  • phenylethylamine or PEA - This is an amine that naturally occurs in the brain and also in some foods, such as chocolate. It is a stimulant, much like an amphetamine, that causes the release of norepinephrine and dopamine. This chemical is found when you are falling in love. It's responsible for the head-over-heels, elated part of love.
  • norepinephrine - When PEA causes this chemical to be released, you feel the effects in the form of sweaty palms and a pounding heart.
  • dopamine - Dopamine is a neurochemical that appears to be associated with mate selection. An Emory University study found that voles (a type of rodent) chose their mate based on dopamine release. When female voles were injected with dopamine in the presence of a male vole, they could select him from a group of voles later.
  • oxytocin - Dopamine triggers the release of oxytocin, which is sometimes called the 'cuddle hormone'. In both genders, oxytocin is released during touching. In women, oxytocin is released during labor and breastfeeding.
  • testosterone - Though you might think of testosterone as a male hormone, both men and women produce it. Raw lust is accompanied by a surge in testosterone levels.
  • endorphins - Your brain acquires a tolerance to the love stimulants and starts to release endorphins. The honeymoon is over, chemically, around 18 months to 4 years into a relationship. However, this isn't all bad. Endorphins are associated with feelings of attachment and comfort. Endorphins are like opiates. They calm anxiety, relieve pain and reduce stress.