Valentine’s Day reminds us of hearts but when was the last time you listened to your heart? Is your heart racing? It could be because you are in the presence of a new loved one. The adrenaline hormone and the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, increase when two people fall in love, causing their hearts to race for just a moment. 1
Losing a loved one through death or divorce also takes its toll on the heart. This stressful event can cause a temporary weakening of the heart muscle, especially in older adults. The chest pain that is felt is referred to as “broken heart” syndrome. Ironically, even a stressful happy event, such as a wedding or the birth of a grandchild can cause “broken heart” syndrome.2
If you want to be happy and have good health, it might be more important to make your partner happy than trying to make yourself happy.3 Giving love from the heart in terms of social support makes your partner happy, which can help you have better health.
And, yes, go ahead and share that dark chocolate candy and a glass of red wine with your loved one this Valentine’s Day. Dark chocolate has been shown to be associated with lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels and improvement in the way your blood vessels dilate and relax.4 Flavonoids are present in red wine, and one glass a day is associated with lower rates of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.
Remember, though, you should always check out heart symptoms with a physician and do not engage in chocolate or wine immoderately.
When we experience love at first sight, a chemical, phenylethylamine(PEA), floods the brain. PEA, an amphetamine-like chemical, makes us feel euphoric and aroused. Surprisingly, we don’t even need an actual person present to have a surge of PEA. This chemical increases even when we read a romance novel or see a sexy picture.1 Yes, it is the romance novel that turns on this amphetamine-like PEA substance for women and sexually explicit pornography that turns it on for men.2
PEA causes us to feel so good but it also can cause us to become addicted to whatever stimulates it. Then, just as an addiction to amphetamines can induce cravings and withdrawal, we become dependent on seeking out whatever will increase our PEA.
Driven by this chemical hunger, we might even experiment with eating chocolate because chocolate contains PEA. Maybe this is why a box of chocolates is a romantic gift, in the hope that the surge of PEA will increase passionate feelings. Indeed, one study showed that participants indicated greater interest in initiating a relationship with a potential partner when exposed to a sweet taste.3 There is a downside, however. Chocolate does contain PEA but the PEA is metabolized so quickly that it doesn’t have time to have much effect on the brain.4
Crenshaw,T.L. (1996) The alchemy of love and lust. New York: G.P. Putman & Sons, pp. 55-62.
Suzuki O, Katsumata Y, Oya M (1981). “Oxidation of beta-phenylethylamine by both types of monoamine oxidase: examination of enzymes in brain and liver mitochondria of eight species”. Journal of Neurochemistry.363, 1298–30.
Dongning, R., Tan, K., Arriaga, X.B., Chan, K.Q. (2014). Sweet love: The effects of sweet taste experience on romantic perceptions. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Published online October 21, 2014 doi:10.1177/0265407514554512.