Is There Such A Thing As A Love Hormone?

Updated October 20, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Love. It can be an intangible feeling, or it can be so soul achingly deep that you feel it on a physical level. But what makes us love? The concept that love is nothing more than chemistry means that for those who don’t believe in romantic love is nothing more than hormones. If you’re not a believer in soulmates or fate then what is it that makes two people come together?

Scientists have been wondering about this for years, and at this point, love can be explained through chemistry.

Chemical Or Hormone?

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Within our bodies, we have a constant array of different processes going on to keep us alive. Our bodies use chemicals, hormones, enzymes and more to keep us going. A hormone regulates different processes within the body and is usually transported in fluids like blood. A hormone is a type of chemical, but it is special in comparison to others because they control most of the major functions of the body from hunger to reproduction and even our mood. Most emotions are the result of hormonal changes even if they’re subtle.

When we first feel like we’re in love, our bodies begin to fire off many different chemicals at once which is why it feels like such a rush. Norepinephrine, dopamine, and phenylethylamine all rise, making the heart rate increase and so does brain activity producing a feeling of joy. Of this norepinephrine is the only hormone, the other two are neurotransmitters. But, they are not the only chemicals involved when it comes to love as what we feel within a relationship can quickly change, affecting the hormone levels.

Lust, Attachment, And Attraction

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According to a study done at Rutgers University, chemical love comes in three forms – lust, attachment, and attraction. These three subcategories all have their chemical equations and hormones. Because love is more complicated, it makes sense that the chemical equation would be so much more than a single love hormone.

Lust is usually powered by the sex hormones Estrogen and Testosterone because it is the urge to procreate and reproduce. There are no feelings involved in lust it is merely a biological need that we are programmed to obey. These hormones are produced after stimulation from the Hypothalamus, and while they have separate roles in men and women, they are both present in creating lust no matter what sex you are. If you’re a woman, then you’re probably well aware that there are certain times in your cycle when your estrogen levels are highest (during ovulation) that your libido is in overdrive. This is the need to procreate.

Attraction, on the other hand, is different from lust because while we can lust after someone we are attracted to it does not work the other way around. Attraction involves the reward pathways in the brain which configure to give us a “need” to see the other person and a feeling of reward when we are around them. This is partially why the first few weeks and months of a new relationship are so intense because Dopamine levels are high.

Dopamine and a secondary hormone, Norepinephrine, are both known as feel-good hormones, and they can be very addictive. When levels are high, we feel full of energy, euphoric, giddy even. When you feel “love” as it’s often represented in romantic movies, it’s often because norepinephrine and noradrenaline levels have you so wired that your body has kicked into the same high gear that it would if you were under a high-stress situation. At the same time, the high dopamine level means that the reward center of the brain is constantly activated when that person is around.

Attachment is the most important part of a long-term relationship because both lust and attraction may fade over time. Attachment allows for people to become friends as well as lovers and is primarily involved in bonding and social connection. Vasopressin and oxytocin fuel attraction. Oxytocin has been nicknamed as the “cuddle hormone” and is also produced In the Hypothalamus. It is produced during many different activities including sex, but it is not a sex hormone. Scientists have determined that oxytocin is a precursor in situations that create bonding which is why it’s found during breastfeeding and pregnancy too. Without oxytocin, you would be attracted to a person and lust after them, but that would never form a long-term attachment which is why you need all three sets of chemicals to create “love.”

Hormonal Pains

Love isn’t always rosy. These chemicals all show the “good” side of love when things are going how they’re supposed to. What about unrequited love? What about jealous or irrational love? While it could be argued that these don’t love they often feel like a very “real” love to the person feeling them. Many of these actions are due to the very same love hormones in the brain. Dopamine controlling the fact that we feel rewarded by a person presence means that their absence causes the same withdrawal and pain that someone would feel from drug addiction. In fact, a study that looked at dopamine signaling in cocaine addicts caused much the same reaction as those in love. It is possible to be addicted to love.

Oxytocin reinforces the other hormones so that we become more attached and also causes us to feel absence more acutely so that we want the other person even more. This feeling of loss is unpleasant, making us work towards fixing the situation – by finding the partner again. This can lead to obsession as we try and fix “the issue” or the separation even if it’s intentional. Our bodies are programmed not only to avoid pain but to remedy a situation that causes pain as part of our survival instinct. There’s very little you can do about it except tough it out until your hormone levels die back down and the attachment fades.

Asides from this there is still research being done into other chemical components of love. It has been documented that parts of the prefrontal cortex, mostly involved in critical thinking, rationality, and self-awareness are muted when feeling “love.” This can destroy thought processes which would otherwise be normal and make us act in ways we wouldn’t – hence the saying “drunk in love.”

Overruled

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While your hormones might have a lot to blame for feeling in love it is possible to get over it. By breaking the attachment, your levels of Oxytocin will slowly drop so that over time you are less attached to the person even if you’re still attracted to them. As mentioned, it is possible to lust and be attracted to someone without being attached to them which is what makes the difference between those feelings and real love. Even though dopamine makes you act like a drug addict, it is Oxytocin that fuels the obsessive need to reconnect with that person since our bodies are used to fluctuating dopamine levels.

Whether you’re getting over a breakup or dealing with unrequited love much of it is chemical and something that you can’t fix. It is possible to be distracted, so those levels are directed elsewhere which is why many people resort to favorite activities, keeping busy, and eating their favorite comfort foods to feel better. This helps use up the hormones and chemicals by redirecting them, so the feelings of want and need are lessened. However, sometimes we need a little more help than these can provide especially if you’re dealing with mental anguish or a thought process that simply will not let you (or them) go.

This is where therapy comes in. Obsessive behaviors and lingering over a relationship well past the time that grieving should be done is not healthy. In fact, it can destroy your life and lead you down an obsessive spiral. Many people need help getting over a relationship, and it’s okay to reach out. Sites like BetterHelp allow you to search for relationship counselors or therapists who specialize in problems like these. It’s important to find the right specialist because relationship issues can be deeply personal and even embarrassing.

It would be nice to think that if it were all hormone-based, we were not responsible for the way that we feel. It would mean a lack of culpability that makes the pain seem lesser when things go wrong. The fact is that defining love is almost as hard as creating a chemical, hormonal equation for love.

There isn’t a single love hormone that can be switched on and off, especially since the hormones involved in the three aspects of love are all used in other processes within the body as well. Imagine turning off dopamine and no longer being able to enjoy pizza, or turning off your sex hormones and becoming tired, sluggish and bloated – neither would be beneficial to you even in the short run if you were trying to get over love because they would likely make you feel worse.

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