Feeling a little lovesick? Blame your genes.
Call it a spark, call it chemistry, call it romantic love: we’ve written about it, sung about it and lusted after it for millennia.
In short: we all want that euphoric high that falling in love with someone gives us.
It’s for this reason that scientists have delved deeper to try and find out what happens to our bodies when we experience such a feeling. And the latest discovery comes from researchers at the University of California. Keen to find out how love affects the genes governing our immune system, the researchers took blood samples from 47 young women as they embarked upon new relationships, watching out for genetic changes as they fell in love with their partner over the course of two years.
“Falling in love is one of the most psychologically potent experiences in human life,” the scientists noted in the report, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology. “New romantic love is accompanied not only by psychological changes, but physiological changes as well.”
Interestingly, the researchers found that when women fall in love their genes produce interferon – a protein that’s usually deployed to fight viruses within the body.
“These findings are consistent with a selective up-regulation of innate immune responses to viral infections… and provide insight into the immuno-regulatory correlates of one of the keystone experiences in human life,” the researchers noted.
Throughout the experiment, as women fell out of love with their partners, they also experienced a reduction in the production of interferon.
“Some research suggests that psychological changes associated with romantic love may be attenuated as the relationship matures,” the experts said. “The biological correlates of love might abate with the maturation of a longer-term more stable mate bond.”
At this point in time, scientists are unsure why women experience an increase in the production of interferon, but they think it might be a form of preparation for pregnancy. Such findings have led researchers to believe that men’s genetic response cannot be the same as women’s.
Previous studies have also found that two regions in our brains interact as we fall in love. The ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the caudate nucleus work to distribute the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter dopamine across our brains. This means, as we fall for someone, we begin to crave being around them. And as we fall deeper in love, so, too does this craving. Makes sense, right?
And it’s not just falling in love that can affect our bodies. Experiencing heartbreak also has a physical impact. Experiencing intense rejection activates the areas of the brain that deal with physical pain, and research shows that our bodies are more physically sensitive when we feel rejected. We asked four women about the physical impact of their past break-ups here.