Skip the Morphine, Just Fall in Love to Relieve Pain
If you need a pain killer but want to skip the morphine, you might fire up a passionate love relationship to relieve your pain. A team of researchers at Stanford University Medical Center in California report that the effects of love on the brain are similar to those of morphine and cocaine.
Love targets the brain’s reward centers to relieve pain
It is well known that emotions have a significant impact on the physical body. Research shows, for example, that negative emotions can reduce the immune system’s ability to fight infection, while positive ones can enhance it. A University of Kansas study from 2009 that sampled more than 150,000 adults found that positive emotions were “unmistakably” linked to better health, including factors such as pain and fatigue, and that negative emotions were reliable predictors of worse health.
Now a new study tested the theory that the passion felt during the early stages of a love relationship can block physical pain in a way similar to pain killers. The scientists enlisted 15 male and female university students who were in such relationships and scanned their brains using functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) during the test process.
All the study participants were shown photos of their partners while they were simultaneously administered mild doses of pain to their palms via a computer-controlled heat probe. The fMRI images revealed that feelings of love associated with the subjects seeing their partners’ photo acted as a pain killer. When the subjects were shown a photo of an attractive acquaintance, the same pain killing effect did not occur.
The leader of the study, Dr. Sean Mackey, who heads the Division of Pain Management at Stanford University Medical Center, explained that people who are in the midst of a passionate love relationship display “significant alterations in their mood that are impacting their experience of pain.”
The fMRI scans revealed that such intense feelings of love display signs in the brain that are similar to those associated with morphine and cocaine, drugs that target the brain’s “reward centres.” Mackey noted that these reward systems lie deep in the brain and involve a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which has an impact on mood, motivation, and reward.
The pathways associated with dopamine are closely related with addiction and the pain relief provided by morphine and other opioids. The individuals in this study felt euphoric and were “obsessively thinking about their beloved, craving their presence.” Mackey explained that “when passionate love is described like this, it in some ways sounds like an addiction.”
A co-researcher, Dr. Jarred Younger, also from Stanford, pointed out that the pain relief offered by passionate love “appears to involve more primitive aspects of the brain, activating deep structures that may block pain at a spinal level—similar to how opioid analgesics work.” Thus love, like morphine and chocolate, can relieve pain.
UK Telegraph Oct. 14, 2010
University of Kansas (2009 March 5) from http:www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090304091229.htm