Love hurts — but it also heals, says Canadian neuroscientist

17 Feb
Tom Spears, Postmedia News

Published: Monday, February 13, 2012

OTTAWA – Whoever said people in love have good chemistry hit the bull’s-eye without even knowing the whole story.

At Carleton University, neuroscientist Hymie Anisman is opening up the brain’s secrets to show how the chemicals of love (and friendship) make us healthier.

Carleton University neuroscientist Hymie Anisman: In the long run, having social support from friends or lovers prevents overload on the brain circuits that can result in mental illness such as depression.

Carleton University neuroscientist Hymie Anisman: In the long run, having social support from friends or lovers prevents overload on the brain circuits that can result in mental illness such as depression.

Bruno Schlumberger
 

The mere physical presence of someone you trust can brace you at stressful times, Anisman says.

“Under most conditions, social support is very, very effective. And in a love relationship, (this protection) will be stronger. You’re counting on that person you love to be supportive.”

Love helps our brains remain healthy. But why does it work?

More and more, the scientific investigation of love is turning to a human hormone called oxytocin. It’s involved in everything from bonding with a newborn to adult love and friendship, and even simple trust.

Anisman has a Canada Research Chair in neuroscience, and one of his major areas of study is stress.

“We also know that when oxytocin levels are high, we’re less responsive to stressors,” he said. The hormone helps us build social networks and support, and cope with stresses. The stress is still there, but we deal with it better.

“So in a nice relationship, you have the oxytocin that’s elevated as part of the love that a person has for another (person). But also, above and beyond these affects of oxytocin, social support is an incredible way of dealing with stress.”

Having a loved one nearby distracts us from problems. It helps us find solutions by asking for help. Even when all that fails, it helps us vent: “Yell, scream, cry, whatever, but get it out. Even if the problem isn’t solved, sometimes venting and praying are all you’ve got left.”

In the long run, he says, having social support from friends or lovers prevents overload on the brain circuits that can result in mental illness such as depression.

“Love is important for all ages, especially if you’re elderly.”

While humans have known for thousands of years that love and simple affection are helpful, the research world has been buzzing with new discoveries related to oxytocin for the past few years.

Now research is focusing on whether the hormone can be given as an inhaled drug to help people reduce social anxiety – to mimic the support of friends.

When that news became public, marketers were quick to offer inhalers on the Internet. But the small print showed they contain no oxytocin, as this isn’t approved for commercial use.

Anisman’s work is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2012

ORIGINAL ↴

http://www2.canada.com/story.html?id=6147621

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