February is often referred to as the month of love, and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it makes perfect sense now to discuss how love affects health. Love is not just a mere emotion. In fact, falling in love, being in love, and even falling out of love can impact your health in one way or another – and it’s not because you have been struck by Cupid’s arrow. For example, a broken heart is actually a terrible (and tangible) thing and, yes, love may actually make you sick.
Love is associated with many different hormones in the body. One of them is oxytocin, which is often dubbed the “cuddle hormone.” When we touch or embrace someone we love, oxytocin is released in the body and, as a result, we feel great. Researchers have found that being near our loved ones – both friends and intimate partners – lowers the blood pressure, reduces stress, and even gives our immune system a boost.
A 2014 study revealed that people in a happy relationship who had sex once or twice a week had higher levels of immunoglobulin A, which is the body’s first line of defense against illness. Which means, these people were less likely to get sick, compared to those who had sex less than once a week. Oxytocin also reduces aches and pains, boosts energy, and helps us experience life in a more upbeat fashion.
Other studies have highlighted that a rise in oxytocin levels can also make us “crazy in love” as it overrides fear and anxiety. This, by the way, helps explain why people may do things they wouldn’t normally do “in the name of love.”
On an intellectual level, love can improve alertness, knowledge, and common sense. When we are in love, we are more receptive to learn things from those around us, expanding our knowledge of the world. This increased awareness can tap further into your own creativity, improve communication, and even help you have more fun.
We all recognize that love is an emotion – often hard to describe – but aside from being a strong feeling on its own, love can impact overall emotional health, too. Studies have found that those who are in love, or have love for others, are less likely to develop depression. Researchers suggest that to maintain relationships individuals must manage their own feelings in healthy ways. By establishing healthy connections with others, you can promote your own emotional health by being more aware of how you and other people feel.
A Pittsburg study found that women in happy marriages had a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. The National Longitudinal Mortality Study found that married participants generally lived longer than their unmarried counterparts. These participants also experienced less heart attacks and cases of pneumonia.
A broken heart can do more than just cause emotional distress – it can actually compromise your heart health and lead to real heart problems. In fact, a broken heart brought on by an emotional stressor, such as the death of a loved one or the discovery of a partner’s infidelity, can affect your heart health in a plethora of ways and may even contribute to early death.
Broken heart syndrome is known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo cardiomyopathy, and can occur in both healthy and unhealthy individuals. It is triggered by an emotional stressor and is often misdiagnosed as a heart attack.
If left untreated, broken heart syndrome can result in short-term heart muscle failure, but if caught in time, it can be well treated without leaving permanent damage.
Although research findings are only scraping the surface on how love can affect our health, there is some clear evidence that love isn’t just something you feel, it extends beyond just feeling giddy and happy. While you’re enjoying the company of your loved one, there is so much going on in your body as a reaction to your love state, and it can make you much healthier – or it can make you sick.
One thing is for certain, though: We all need love. Whether it’s coming from our family, our partners, or our friends, love truly makes the world go round and, frankly, the world would be a sad place without it.
Regardless of what your Valentine’s Day plans are, just keep one thing in mind: Love one another and those around you and continue to spread love as much as you can, because as you just discovered love can truly be a healthy thing.