Oxytocin: Love potion?

By Kimberly Clark, Features Staff Writer

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays some love and the rest love to hate. I don’t care what people claim; there is no middle ground. If you happen to be one of the lucky ones blissfully in love when Feb. 14 rolls around, all the single people out there are really happy for you. They just wish you would keep all the red and pink and chocolate romance to yourself.

So what do single people do for the duration of Valentine’s Day? Well, while all those happy couples go about their business of paying the bills for the good people working at Hallmark, Godiva and the local flower shops, the unattached retreat indoors to contemplate their lonely existences. If only someone could make a real love potion.

Would it surprise you to know that scientists have already begun researching this idea? I’m sure that all of you neurochemistry enthusiasts out there are well aware that love is actually caused by a reaction of chemicals in the brain. You know that unbelievable, overwhelming rush of euphoria you feel when you think about your better half? That’s your brain on dopamine, a naturally produced neurotransmitter strongly associated with pleasure.

But the brain chemical of this particular month of February is oxytocin, a hormone that deals with pair bonding and attachment. For instance, when a mother gives birth to her child, a large dose of oxytocin is released in her brain to bond her to her newborn. Scientists have found that when a prairie vole, one of the few mammals that mates for life, is injected with oxytocin, it literally experiences love at first sight with the next prairie vole it encounters.

Could the same be possible for humans? Unfortunately, no. Remember that many other factors, such as personality, appearance and opportunity, to name a few, contribute to true love among people. We are not as simple-minded as those prairie voles. Right?

I know that it might seem like we’re back to square one. Except now we can officially envy the love lives of prairie voles. Does this seem like a step backward to anyone else?

The bad news is that an actual love potion does not exist. The good news is that researchers have not yet ruled out the possibility. Scientists in Switzerland have found that, upon inhaling oxytocin, people become more trusting of other people and more open to relationships. It is more likely, however, that all the research on oxytocin might first lead to a drug that helps a person fall out of love. And if you think about it, an anti-love drug might be more useful than a love potion come Valentine’s Day.

Until an actual love potion is invented, I suggest you comfort find comfort in the fact that at least Valentine’s Day only happens once a year. You can get through it. And chocolate does help. Even if you did buy it yourself.

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