Can Love Replace Advil?

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pills in a heart shaped box
Science suggests that romantic love could cure what ails you.

Want less pain in your life? Fall in love. A new study has scientists talking, and for once, their suggestions might be fun to follow.

As TheScientist reports, a recent study suggests that romantic love actually functions as a painkiller. Researchers discovered that the goo-goo-ga-ga feeling associated with new love actually activates your brain's dopamine centers. These centers are also influenced by illicit drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines, which may explain the phrase "addicted to love". Addicted to Love? Or is it the Chase…

According to Dr. Sean Mackey, the senior author of the report on the study: "These pain-relieving systems are linked to reward systems. Love engages these deep brain systems that are involved with reward and craving and similar systems involved in addiction."

The study involved newly-smitten Princeton students, who were asked to rate their pain during a controlled experiment, and then shown pictures of their new lovers and asked to rate the same pain again. Across the board, students reported lower levels of pain when they were viewing pictures of their main squeezes. The students were also shown pictures of equally attractive and familiar friends, but these viewings did not cause pain levels to recede. The suggestion that romantic love has a set of pain relief benefits not afforded by friendship or family ties is enough to make dusting off that old OkCupid profile seem worthwhile.

Researchers have known for some time that romantic love activates the brain's pleasure and reward centers, but the relationship between romantic love and pain relief has not been explored in any depth until recently. Holding Hands Is Ridiculously Good For You

The findings of the Princeton study are not conclusive, for several reasons: first, the study used a very small sample size, and second, the degree to which pain was reduced by looking at lovers varied dramatically from subject to subject. But the results are encouraging, and reviewers have suggested that further studies could be valuable.

One reviewer, Felix Viana, goes so far as to suggest that the experiment should be undertaken again, with older couples in the beginning stages of adulterous relationships as the subjects. The reviewer notes that such experimental subjects may be more difficult to find than starry-eyed undergraduates, but maintains that study into the positive effects of long-term romantic love would be valuable for many adults who have outgrown the "puppy love" phase of their lives. The finding could be be especially of interest for older adults, too, who are more prone to chronic pain than whippersnappers.

In the meantime, we're going to go ahead and believe that love is good for us. And hey, bonus: this is one painkiller you can get even if you don't have health insurance.

Photo: ThinkStock

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