Chemistry of Love
Visitors of the different events that have taken place in the framework of the Week of Science and Technology on the premises of the Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information, could also enjoy several lectures within a block entitled “Tuesday with Chemistry”. One of them was the lecture of doc. Ing. Peter Szolcsányi, PhD., with an appealing title Chemistry of Love, which was particularly popular especially among secondary school students.
Doc. Ing. Peter Szolcsányi, PhD. is a chemist, scientist, university lecturer and he currently works at the Department of Organic Chemistry of the Faculty of Chemical and Food Technology, Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava. In addition to his research activities, he is also devoted to the promotion of science, especially organic chemistry, through an attractive way of “living” outcomes. Such was the lecture about the chemistry of love from which the audience could learn about the biochemical processes (not only) in the human body that have literally moved history: cause that two individuals often mindlessly fall in love with each other. How and why does this happen?
At the beginning of aberrance is the nose
In this hygiene-obsessed times, whether we like it or not, we can wash and perfume ourselves as much as we can, but we cannot wash off or overlay our body odour. Fortunately, otherwise we would (though most of us only subconsciously) not be able to capture its key molecules. Each person has its own distinct odour that is as unique as fingerprints and it is the result of one’s genetic makeup. That is a strong evidence that the more different the genetic makeup of two individuals is, the more they are prone to “smell good” to each other and consequently be more attractive to each other. That is probably a way the nature tries to prevent cross-breeding of related individuals and constantly improves the gene pool of the offspring. The visual attractiveness of a person is therefore not the only and certainly not sufficient parameter and although we do not realise it, we are able to capture the body odour molecules at a distance of several meters.
Cocktail of ‘luck molecules’
In case our olfactory organ has “picked” a partner and she, or he, returns our interest, there is a fireworks of chemistry occurring in our bodies. The researchers found out that there is a surprising rise of “male” testosterone hormone levels in women and that is why they are more courageous and act more provocatively. By contrast, men literally “soften up”, because their testosterone levels decline and they are therefore softer and more tender. Thanks to the “female” estrogen hormone, at the same time, the ladies literally radiate their coquette sensuality. As a result of mutual erotic attraction, our bodies start to produce molecules called neurotransmitters, which can drug us. Our brains are flooded by phenylethylamine, which is followed by other neurotransmitters: dopamine and serotonin. These organic compounds cause that the in love individuals sometimes act as out of their minds. Although they are literally over the moon with happiness, they are at the same time absent-minded and unconcentrated, because they constantly think of the loved one. All of this is caused by the above-mentioned neurotransmitters, through which the nature provides reliable reproduction and the birth of new generations. If we are in love, a human feels euphorically happy, because of the increased concentration of dopamine. By contrast, the level of serotonin decreases at that time, while this state can be compared to the state of a patient with an obsessive-compulsive disorder; however, in a healthy, in-love person, it causes that (s)he is constantly and intensively engaged in thinking about the loved one. This behaviour is almost the same for both sexes. These occurrences are not just theoretical considerations, but are testified by the fact that all these brain activities can today be monitored by magnetic resonance.
Another ingredient in the “cocktail of love” is noradrenaline, a molecule related to adrenaline, which is however released not in the brain, but in the adrenal glands. This usually causes our hands and legs to shiver involuntarily and our hearts are jumping out from the chest when we meet our beloved ones. It increases the heartbeat rate and breathing so that we can – just like our ancestors – fight or flight. Simply said, be ready for physically demanding “action”.
If the relationship of two people is based only on the fact that they “smell good” to each other, they will usually break up eventually – when the first intoxication disappears. Other couples, however, stay together after initial craze and here our brain starts to contribute with two other hormones – “female” oxytocin and “male” vasopressin. Oxytocin is a molecule that not only triggers birth and production of milk, but it is also a “hormone of happiness”. At the same time, it contributes to the fact that the couple feels good together and the mutual presence fills them with a sense of comfort. Vasopressin in men is triggering their territorial behaviour and protectionist instincts, which makes the female partner (and children) taken care of physically
At the end of the lecture, the chemist Peter Szolcsányi also answered a number of curious questions from students who filled the lecture hall of the Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information to the last place. The unusual and witty presentation of (bio)chemistry has also attracted many potential applicants for university studies. It is very likely that this lecture will also contribute to the transformation of laughing and attentive listeners into future scientists and researchers, who will learn more about (and not only) love than others.
Edited by: Barbora Hrvolová, NCP S&T within the SCSTI
Photo: Ján Laštinec, NCP S&T within the SCSTI
Illustration photo: Pixabay.com
Published by: MZ
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