Who needs Advil when you have love?

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While perusing through my magazine that would make any man cringe, I found a little blurb that said that love can defeat pain. It makes sense I think but the magazine said no more than that so I decided to search this topic for myself.

An article on WolrdWideHealth.com described a study done by Stanford University researchers Professor Arthur Aron and Professor Mackey. While at a neuroscience conference, Aron spoke to Mackey about his findings on love and Mackey shared findings on pain. They saw a connection between the two and began combining their research. They took couples who were deeply in love and tested them in several ways.

One of the ways they studied love was by inflicting pain through the individual by showing them a picture of their partner. It was found that while viewing the photograph the pan was reduced, but when they saw a picture of an "equally attractive person" they had no relationship with there was no decrease of the pain.

The New York Times also reported this study, but with more details. It was found that looking a picture of a loved one reduced pain by up to 40% and eased severe pain by 10 to 15%. It was also found that if you are distracted while in pain (they asked the students participating to think of sports that did not use balls) it also eased pain. However, the researchers found that the effects of love and the distraction occurred in "different pathways of the brain". Love was associated with the brain's reward centers, "while the pain relief resulting from distraction occurred mostly along cognitive pathways".

There have also been other studies that have shown that love activates the brain's dopamine system. Other activities that affect that system are gambling and drug use. Looking at the picture of a partner "prompts the dopamine system to interact with other brain systems that release natural opioids, or painkillers, in the body." This is like a "runner's high" that can happen during exercise.

What is so important about this study is that it can lead to new treatments for people suffering from chronic pain.  Mackey reflected that to reduce pain the sufferers of chronic pain need to "find things that give them pleasure in life." Whether it is listening to music or reading a good book, these activities activate the "intrinsic reward system" that will ultimately reduce pain. These type of pain relief involved no procedure or medication, just simply attempting to enjoy life more. Mackey also describes that  "When patients are doing markedly better and I find out they are in a new passionate relationship, I may be less likely to think it's the new medication I put them on," he said.

I really enjoyed this study because you can say it is a sort of proof that happiness can make you healthier. Getting joy out of the simple things in life can actually reduce pain, which I think is fantastic. What do you all think? Can love really reduce pain?

1 Comment

At first, this theory just sounded like a cute one with no solid evidence. Now my mind is changed! I was shocked to see that pain was reduced by 40% when people were looking at a picture of a loved one. That is seriously a significant amount of reduced pain. Since I was a Cross Country runner in High School, I've experienced the runner's high many times, and all the adrenaline running through your body definitely does reduce pain.
I also think it's interesting that instead of immediately turning to pills or other drugs, victims of chronic pain are recommended to seek out the simple pleasures in life. This is a very optimistic article!

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