Need a Pain Reliever? Try Love.

Falling in love stimulates the brain’s reward pathway, releasing the feel-good chemical dopamine. This process can act as a potent painkiller, say scientists.

According to an Associated Press article, psychology professor Arthur Aron of the State University of New York-Stony Brook has compared the brain’s reaction to the early romantic phase to the effect of some drugs. One dopamine expert said the comparison is not dissimilar to amphetamines or stimulants. The dopamine release has similar effects as certain stimulants, including becoming very excited, loss of appetite, sleep loss, and feeling active and full of energy, says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Study co-author Dr. Sean Mackey, chief of pain management at Stanford University, concludes, “maybe prescribing a little passion in one’s relationship can go a long way toward helping with one’s chronic pain—assuming it’s passion with the one you’re with.”

I’ve read and shared previous research that being allowed to hold your mate’s hand while having pain inflicted (in the form of electric shock) substantially reduces the perception of pain. And research is adding up in this area. A few days ago Bloomberg BusinessWeek released a story from HealthDay saying Good Marriages May Help Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients.

The Journal of Pain published a report about the study’s results in its October issue, concluding rheumatoid arthritis patients with high-quality marriages enjoy better quality of life and experience less pain. Strong marriages appeared to buffer patients’ emotional health. However, patients with distressed marriages did not experience the benefits.

“What we did was look at both marital status and how the quality of the marriage is related to different health status measures in the patient,” said research leader Jennifer Barsky Reese, postdoctorate fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. 

Even when the researchers took into account factors that can worsen pain, including disease severity and age, they  found that “better marital quality is still related to lower affective pain and lower psychological disability,” said Reese.

Immunologist Dr. Nancy Klimas added in the article that a supportive partner aids the patient with complex self-coping mechanisms by adding another layer of support that someone alone or who is in a non-supportive relationship doesn’t have.

Do you think the feelings of love and support can reduce our perception of pain? Have you experienced this or witnessed it?

Please consider making a quick link over to The Marry Blogger to nominate Marriage Gems as a Top 10 Marriage Blog for 2010. Voting for finalists will begin Nov. 24. Thanks!

Photo: ©Monika 3 Steps Ahead/PhotoXpress

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