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It’s February, and you know what that means! Cupids, chocolate hearts wrapped in red foil, and tongue-burning cinnamon candies are everywhere. What better time to ponder whether love is good for your cognitive health?

Falling in love, swimming in hormones

While love may not literally strike us, it does flood our brain with a cocktail of hormones, or we could say a ‘brain bath’ of dopamine, oxytocin, and vasopressin.

The physical responses when we first fall in love—sweaty palms, a racing heart, butterflies in the stomach—are eerily similar to what we would feel in a stressful situation. And it’s no accident, since early-stage romantic love activates several mechanisms in our brain, notably those associated with pleasure, stress, and addiction.

But “stress” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad for your health.” Cortisol, for example, has a bad reputation for being associated with stress, sugar cravings, and fat storage, but a healthy balance of this hormone helps regulate carbohydrates and even plays an anti-inflammatory role.

Moreover, molecules such as dopamine (associated with the euphoria in the early stages of love), oxytocin (affectionately called the “cuddle hormone”), and serotonin (known for its action on mood and emotion) promote feelings of well-being that certainly counterbalance the stress response!

After being in a relationship for a while, it’s normal for the passion to fade. As the relationship deepens, we’re less anxious about the newness of it all and we feel more secure and comfortable. So, the stress decreases, making way for a more stable, lasting bond as we continue to grow as a couple.

Love as a social bond

But love is not just for couples. It’s the feeling that gives depth and meaning to our social relationships. And a brain in social situations is a happy brain!

From the moment we’re born, we learn about and experience the world through the people around us. As we grow up, our family, colleagues, loved ones, children, and even strangers challenge our view of the world and drive our ideas.

A rich and happy social life, supported by healthy relationships, not only keeps the brain happy, it also has a protective effect on many facets of health.

We can easily deduce—and it’s also scientifically proven—that strong social networks significantly reduce the risk of depression and anxiety. In fact, there’s a large body of research that shows that having a reliable network also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and premature death.

Even from a chemical point of view, attachment could promote greater cognitive health. According to a study published in 2020, oxytocin not only has a beneficial effect on memory and learning, it also reverses (in mice) cognitive deficits caused by the accumulation of beta-amyloid (Aβ) plaques, a substance presumed to also cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Whether it comes from family, friends, the community, or even beloved pets, love is at the heart of this profound need for connection that lights up our brain and keeps it healthier for longer.

What kind of love will you be celebrating this February?