THURSDAY, Oct. 14 (HealthDay News) -- In a study involving a group of lovelorn Stanford undergrads, researchers discovered that high-octane romantic love might be a natural analgesic.
Love's painkilling effect isn't just that the person is distracted by thoughts of the loved one -- although that works, too. Instead, the researchers found that feeling "head-over-heels" activates the same dopamine-oriented centers of the brain that tune in to illicit drugs such as cocaine.
"These pain-relieving systems are linked to reward systems," said Dr. Sean Mackey, senior author of a paper appearing online Oct. 13 in PLoS One. "Love engages these deep brain systems that are involved with reward and craving and similar systems involved in addiction."
"This gives us some insight into potential ways of further probing and ultimately translating that into treatment for pain," added Mackey, who is chief of the pain management division at Stanford University School of Medicine.
The authors recruited 15 Stanford undergrads who were "wildly, recklessly in love," said Mackey, adding that the recruitment process took "only days."
"It was the easiest study I've ever recruited for," he said. "Within hours they were all banging on my door, 'Study us! Study us!' When you're in that kind of love, you want the world to know about it."
The besotted 7 men and 8 women, who were still in the newly smitten phase of their relationships, came to the study with a picture of their beloved.
Researchers flashed the picture of the beloved while inflicting pain with a handheld thermal probe. As a control, participants were asked to name every sport that doesn't involve a ball, a form of distraction, while also activating the probe.
"To our pleasant surprise, both love and distraction reduce pain to an equal amount and that was good because it more fully allowed us to compar
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