Love Can Cure Pain, Research Finds

Good news for lovebirds–strong affection and pleasure can serve as a natural Tylenol without the liver damage.

A new set of research found that strong feelings of love can reduce pain by up to 40%. The Stanford University study, as reported by the New York Times’ Tara Parker-Pope, looked at fifteen students who reported being deeply in love. Researchers scanned their brain response to pain when looking at pictures of the objects of their affection, mere casual acquaintances, or distracting tasks.

“Looking at a picture of a loved one reduced moderate pain by about 40 percent and eased severe pain by about 10 to 15 percent,” Parker-Pope writes. The theory is that strong affection or positive feelings, not just of the romantic variety, are sent the brain’s “reward” centers and can trigger the release the body’s own painkillers.

The study’s understanding of innate analgesics has implications for the treatment of chronic pain conditions.

“Find things to give you pleasure in life, whether it be through the one you love or going and listening to great music or reading a good book,” Dr. Sean Mackey, who authored the study and heads the pain management division at Stanford,told Parker-Pope. “It suggests that activating this intrinsic reward system ultimately can reduce your pain.”

Incidentally, the distracting task also effectively reduced pain, through “cognitive pathways” rather than brain chemistry. So if you’re not falling head over heals, a few rounds of angry birds or brickbreaker might serve as an effective painkiller as well.

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