Crazy in Love!
Compiled by Wasia Mehnaz Minna
Love - the word itself conjures visions of cozy afternoons in the neighborhood café, rides in rickshaws, whispering sweet nothings, and what not. We associate love with all kinds of positive feelings and emotions. Love is said to take people to greater heights and bring waves of happiness and joy to someone who is lucky enough to fall in love. Songwriters have long crooned about being crazy in love, but scientists have a more precise term for it: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Shocking, isn't it? OCD is generally associated with people who behave obsessively about certain things. They might be constantly washing their hands, or need to continually check to see if the door is closed. Even though these symptoms barely sound like those of blissful love, some psychiatrists now say that passion's thrills do indeed resemble OCD's torment, both in outward habits and the brain's inner chemistry. These researchers also believe that love may play a key role in our evolution. Their ideas are raising eyebrows-and causing a few giggles-among scientists. But their conclusions might help us understand why love makes you do such utterly foolish things.
It all started in 1990, when Donatella Marazziti, a psychiatrist at the University of Pisa in Italy, began looking for biochemical explanations for OCD. One chief suspect was the neurotransmitter serotonin-a chemical that has a soothing effect on the brain. Too little serotonin has been linked to aggression, depression and anxiety. So Marazziti set out to measure serotonin in people with OCD.
Tracking chemicals inside the brain is tricky, so she settled on a simpler technique: calculating the amount of serotonin in platelets, tiny cells that are easily retrieved from an ordinary blood sample. In blood platelets, serotonin plays a totally different role-aiding clotting-but move about in much the same way as it does in the brain. Which means that scientists can gauge roughly how much serotonin is skipping about your head from the levels of related proteins in platelets. It may be an indirect measure, explains molecular biologist Dean Hamer of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) near Washington DC-but it can hint at how relevant the chemical is to different forms of behaviour.
And, as Marazziti predicted, she found evidence that serotonin levels were unusually low in people with OCD. But she also discovered something surprising. Interviewing these patients, Marazziti was struck by the way their persistent one-track thoughts mirrored the musings of people in love. Throughout the day, both the people with OCD and the lovestruck can spend hours fixating on a certain object or that certain someone. What's more, both groups often know their obsessions are somehow irrational, yet they can't snap out of them. Marazziti had to wonder, if serotonin dips dangerously low in OCD, could it be doing the same when people fall in love?
To find out, Marazziti's team went looking for love. They pinned advertisements around the University of Pisa medical school asking for students who had fallen in love within the past six months and who had obsessed about their new love for at least four hours every day but who had not yet engaged in sexual activities They wanted to find Romeos and Juliet whose fresh passion had neither been hormonally jumbled by sex nor dulled by time. Seventeen women and three men with an average age of 24, signed up. Separately, the scientists recruited 20 people who met the basic criteria for OCD and another 20 free from the grip of either love or psychiatric disorder.
Blood samples were taken from each member of each group, and then spun in a centrifuge to separate out first the plasma and next the tiny platelets. While the "normal" students had the usual level of serotonin, both the OCD and in-love participants had about 40 per cent less of the chemical as estimated by the amount of activity of a serotonin transporter protein in their blood platelets. "It's often said that when you're in love, you're a little bit crazy," Marazziti says. "That may be true."
To confirm their hunch that serotonin plummets solely during love's first flush-and not later on-the researchers retested six of the original 20 in-love students a year hence. Sure enough, the students' serotonin levels had bounced back to normal while a more subtle affection for their partner had replaced their original giddiness. According to previous studies, the same "evening out" of emotion happens to OCD patients who take drugs that boost serotonin levels to normal.
So, there you go, people! If the new lovebirds out there find yourselves fidgeting and pining to be with your better half every moment of the day, you'll know it's only a case of OCD that will fade away with the changing pages of the calendar as your relationship becomes more stable. So go ahead and be crazy in love!
(student of NSU)