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Culture

The Chemistry of Love

Know that dizzy feeling, pounding heart and weak-in-the-knees sensation after a long kiss? An exhibition in Berlin now sheds light on the hormones at play in the body when two people lock in a passionate embrace.

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Ummm... feels so good!

Loving, affectionate, passionate, tender, electrifying or simply unforgettable -- a kiss can be many things.

But not too many people would think of serotonin, phenylethylamin or norepinephrine while locked in a passionate embrace. What may sound incredulously long and difficult to pronounce, are in fact the chemical substances which have the command over the emotions of passion and love in the human body.

Chemistry of love

To find out more about these chemical substances, a trip to an exhibition in Berlin might be worthwhile.

Called "The Kiss. Magic and Chemistry: Our Body, Health and Nutrition," the exhibition, which began Thursday, is part of the Germany-wide "Year of Chemistry" and will be moving to Leipzig and Stuttgart later.

Visitors to the exhibition can dive into a simulated laboratory of the human body through a multimedia tunnel where they can see and hear the reactions that a kiss can trigger within seconds: the breathing rate quickens, the pulse races, arteries expand, and an improved blood flow stimulates circulation.

Good old lovin' around for ages

According to ethnologists, mankind has been cuddling and making out since ancient times. Even Salomon’s song in the Bible makes a passionate appeal for a kiss: "Come and kiss me! Your love intoxicates me even more than wine."

More historical evidence can be found in Roman poet Ovid's detailed description of the correct way to smooch in his "Ars amatoria" (Art of Loving).

But though kissing may date back to time immemorial, science has only turned its attention towards it some 30 years ago, when it began analyzing the chemistry of the kiss as a hormonal bombshell in the body.

Scientists have discovered that kissing is much like an energy injection, strengthening the immune system and reducing stress.

"We now know a lot about hormones and their effects, though we still don’t know all the functions of the brain," Klaus Hartmann, who conceived the exhibition for the German research ministry, said.

Blame it on the chemicals

One thing is clear: it’s not the heart that’s responsible for passion and love, but rather a 100 billion nerve cells and 1000 neurotransmitters.

A wildly passionate kiss sends out signals to the brain which trigger the mood-boosting hormone serotonin. As a result, the person feels more relaxed and balanced. The best known love-related chemical phlenylethylamin or PEA as it is called then works much like Cupid’s arrow : it stimulates erotic sensations and contributes to that top-of-the-world feeling.

Another euphoria-inducing chemical in the brain is norepinephrine, which stimulates the production of adrenaline and makes your blood pressure soar when you’re near the person you’re attracted to -- yet another explanation for the pounding heart and sweaty palms when meeting the person one fancies.

Go ahead and kiss! It's good for you!

Surveys show that Germans dispense with two to three kisses a day. Going by that figure, by the time they turn 70, they’ve spent 76 days just kissing. But kissing is no waste of time, and it's healthy too.

Just puckering your lips as you prepare to smooch, exercises all 34 facial muscles at the same time, endowing zealous kissers with smooth, wrinkle-free skin. Americans Eddi Leven and Delphine Orha can probably boast the smoothest skin as they set a world record for the longest kiss: 17 days and 9 hours.

U.S. researchers are convinced that kissing is the elixir to a happy, healthier life. They discovered in studies that people who leave home in the morning with a smooch from their beloved, are more likely to be professionally successful, pay less visits to the doctor and are less inclined to have accidents.

From a scientific point of view, a passionate kiss is supposed to provide the same kick that a 25 gram chocolate bar can -- with a crucial advantage: it doesn’t make you fat! No wonder there are signs all over the exhibition that say, "Necking allowed!"

The exhibition, "The Kiss. Magic and Chemistry: Our Body, Health and Nutrition" is on from Jan. 30 to Feb. 9, 2003 in Berlin, Unter den Linden 74. It then moves on to Leipzig (March 22-23) and to Stuttgart (March 27-30).

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