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Science and the human heart

Remember when Valentine’s Day was all about unrequited love, coyly hinted at in an anonymous card? How things have changed. Today it’s more about making a public declaration to your partner, with anything from a three-course candle-lit meal to a bunch of flowers from, ahem, the nearest 24-hour garage.

Scientists, meanwhile, have been walking a similar path, exposing the hidden secrets associated with love and romance to the bright light of forensic reason. Take the ever-popular box of chocolates, for example. Did you know that researchers are hoping to turn an ingredient in chocolate, namely theobromine, into a cough remedy?

From chocolate hearts…

Theobromine is the stuff that makes chocolate so toxic to dogs. But in humans it’s a brilliant antitussive, aka cough suppressant. With a final round of drug trials underway, a really effective and well-tolerated remedy for persistent coughs could be on the shelves in the future.

to sugared almonds…

Then there are those lovely pastel-coloured sugared almonds – sometimes given as wedding favours. We’re not sure there are any health claims for the sugar coating, but it seems the almonds themselves are quite special. A diet rich in these leads to a lower incidence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Unlike other nuts, almonds contain no cholesterol and are packed with fibre and vitamin E, and rich in the essential elements copper and potassium.

to falling in love…

And as for love itself, it turns out “l’amour” really is blind. By scanning the brains of volunteers using very unromantic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists at University College London were able to spot two fascinating phenomena. First, when they showed the participants a picture of a loved one, the centres of the brain associated with the feel good chemical dopamine were flooded with activity. At the same time, however, the areas associated with judgment shut down. No wonder love makes us giddy.

Further information

Read all about healthy hearts and cardiovascular disease in benenden health's healthy heart section.

 

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