How many times have I told a patient that the heart is a muscle whose job is to pump blood 100,000 times a day to all the organs of the body?
Isn’t the heart just a vital (but fairly simple) bag of fleshy fibers? In the 1930s, Dr. Walter Cannon of Harvard Medical School showed that the heart responds to external nerves and hormones to help with a fight or flight response to keep us healthy.
And yet, haven’t we all felt moments when we were sure that joy, love, and appreciation emanated from our hearts?
New research is showing that the heart controls the brain much more than previously thought. I didn't learn these lessons in medical school or subsequent continuing education programs, but they are grounded in science. Some of these observations have profound implications and have led to practical therapies that I'll discuss in Part 2 of this piece.
Let’s look at 7 of the most important new findings about the central role of the heart in controlling the mind:
1. Some researchers refer to the heart as the "little brain."
There are 40,000 sensory neurons relaying information to the brain from the heart, leading researchers to call the heart the “little brain” and to coin the field as neurocardiology.
2. The heart communicates to the brain and the body.
It does so in four ways, via: