Have you ever heard someone tell you to ‘follow your heart’ or ‘listen to what your heart says’ and thought it was crazy? After all, your heart doesn’t actually possess the ability to make intelligent decisions the way that our minds do.
While the statements may simply be referring to listening to our emotions, new research suggests that matters of the heart may be more complex than we have previously understood.
New research into the biological makeup of the heart reveals that there is a nervous system functioning within the heart, or a ‘heart brain.’ This sets the heart apart from other organs within the body, as it is now able to learn, remember and make functional decisions without having to rely on the brain. This ‘second brain’ means that the heart is an intelligent organ and may actually have the ability to influence our feelings, emotions, and premonitions. Consider this the next time that you are listening to your intuition. You may literally be ‘following your heart.’
This concept carries another significant implication. There have been many stories following heart transplants of transplant recipients experiencing the feelings or memories of the donor. Previously these experiences have often been explained away as skeptics point to conversations with the donor families, or how vague these recalled memories may have been. However, with each account of mysterious memories, newly acquired interests and changes in personality traits, one has to wonder whether there is some truth to these accounts. The idea that the heart possesses its own brain may explain some of the experiences.
This ‘heart brain’ was originally discovered by neurologist and neurocardiology researcher Dr. Andrew Amour from the University of Montreal. He went on to share his ground-breaking research in ‘Neurocardiology: Anatomical and Functional Principles,’ a resource for those that are interested in studying the science of neurocardiology and better understanding the advances that have occurred in today’s modern science. Referring to the discovery as ‘the little brain in the heart,’ Dr. Amour explained that the human brain doesn’t function by localizing memory to one specific location in the brain, instead, allowing it to be distributed throughout the system. Why, then, should this be limited to just the neurons in the brain? Following this line of thinking, he was able to trace the neural system throughout the body leading to the ‘heart brain.’
Science documentary filmmaker David Malone created his film ‘Of Hearts and Minds’ focusing on the relationship between the heart and the brain, discussing the role of the heart throughout biology, religion, philosophy, and literature. Malone stated, “The heart is a pump that does respond when the brain asks it to, but it is not enslaved to the brain. Its relationship to the brain is more like a marriage… with each dependent on the other. It seems science is now restoring to the heart something that rightfully belongs to it: Our emotions.”
Not only does the brain possess the ability to ‘think’ for itself in this way, but it has also been discovered that this ‘heart brain’ sends messages back to the brain allowing the two to communicate with one another and work in tandem. Further research will reveal just how this information can be put to work to improve our approach to our overall health and well-being.