The Responsibility of the Brain in the Heart

Our brains are vitally important. As the epicenter of our nervous system, the brain is generally recognized as the controlling organ of our bodies and our lives. We don’t need a medical degree to understand that our brains are necessary to our very existence.

The brain is the body’s mainframe computer. It processes messages from every system and organ in the body. It controls the hormonal system and affects our emotions. In it lies the foundation of our intelligence. The brain is composed of two hemispheres which control our right and left sides, but which also control our verbal, logical self (left) and our creative, imaginative self (right).

The human brain manages and controls every other system of the body. Without it, the body will cease to function except with outside support, and a “brain dead” diagnosis – a state where the body is still functioning, but the brain shows no sign of activity – is one of the most terrible in modern medicine. The body cannot live without the brain. If the brain is dead…so are we.

But the brain is, ultimately, much more than merely the focal point of our nervous system. It is a part, albeit a significant part, of an interconnected puzzle of systems in our bodies. Each system is affected by the others, and this connection is especially apparent between the heart and the brain.

The brain-heart connection has been recognized even from ancient times. Greek thinkers and Chinese physicians alike, though thousands of miles apart, recognized that our bodies’ systems work together, though the theories that they postulated about how the connections worked were less than accurate. For example, ancient Greek philosophers posited that our bodies were actually controlled by different “humors” or substances. The blood, the phlegm, the black bile, and the yellow bile all had to remain in balance for the body to be healthy. Disease meant an imbalance had occurred and, therefore, had to be corrected.  This is the basis for the practice of blood-letting that remained common even into the late 1800s.

Even in modern science, the exploration of the heart-mind connection continues. Scientists, researchers and medical professionals have studied the link and are discovering that this powerful connection is even more significant that we have ever realized. Even in everyday life, phrases such as “scared to death” or “listen to your heart” are common ways of describing our understanding that our hearts and our brains can and do impact each other.

The brain-heart connection is the concept that our heart and our brain are not unique and separate organs. Instead, they respond to and communicate with each other. Typically, we would assume that our hearts send messages to the brain which then assesses that information and dictates a response. The heart “feels” danger and sends a message of warning, and the brain then tells the rest of the body what to do next. Thinking in terms of military defense, the heart is the soldier on guard who sends up a warning shot, and the brain is the general back in camp who commands the appropriate response.

However, more recently, research is showing us that the brain may not be as general-like as we have imagined. Instead the brain and the heart actually function more like a team, communicating bi-directionally rather than in the top-down organization we often perceive is the case. Our brain is necessary, but it is not an all-powerful dictator. Instead, there is an amazing connection between our hearts and our brains, a powerful union of systems that affects our bodies and our lives, both positively and negatively. The heart and the brain may be more realistically understood to be equals who communicate back and forth, sharing positive and negative messages in a whole-self response that serves to direct and protect the body and the self.

The idea in this new understanding of the brain-heart connection is that the heart and brain play equal roles. The heart’s role is a significant one. In some ways, the heart preempts the brain, sending immediate messages when the situation calls for it rather than waiting for the brain’s direction. The heart’s role is also incredibly powerful – able to affect the body so completely that the hormonal rush it creates in response to negative stimuli can actually cause death. The truth is, a human body really can be “scared to death.”

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