Ahead of World Heart Day on September 29, we are focused on cardiovascular health and the importance of keeping our heads, hearts and guts in tune for overall health and wellbeing.
Your heart is a vital part of the cardiovascular system which includes your heart, blood and blood vessels.
Your heart is a hollow muscular organ about the size of your fist that is slightly to the left of the centre of your chest. Its main job is to pump blood through your blood vessels (arteries and veins) to all parts of your body delivering oxygen and nutrients, and carrying away unwanted waste products.
Your heart can beat up to 100,000 times a day, continuously pumping and circulating about five litres of blood to all parts of the body.
You might be surprised to hear that your head, heart, and gut are all classed as ‘brains’. Over the last several years, neuroscience has shown that aside from the brain in your head, we also have a gut brain (enteric brain) and a heart brain (cardiac brain).
Research published in Sage Journals shows that the gut, heart, and head all have complex networks and are functioning brains in their own right. Each different brain is a sophisticated system complete with billions of neurons that has the ability to grow, flex, and react. All three brains are able to receive and process information, store it, and access it again when needed. They can: sense, learn, remember, communicate, and change!
Let’s break down each brain to understand their role and function a bit more clearly.
The Head Brain
There are roughly 86 billion neurons in your brain. The head brain, also known as the cephalic brain, helps deal with cognition, perception and it enables you to communicate. The neurons within the cephalic brain help process and send information and allow your hormones to talk to one another.
The Gut Brain
Within your gut, there are 100 million neurons. The gut helps regulate hormones, blood pressure, metabolism and process information as you are sleeping. Research shows that your gut plays a key part in your emotions. For example, almost 95% of your body’s serotonin is actually found in the gut. Serotonin is often referred to as a happy hormone and is known to contribute to feelings of well-being.
The Heart Brain
As one of your most important organs, the heart has about 40,000 neurons that operate independently from the brain. Think of your heart as your emotional brain. Your heart communicates with your head both through electrical signals and chemicals.
How do all three brains talk to each other?
Your heart, head, and gut brain communicate through the vagus nerve. It’s one of the longest nerves in the body. The role of the vagus nerve is to act as a communication center for all your internal organs. The vagus nerve is a critical component of the parasympathetic nervous system, the soothing counterpart of the fight-or-flight sympathetic nervous system.
The nerve starts at your head and goes all the way down to your abdomen. The information flows up to the head brain rather than down. This is how your heart and gut give input to your head brain.
It’s clear that there’s a strong link between the head, heart, and gut. By listening to all three and allowing them to work together, you can become truly engaged and can give your best in all areas of your life.
Whether you listen to your gut, follow your heart, or think with your head, it’s time to start activating and tapping into all of your intelligence centres to create a better, healthier you.