The Brain Heart Connection

When you think about your brain, you probably think of it as a command center, having control over all functions of the body. During embryo development, the heart starts forming on day 18, while the brain starts forming on day 30. After that, the brain and heart work together for the duration of a lifetime.

We all know that eating a healthy diet and exercising contribute to our heart health. In turn, those health benefits are passed along to the brain too. Keeping your heart and brain in sync comes down to managing cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and maintaining a healthy weight. Your brain signals your heart to pump oxygenated blood to your heart. In response, the heart delivers the blood to your body.

However, your heart is not just a muscle pumping blood, it truly has a mind of its own. Your heart contains more than 40,000 neurons and neurotransmitters. This is literally an extension of the same network that’s inside your brain. Your heart is responsible for producing Atrial Natriuretic Peptide (ANP), a hormone that triggers the brain to release Oxytocin. Experts have referred to this hormone as the “love” hormone because it triggers feelings of empathy, trust and relationship-building according to Medical News Today.

Love and compassion are complex emotions. They require your heart and brain to work together. Seeing a lost and emotional child in a crowded store would probably pull on your heartstrings. You might feel a tightening in your chest or a rush of adrenaline to want to help. This is your brain and your heart working together — sympathetically and parasympathetically. When your heart receives signals from the brain via the sympathetic nerves, it pumps faster. The sympathetic nerves cause you to rush to the child to protect them, and try to help find their parents. The parasympathetic nerves will encourage you to take deep breaths, to calm down and lower your heart rate.

Often times this adrenaline can be a good thing, helping you to act when you might have otherwise frozen. But sometimes, adrenaline can cause those nerves to stand on edge. Sometimes, the brain-heart connection and bundle of nerves can get so out of hand that they can cause panic attacks or people can feel like they’re having a heart attack. One way to keep your emotions in check is to focus on your breathing.

Deep breathing is an excellent coping skill for anxiety. Everyone’s optimum breath rate is between four to seven breaths a minute. When we are talking, we are taking 12 to 14 breaths a minute while trying to spit it all out. Shallow breathing means you’re not getting the oxygen pushed all the way down into the diaphragm. It stays in your chest. Trying to be mindful of your emotions and your breathing will help lower your heart rate. When you slow your heart rate down, it creates what’s called, your Heart Rate Variability (HRV).

Monitoring your HRV can be an excellent tool for tracking and accountability. It will make you more aware of your diet, exercise, sleeping and other behaviors that affect your heart and brain. This awareness can be very helpful in managing stress, which is great for your heart and brain. Modern technology is even getting involved. You can find free apps on smartphones like Welltory or CardioMood that give you real time insight. So the next time you’re experiencing heightened nerves and your anxiety is kicking in, take a moment to breath, think about your heart-brain connection and know there are always options to help you push past your anxiety.

A Fox News Radio contributor, Richardson has spent her educational and professional career learning human behavior. She holds a Master of Science in Counseling from the University of North Texas and is working to integrate cognitive behavioral therapy into the treatment programs for many clients. In April 2009, Richardson opened The Brain Performance Center.

This article was written by Leigh Richardson and originally appeared in Katy Trail Weekly. You can read the article here.

A Different Look at the Brain Body Connection….

It’s a common belief that our brain is the center of our consciousness, where your free will and your soul lives. We also think that the brain is a closed system when it comes to our thought process.  It feels like our brain is a special little organ that works in isolation, producing thoughts, mulling them over and then turning them into bodily action.

That may not be the case.

Think of your brain as a computer.  What kind of results would you get from your laptop if the user interface responded only to random inputs from the environment, such as wind, temperature, and other unplanned events?  Your computer would be useless.  The inputs would be random and the outputs wouldn’t make sense.  That’s why we consider the user interface to be an integral part of the computer.

One interesting hypothesis likens humans to robots that respond to programming.  If you aren’t intentionally programming yourself, the environment and other people are doing it for you. Luckily you have a user interface to your brain.  And that interface is your body.  Your body is collecting inputs from all over and feeding them to your brain to reprogram it.  The theory is- give your body the right inputs and you can reprogram your brain.

This concept is both obvious and radical at the same time.  On one hand, we know from experience that our thoughts are directly influenced by what your body is experiencing.  But because we also believe our brain is the special vessel of our free will, consciousness, and soul, we might believe the brain can also make its own independent decisions.  It can’t.  It is a computer that responds to inputs. Give it the right inputs and you’ll get the right outputs.  And your body is the user interface.

This hypothesis suggests another framework for viewing your brain. This framework gives you the means to program your brain with intention instead of letting the environment do it randomly. All you need to do is reframe your body to be part of your brain.

In the old worldview, where the brain is its own user interface, you may find yourself feeling sad, grumpy, tired, angry, and other negative emotions.  And you probably feel a bit helpless to stop it.  Your brain is determining your mood – seemingly on its own – and the rest of your body simply responds to it like a puppet on a string.  This is the most common worldview, and it can be debilitating to many people. They go through life in continuous mental anguish, feeling helpless to do anything about it.

Use hunger as an example.  You know from experience that being hungry can make you cranky.  But if you’re not aware of that mind-body connection – and often we are not-  it is easy to assume the brain is operating on its own to make you cranky.  All you needed was some food to reprogram your brain to more positive thoughts. In this case your digestive system was the user interface to your brain.

If you think of your body as the user interface to your brain, you can manipulate your environment until your thoughts change.  This process can help stop your  brain from thinking whatever it randomly wants to think.  When you do something to stop negative inputs into your brain via your body (the user interface) your brain responds by not producing negative thoughts.

Take an inventory of the people in your life who are unhappy. Ask some questions about what they are doing about their unhappiness. Rarely will the person say they are working on their body to fix their minds.

Now take an inventory of your more well-adjusted friends. Watch the degree to which they manipulate their bodies to manage their minds. Once you see the pattern, you will start to see it everywhere.

The brain likes to focus on one thing at a time. So make sure it is focusing where you want it.

It’s possible that the source of your thoughts just might be your body, and by giving your body the right inputs, it may help to reprogram your brain.

A Different Look at the Brain – Body Connection….

It’s a common belief that our brain is the center of our consciousness, where your free will and your soul lives. We also think that the brain is a closed system when it comes to our thought process.  It feels like our brain is a special little organ that works in isolation, producing thoughts, mulling them over and then turning them into bodily action.

That may not be the case.

Think of your brain as a computer.  What kind of results would you get from your laptop if the user interface responded only to random inputs from the environment, such as wind, temperature, and other unplanned events?  Your computer would be useless.  The inputs would be random and the outputs wouldn’t make sense.  That’s why we consider the user interface to be an integral part of the computer.

One interesting hypothesis likens humans to robots that respond to programming.  If you aren’t intentionally programming yourself, the environment and other people are doing it for you. Luckily you have a user interface to your brain.  And that interface is your body.  Your body is collecting inputs from all over and feeding them to your brain to reprogram it.  The theory is- give your body the right inputs and you can reprogram your brain.

This concept is both obvious and radical at the same time.  On one hand, we know from experience that our thoughts are directly influenced by what your body is experiencing.  But because we also believe our brain is the special vessel of our free will, consciousness, and soul, we might believe the brain can also make its own independent decisions.  It can’t.  It is a computer that responds to inputs. Give it the right inputs and you’ll get the right outputs.  And your body is the user interface.

This hypothesis suggests another framework for viewing your brain. This framework gives you the means to program your brain with intention instead of letting the environment do it randomly. All you need to do is reframe your body to be part of your brain.

In the old worldview, where the brain is its own user interface, you may find yourself feeling sad, grumpy, tired, angry, and other negative emotions.  And you probably feel a bit helpless to stop it.  Your brain is determining your mood – seemingly on its own – and the rest of your body simply responds to it like a puppet on a string.  This is the most common worldview, and it can be debilitating to many people. They go through life in continuous mental anguish, feeling helpless to do anything about it.

Use hunger as an example.  You know from experience that being hungry can make you cranky.  But if you’re not aware of that mind-body connection – and often we are not-  it is easy to assume the brain is operating on its own to make you cranky.  All you needed was some food to reprogram your brain to more positive thoughts. In this case your digestive system was the user interface to your brain.

If you think of your body as the user interface to your brain, you can manipulate your environment until your thoughts change.  This process can help stop your  brain from thinking whatever it randomly wants to think.  When you do something to stop negative inputs into your brain via your body (the user interface) your brain responds by not producing negative thoughts.

Take an inventory of the people in your life who are unhappy. Ask some questions about what they are doing about their unhappiness. Rarely will the person say they are working on their body to fix their minds.

Now take an inventory of your more well-adjusted friends. Watch the degree to which they manipulate their bodies to manage their minds. Once you see the pattern, you will start to see it everywhere.

The brain likes to focus on one thing at a time. So make sure it is focusing where you want it.

It’s possible that the source of your thoughts just might be your body, and by giving your body the right inputs, it may help to reprogram your brain.

Shocking New Role Found for the Immune System: Controlling Social Interactions

In a startling discovery that raises fundamental questions about human behavior, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the immune system directly affects – and even controls – creatures’ social behavior, such as their desire to interact with others.

So could immune system problems contribute to social anxiety? The answer appears to be yes, and that finding could have significant implications for neurological diseases such as autism-spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.immune2

Prior to this study,  the brain and the adaptive immune system were thought to be isolated from each other, and any immune activity in the brain was perceived as sign of a pathology.  The findings now show that not only are they closely interacting, but some behavior traits might have evolved due to the body’s immune response to pathogens. Think of it this way: Our bodies may just be multicellular battlefields for two ancient forces: pathogens and the immune system. Part of our personality may actually be dictated by the immune system.

Just last year, it was discovered that meningeal vessels directly link the brain with the lymphatic system. That overturned decades of textbook teaching that the brain was “immune privileged,” lacking a direct connection to the immune system. This discovery opened the door for entirely new ways of thinking about how the brain and the immune system interact.

Is it an evolutional thing?

The follow-up finding is equally illuminating, shedding light on both the workings of the brain and on evolution itself. The relationship between people and pathogens could have directly affected the development of our social behavior, allowing us to engage in the social interactions necessary for the survival of the species while developing ways for our immune systems to protect us from the diseases that accompany those interactions. Social behavior is, of course, in the interest of pathogens, as it allows them to spread.

Researchers have shown that a specific immune molecule, interferon gamma, seems to be critical for social behavior and that a variety of creatures, such as flies, zebrafish, mice and rats, activate interferon gamma responses when they are social. Normally, this molecule is produced by the immune system in response to bacteria, viruses or parasites. Blocking the molecule in mice using genetic modification made regions of the brain hyperactive, causing the mice to become less social. Restoring the molecule restored the brain connectivity and behavior to normal. In their findings, researches noted that the immune molecule plays a “profound role in maintaining proper social function.”

For survival of the species, it’s critical for an organism to be social (gathering, hunting, sexual reproduction etc).  When organisms come together, you have a higher propensity to spread infection. So, organisms need to be social to survive, but in doing so there is a much higher chance of spreading pathogens. The hypothesis is that interferon gamma, in evolution, has been used as a more efficient way to both boost social behavior while boosting an anti-pathogen response.

Understanding the implications

The researchers note that a malfunctioning immune system may be responsible for “social deficits in numerous neurological and psychiatric disorders.”  But exactly what this might mean for autism, social anxiety, and other specific conditions requires further investigation. It is unlikely that any one molecule will be responsible for disease or the key to a cure. The researchers believe that the causes are likely to be much more complex. But the discovery that the immune system – and possibly germs, by extension – can control our social interactions raises many exciting avenues for scientists to explore, both in terms of battling neurological disorders,  and understanding human behavior.