by Joseph M. Mercola
March 05, 2016
In the below film "Of Hearts and Minds,"
science documentary filmmaker David Malone explores the human heart,
juxtaposing the modern scientific view of the heart as a mere pump,
versus its long history as a symbol of love and the center of innate
wisdom and human character.
The film starts off in an operating room where open heart surgery is
taking place, and Malone interviews Consultant Surgeon Francis
Wells, who talks about the mechanistic and bioelectrical workings of
On the other side, there's the poetic view of the heart as a source
organ of love, with an intelligence all its own.
In Wells' view, the
heart is a pump, and nothing more.
You can replace your heart with an artificial one, and it won't
affect your ability to love.
Yet the idea that your heart is somehow
an emotional organ remains.
Pure Science Specials - Of Hearts and Minds
Mischa und René Vögtli
October 17, 2013
The Heart - An
Organ of Truth and Emotion
"I love you with all my heart," and "my heart swelled
with joy," or the reference to someone being "broken-hearted" or
...how much of this poetic language is based on
Are these kinds of sayings references to something biologically
true, stated in poetic terms?
This is the question Malone seeks to answer in this film, and the
reason he thinks the answer may be important is because he believes
the way we see our heart is a reflection of how we view ourselves as
The ancient Egyptians saw the heart as an organ of truth. And
indeed, your heart does seem to be able to tell you the truth about
how you feel and what you think is right or wrong.
When you lie, for
example, your heart rate tends to speed up.
As the above film goes on, Malone scours the latest science, to find out
whether our feelings and emotions really come from our brains, or
whether they might actually originate in our hearts.
For starters, Leonardo Da Vinci discovered how the blood flowed
through the heart, and how the swirling vortexes within the heart's
chambers worked with the heart, opening and closing the valves with
each heart beat - a far cry from the mechanistic view of the heart
as a simple single-stroke pump.
Da Vinci's drawings and experiments reveal a harmonic beauty - as
much a piece of art as a machine.
Within Your Heart
David Paterson, Ph.D. a professor at Oxford University, straddles
the two areas of the brain and the heart.
His work shows that your
brain is not the sole source of your emotions, but indeed, your
heart and brain work together in producing emotions. Your heart actually
contains neurons, similar to those in your
brain, and your heart and brain are closely connected, creating a
symbiotic emotional whole.
As explained in the film:
"When your heart receives signals from the brain via the
nerves, it pumps faster. And when it receives signals through the
parasympathetic nerves, it slows down. "
While this seems to support the view that the heart simply follows
the orders of the brain, the reality is far more complex.
your heart also contains thousands of specialized neurons,
predominantly located around the right ventricle surface, forming a
Why did nature put them there?
Neurons are what allow your brain to form thoughts.
So what are they
doing around the right ventricle of your heart? While much about the
neurons in your heart is still unknown, one thing is sure - the
"brain" in your heart communicates back and forth with the brain in
It's a two-way street...
The Neurons in
Your Heart Makes Decisions Too
In the film, Professor Paterson shows a piece of heart tissue from a
rabbit - not the whole heart, just a piece of the right ventricle,
where the neurons are clustered.
Kept in a tank with nutrients and a steady flow of oxygen, this
suspended piece of heart tissue beats all by itself, even though
it's not attached to a living organism, and there's no actual blood
pumping through it.
By sending an electrical impulse into this tissue via an electrode,
Professor Patterson demonstrates how the heart tissue immediately
slows its contractions; a "decision" made by the neurons in the
tissue in response to the stimulation.
This elegant little experiment shows that it's the neurons in your
heart that decide how the heart will behave, not the neurons in your
What Professor Patterson is finding again shifts our view of
the heart back toward its more poetic and philosophical origins.
As Malone says:
"The heart is a pump that does
respond when the brain asks it to, but it is not enslaved to the
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:
Negative Emotions Puts Your Heart Health at Risk
The interplay between your brain and heart can be seen when looking
at how your emotional and mental outlook colors your health -
especially your heart health.
Intense anger, for example, boosts
your heart attack risk five-fold, and your stroke risk three-fold.
Intense grief after the loss of a loved one also raises your risk of
having a heart attack. The day immediately following your loss, your
risk of a heart attack goes up by 21 times, and remains six times
higher than normal for several weeks. 1
Research also shows that people exposed to traumatic experiences,
New Orleans residents who went through
Greeks struggling through financial turmoil,
...have higher rates of cardiac problems than the general population.
In one such study, 2 which involved nearly 208,000 veterans aged 46
to 74, 35 percent of those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) developed insulin resistance in two years, compared
to only 19 percent of those not diagnosed with PTSD.
PTSD sufferers also had higher rates of metabolic syndrome - a
collection of risk factors that raise your risk of heart disease,
such as high body fat, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar
More than half (about 53 percent) of veterans with PTSD had
several of these symptoms, compared to 37 percent of those not
suffering with PTSD.
Outlook Reduces Your Heart Attack Risk
If negative emotions have the potential to harm your heart, it would
stand to reason that positive emotions may heal it, and this indeed
seems to be the case.
In a study 3 of nearly 1,500 people with an
increased risk of early-onset coronary artery disease, those who
reported being cheerful, relaxed, satisfied with life, and full of
energy had a one-third reduction in coronary events like a heart
Those with the highest risk of coronary events enjoyed an even
greater risk reduction of nearly 50 percent. This was true even when
other heart disease risk factors, such as smoking, age, and
diabetes, were taken into account.
Separate research has similarly
well-being is associated with a consistent reduced risk of
coronary heart disease (CHD) 4
Emotional vitality may protect
against risk of CHD in men and women 5
Cheerful heart disease patients
live longer than pessimistic heart patients 6
Very optimistic people have
lower risks of dying from any cause, as well as lower risks
of dying from heart disease, compared to highly pessimistic
Heart Also Affects Your Mind
In one test, Malone is shown a series of images of neutral and
frightened faces, some synced in time to his heartbeat, and others
not synced to his heart.
Interestingly, when the frightened faces
were shown in sync with his heartbeat, he perceived them as being
more intensely frightened than when shown out of sync with his
What this test showed was that how his mind processed the perception
of fear was affected by his heart. When his brain processed the
image in sync with his heart, there was a greater "resonance" in the
By looking at the brain scans taken during the test, the researchers
are able to pinpoint the precise brain region affected by the heart,
the amygdala - an area known to be associated with threat
Your amygdala processes fear in combination with the
signaling from your heart. This brain-heart connection is also at
work when you experience feelings of compassion and empathizing with
other people's emotional states.
As Malone says,
"it is our heart working in tandem
with our brain that allows us to feel (empathy) for others... It is
ultimately what makes us human... Compassion is the heart's gift
to the rational mind."
Circulation - 2012 Jan
NBC News March 10, 2013
Am J Cardiol. 2013 Oct
Health Psychol - 2011 May; 30(3):
Arch Gen Psychiatry - 2007
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A - 2011
November 8; 108(45): 18244–18248.
Arch Gen Psychiatry -
2004;61(11):1126-1135. Arch Gen Psychiatry.