Is There Any Evidence That the Heart is Actually a Mini Brain?

There is a theory going around stating that the heart plays a far bigger role than just a large muscle that pumps blood around our body and actually acts in a cognitive way. I think it is easy to see how the heart has been picked out to be something special and of course it is vitally important as its role is the difference between life and death. Heart failure really is the end and so we are quite right to understand the importance of this organ.
For centuries now the heart has played a bigger role than perhaps it really deserved. We are heartfelt, we have hearts of gold, I give you my heart, I love from the bottom of my heart, and the list goes on. All of this suggests deeper emotions that are being released directly from this organ and that just isn’t true in my opinion.
The heart is practically worshiped by humanity and in all cultures and there are many historical references in literature. Music is littered with lyrics that mention the heart in a way that leaves other organs out in the cold, after all you don’t hear many people say that guy has a liver of gold.
There are quite a few sites that push out this idea of the heart operating in a more cognitive manner but having read through them I find very little in the way of evidence as most of it seems to point to suggestion. A lot of the references are from unpublished work or recorded conversations which does not lend itself to a strong supportive argument.
I found one paper called “The electricity of touch” which basically went on to discuss a measurement of cardiac energy exchange between people. This paper has no real science behind it and even the author admits this. Yet that paper has been pushed forward in many places as real evidence that supports the claim that the heart is a mini brain. Any form of guesswork destroys scientific claims and that is a simple fact.
The basis of the main theory stems from the fact that the heart has a network of 40,000 neurons within it. These neurons detect hormones, neurochemicals, and are aware of heart rate and blood pressure. So, on this evidence they base the theory that the heart communicates with the brain and the rest of the body in a biophysical and electromagnetic sense.
When this is backed up by the fact [I believe this to be true] that the heart secretes oxytocin which is considered a bonding hormone and is present in childbirth and lactation and also that recently it was discovered that this hormone was involved in other functions as well like complex sexual and maternal behaviors. So when you look at it from that angle it looks like the theory is beginning to back itself up but it quickly falls apart when you look at the reality.
For instance, your heart does have 40,000 neurons and a lot of those are very sensitive to circulating hormones but so do many other parts of the body and nobody is pushing those as having a mini brain. Here is another thing, the complete intestinal tract has more nerve cells than the entire central nervous system and we are constantly being reminded about the sensations from our gut far more than from our heart. The gut also has most of the neurotransmitters found in the brain. This actually makes the gut a far more worthy candidate for the mini brain theory than the heart.
In fact, most of our organs have huge organized and functioning neural networks but nobody is suggesting that they also act in a cognitive and planning kind of way, in fact there is no suggestion of at all that these other organs are controlling any other part of our body. The brain does not dish out this work to other body parts and much of what has been said in the past was meant to be taken metaphorically and not in a literal sense. I stand by the fact that neither the gut nor the heart has a mini brain.
Then we get onto the big claim that the electromagnetic signals generated by the heart influence other parts of the body. These signals are so weak that only specialized equipment can pick them up and they are lost in the noise of other signal generated by the rest of the body, and it is a very weak proposal to suggest that these extremely weak signals can influence other cells. Especially when there is so much other noise going on from other organs and especially muscles. There is much evidence to back up this weakness of signal in a magnetic and electrical sense.
Another claim is that the heart is responsible in some way for making decisions within our thoughts. For the life of me I cannot find one single piece of real evidence that could support this. As far as I’m concerned, the prefrontal cortex is responsible for the decisions we make and if we feel good about a certain decision then it is the result of the dopamine neurotransmitter. This is fact and proven.
Herophilus was a Greek philosopher working in Egypt around 300 BC and his studies went a long way to proving that the brain was responsible for our intellect and are cognitive ability. The romantic side of linking the heart to many other things has lived on though and mostly through music and lyrics but that kept this myth alive to this day.
So to sum this up, there appears to be no real hard-core scientific evidence that supports the heart being anything other than a muscle which pumps the blood around the body. The heart can really not be thought of as a mini brain any more than one of your other organs such as your liver or spleen. As we mentioned before the intestines actually represent a far better candidate for the mini brain than the heart ever could and nobody is pushing for that to be true.
Much that I like to find out new information and discover new facts that make us think in a different way the very thought that anyone takes this particular theory seriously does make me cringe. It was disproven over 2000 years ago and revisiting this theory is like taking a trip back to the dark ages because there is no real scientific evidence to support it.

Andy Beveridge

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