Our Three Brains | The Impact Our Heart & Gut Have On Our Mental Health State and Illness
I have been researching many different cultures, belief systems and deemed myths regarding the cause and effect mental health issues have on our bodies long term and comparing them to scientific research for a while now.
Since my first diagnosis of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), Anxiety, Agoraphobia and Depression back in 2015, It has become all the more apparent that both medical professionals and therapists and psychologists actually have little to no answers as to how we actually cure these illnesses. From experience, it seems to be more about learning to cope with the side-effects if you will, rather than riding ourselves of these sufferings/symptoms, and for me, that is simply not good enough.
Throughout my search for answers over the past few years, I have become increasingly concerned by the lack of research that has been conducted on the direct relationship between mental health issues and how much of the brain in our head, is actually responsible for our current mental state.
I have never, nor will I ever be interested in coping with any symptoms or learning to live with Mental Health issues long term and for all I am not a healthcare professional nor a scientist, it did not take long to discover that what is deemed a Mental Health Issue and other related illnesses that cause long-term effects, are not solely caused or remain in the brain as we once thought.
The Aboriginal Australians, as well as many other groups who adopt spiritual based practices, have particular belief systems regarding the brain which I have found most interesting and helpful in relation to what is deemed as, Mental Health problems. Both in psychology and Neurocardiology research, there are in fact at least two other brains that we know about, outwith our mind and as a result, if you are suffering from any Mental Health issues such as anxiety, this may not be solely a mental problem at all and have found this information to be most useful whilst writing my book and dealing with these issues myself. It is also a subject that is not so widely known about or discussed, therefore I hope you find this as eye-opening as I have.
When we think of the brain, we understand it is located within our skull. If we were to ask a medical professional to describe the brain, we would learn at the most basic level, that our brain is made up of three parts called the triune and their general function.
The triune is split into three categories, Neocortex, the Limbic brain and the reptilian brain.
This makes up the brain as we know it, of course, in its basic form. Nevertheless, when we study the brain further, we can understand how our brain learns and more importantly, through our development, behaviours, thought process and how each part of the triune brain is connected, we find that we can change the actual structure of our brain throughout our lifetime, known as neuroplasticity and as much as we are responsible for the current state of our brain, it brings me hope that we can now actually re-programme and physically alter our neuroplasticity in order to break habits such as Mental Health issues.
The Importance of the Heart & Gut
With that aside, I have since learned that Mental Health as we know it, is not solely related to the brain in our heads. As the body is intrinsically connected, there is scientific research as well as spiritual beliefs past down through generations in tribes and different cultures, that understand the Heart and the Gut are also brains.
The heart and the gut have their own nervous system and neurons similar to our mind. They are also capable of doing a wide range of complex adaptive processes that allow them to store information, change its signalling and capable of adapting to their environment.
Therefore the heart and the gut can learn, just like the brain as we know it, in our heads. Each brain plays an integral part in our well-being, and for all they do different things, they are all connected.
According to Heart Math, the heart communicates with the brain in a variety of ways:
- Neurological communication (nervous system)
- Biochemical communication (hormones)
- Biophysical communication (pulse wave)
- Energetic communication (electromagnetic fields)
Research conducted by John and Beatrice Lacey and psychologist and researcher Walter Bradford Cannon over a span of 20 years, found that the heart diverged information from the direction of our autonomic nervous system activity (our minds) and used that information to form its own logic. In turn, the heart not only sent information to the mind but rather instructions that the mind carries out known as electrical activity. This information can affect our perceptions, behaviours and overall well-being.
‘The heart-brain, as it is commonly called, or intrinsic cardiac nervous system, is an intricate network of complex ganglia, neurotransmitters, proteins and support cells, the same as those of the brain in the head. The heart-brain’s neural circuitry enables it to act independently of the cranial brain to learn, remember, make decisions and even feel and sense. Descending activity from the brain in the head via the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the ANS is integrated into the heart’s intrinsic nervous system along with signals arising from sensory neurons in the heart that detect pressure, heart rate, heart rhythm and hormones.’ – Neurocardiology
The heart is also a hormonal gland, as it communicates with the brain in our head and our bodies biochemically and manufactures and produces hormones and neurotransmitters that have a wide-ranging impact on the body as a whole which is also an integral part to our current mental state, given that anxiety, panic disorders and other related illnesses of that kind, stem from hormonal imbalances or a lack of serotonin, often replaced by medication.
I came across an article released by Harvard Health where I learned that the Gut and the mind too, are deeply connected. Our gastrointestinal tract is very sensitive to emotion, therefore, they provoke a reaction in our gut which I am assuming is why we feel that ‘gut instinct’ before something happens. Often understood as warning signals as well as excitement and apprehension before a date for example or when we sense something isn’t quite right.
Just the same, our gut can send signals to our brain in the head, and along with those signals, carry both good gut bacteria and bad gut bacteria, therefore it is now becoming apparent to me that again, anxiety, depression, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), in fact, everything that we deem today as ‘Mental Health’ issues, stems from not only the brain in the head as we know it but that our gut-brain and heart-brain, too plays an integral and influential part to our mental state.
According to Food Renegade, there is now conclusive evidence that the balance of good and bad bacteria in our Gut, has more effect on our mental state than we originally thought. Researchers at McMaster University, show that there is a direct connection between the state of our Gut and the state of our mind, whether that results in Anxiety disorders, Depression, or even Irritable Bowl Syndrome and that science has finally caught on to the old assumption, that this is also an area to take notice of, when trying to combat mental health problems.
I think it is worth reading the article on Food Renegade as to further understand what this study shows as it both irked and elated me to discover that science and medical research is finally taking place in order to combat these issues. Too long have we been reliant on this one pill fits all notion and those mental health symptoms, are best learnt to cope with through various anti-depressants medications and the like, rather than actually understanding where they originate from and why they persist, in a more thorough manner.
Best explained is by Dr. Emeran Mayer;
‘Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles believes that the microflora inhabiting a child’s gut actually influences the developing structures in his brain as the child grows up and that those brain structures can then influence that child’s feelings, thoughts emotions and mental health throughout his later life. Dr. Mayer has taken MRI scans of the brains of thousands of volunteers while collecting samples of their gut bacteria. He has found that the connections formed between the regions in a person’s brain differ depending on what type of bacteria predominate in each individual’s gut. It seems incredible that our gut bugs can affect our physical brain in such a profound way. A conclusion that can be drawn from this research is that colonization by certain kinds of bacteria may lead to particular brain structures or wiring that makes someone more susceptible to anxiety that might exist in another person whose gut was colonized by different bacteria.’
Why Anti-depressants won’t cure Mental Illness For Everyone
It is becoming evidently clear that in most cases, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) or Anti-depressants are they commonly known as, are never going to work as based on this evidence; simply pumping chemical happiness into the brain is not in all cases, combating or curing the actual route of the problem in the first place.
Meditation and mindfulness are certainly not going to work alone either, however, this practice will do more good for our overall well-being than SSRIs ever could. It is a combination between our Gut-brain, Heart-brain and our Head-brain, coinciding with meditation that will rid us of these issues, regardless of what type of mental health issue you have been diagnosed with. Our bodies, such as everything in life, have a particular balance in order to work most effectively, so I am presuming that the key is finding out what balance our own bodies need in order to function, dare I say, normally. That is what I am continuing to research and test out, as well as the topic of my book and would appreciate any input you have on the topic.
Along with my research into neuroplasticity as well as mindfulness and meditation, I will be exploring this topic more, especially with regards to Mental Health. There is an enormous amount of information and research that has proven that not only historical practices such as meditation and medically speaking how the body functions, is deeply connected. However, in this instance, it appears that science needs to catch up with spiritual based practices so that we can combat whatever we are suffering from, from all angles, rather than remaining in a position of coping.
I look forward to having a discussion about this with both scientists, researchers and gurus that will help me complete this book and rid me of this current mental state.
Sending you all love and light.