“Follow your heart but take your brain with you.”
– Alfred Adler
The above quote from the famous Austrian psychotherapist accurately defines a well-accepted fact that there is a strong connection between the brain and the heart. Such is the close relationship between both the vital organs that people often stumble upon conflicting situations. While one is considered the precursor to the other, they are also interdependent upon each other. For years, people were under the impression that the connection between brain and heart was completely behavioral in nature, such as turning to smoking and drinking to relieve any kind of stress.
Gradually, this view has started to change as research has established a physiological basis to this connection. The biological and chemical aspects that produce mental health problems can also set off heart diseases. Moreover, biochemical changes predispose people to have other health problems, including cardiovascular diseases. Considering the above relationship, one must may attention to both the aspects of their health.
Causal relationship between mental disorders and heart diseases
A team of researchers established the reason behind the connection between mental health issues and heart-related problems. Their study explains why people with depression or anxiety have an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. The study published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) identified two crucial areas of the brain that control both emotions and heart activities.
It was simultaneously successful in providing evidence to support the fact that emotional situations predispose the brain to trigger cardiovascular responses, such as changes in heart rate and blood pressure. Though such changes due to flight and fight responses are considered normal emotional responses, they are treated as additional risk factors in the case of heart diseases.
In order to determine the relationship, the experiment was carried out on marmosets. The specific regions of the brain were fitted with small metal tubes to administer drugs that temporarily reduce activity in those portions. This facilitated the researchers to observe specific responses to stimulus in the form of auditory cues.
In the first task, the marmosets were subjected to three auditory cues. While the first cue was followed by a loud noise, the second cue was followed by darkness and the third cue was followed by either loud noise or darkness with a 50:50 probability. The task lasted for only 30 minutes each day a week over a few months.
Upon understanding the cues, the marmosets were typically scared and displayed increased heart rate and blood pressure upon the anticipation of the loud noise. As a result, they became comparatively more vigilant than before. However, when the brain region Area 25, or the subgenual cingulate cortex of the prefrontal cortex of the brain, is switched off, marmoset became less fearful and vigilant. Moreover, their heart rate and blood pressure came back to normal.
Similarly, in the second task meant for testing emotions, the researchers introduced auditory and physical cues because of which the marmosets developed increased heart rate and blood pressure. However, upon inactivating the Area 25, the marmosets quickly became less fearful in response to the cues and their cardiovascular and behavioral measurements returned to baseline at a faster rate.
The inactivation of another region known as Area 32, or the perigenual cingulate cortex, during both the tasks heightened the fearful responses of the marmosets even during nonthreatening situations due to their ability to differentiate between fearful and non-fearful cues. It resulted in vigilant scanning behavior (where the animal looks around in fearful anticipation) and elevated blood pressure, which are the key symptoms of anxiety disorder.
It was clear from the study that there is a complicated interplay between the brain and the body and the brain dictates certain aspects of the heart and emotions.
Healthy brain and heart source of creativity
The presence of mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, can complicate recuperation from heart attack, stroke, etc. If a person feels overwhelmed by the challenges of mental or physical health, he or she should consult a qualified psychologist. An effective treatment assists a person in overcoming all kinds of health-related challenges.
If you or your loved one is suffering from depression or any other mental disorders, contact the Depression Treatment Helpline to get information about various rehab centers for depression in the U.S. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-619-7729 or chat online with our representatives to know about one of the best depression help centers.