The diagram above shows the neural communication pathways between the heart and the brain. The heart’s intrinsic nervous system consists of ganglia, which contain local circuit neurons of several types, and sensory neurites, which are distributed throughout the heart. The intrinsic ganglia process and integrate inflowing information from the extrinsic nervous system and from the sensory neurites within the heart. The extrinsic cardiac ganglia, located in the thoracic cavity, have direct connections to organs such as the lungs and esophagus and are also indirectly connected via the spinal cord to many other organs, including the skin and arteries. The “afferent” (flowing to the brain) parasympathetic information travels from the heart to the brain through the vagus nerve to the medulla, after passing through the nodose ganglion. The sympathetic afferent nerves first connect to the extrinsic cardiac ganglia (also a processing center), then to the dorsal root ganglion and the spinal cord. Once afferent signals reach the medulla, they travel to the subcortical areas (thalamus, amygdala, etc.) and then to the cortical areas.
“Communication along all these conduits significantly affects the brain’s activity,” Science of the Heart says. “Moreover, research shows that messages the heart sends the brain can also affect performance.”
Coming Up – Heart Coherence
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