You know the sayings, “follow your heart” or “I had a gut-feeling”? There’s a reason people use these kinds of phrases to describe their feelings or why they took a particular action when doing something. Although the brain is responsible for the actions you take, there’s more to it than that. You might be surprised to hear that your head, heart, and gut are all classed as “brains”. Over the last several years, neuroscience has shown that aside from the brain in your head , we also have a gut brain (enteric brain) and a heart brain (cardiac brain).
What Are The Three Brains?
Think about when you had to speak in public and got butterflies in your stomach or made a decision because you followed your heart. The heart, head, and gut all have complex neural pathways that work together. Listening to all three of them is key to making better decisions. By keeping your three brains healthy, they can work together efficiently for a better you.
This article explains how your head, gut, and heart work together to create a powerful mind and a healthy body:
- The human body has three brains
- Each brain can learn, change and communicate
- Make better decisions with your head, heart, and gut brain
- A healthy heart keeps your brain sharp as you age
- How to nurture your three brains for a better you
The Three Brains
Research published in Sage Journals shows that the gut, heart, and head all have complex networks and are functioning brains in their own right. Each different brain is a sophisticated system complete with billions of neurons that has the ability to grow, flex, and react. They are able to receive and process information, store it, and access it again when needed. They can: sense, learn, remember, communicate, and change! That’s pretty powerful stuff. To understand how the three brains work together, let’s first break down each individual brain and how they work on a singular level.
The Head Brain
The first brain is the most obvious one - the one in your head. You have about 86 billion neurons in your brain. Your head brain (the cephalic brain) deals with cognition, perception, and it’s what allows you to master language and communication. Neurons in the brain help to process and send information where synapses, electrical impulses, and hormones talk to each other. This is what gives you the ability to identify objects, patterns and make sense of the world. This is where creativity and conscious thought take place.
The Gut Brain
You have 100 million neurons in your gut. Your gut helps to regulate hormones, metabolism, blood pressure, and process information as you sleep. The gut brain is in the walls within your digestive system.
For a while, scientists thought that your brain communicates with your gut. They thought that people with anxiety, depression, and stress would develop stomach issues. However, research shows that communication goes both ways. According to one study, the gut sends about 400 more messages to the brain, than the brain to the gut. Research shows that your gut plays a key part in your emotions. For example, almost 95% of your body’s serotonin is actually found in the gut. Serotonin is often referred to as a happy hormone and is known to contribute to feelings of well-being.
The Heart Brain
If you’ve ever listened to your heart in life, you’re probably not surprised that your heart is a brain. Your heart is always sending emotional signals to your brain. As one of your most important organs, the heart has about 40,000 neurons that operate independently from the brain. Think of your heart as your emotional brain. It’s connected to what you value in life and how you feel. Your heart communicates with your head both through electrical signals and chemicals.
Each Brain Can Learn, Change, and Communicate
Although you have these three brains, not everyone listens to what they have to say. But when you listen to all three and allow them to work together harmoniously, you can tap into something extraordinary. You become truly engaged and can give your best in all areas of your life.
So, how do your three brains talk to each other? Your heart, head, and gut brain communicate through the vagus nerve. It’s one of the longest nerves in the body. The role of the vagus nerve is to act as a communication center for all your internal organs. The nerve starts at your head and goes all the way down to your abdomen.
What’s interesting is that research shows that a majority of information tends to flow up your vagus nerve. The information flows up to the head brain rather than down. This is how your heart and gut give input to your head brain. Your overall thought process and perception is influenced by all three brains.
How To Make Better Decisions Using Your Head, Heart, and Gut Brain
One way your three brains work together is by helping you to make better decisions. Some of the latest research into the three brains found that listening to all three is essential in the decision-making process. The idea is that by using and listening to all three areas, you will make smarter, more intuitive decisions.
Research from the Unitec Institute of Technology further supports this area of science. When you combine the wisdom of your gut, head, and heart, you can use a deeper level of self-awareness to make a better decision.
The body is wise and beautiful. Highly complex intelligence centers can work together seamlessly to create a more powerful mind and body. Activating and listening to all three brains may help you on your journey to deeper insight and creativity. When you activate and observe these important parts of your body, you can balance and optimize your well-being for better mental and physical health.
A Healthy Heart Keeps Your Brain Sharp as You Age
As you age, it’s natural to experience some cognitive decline. You may get a bit more forgetful and have trouble remembering little things. That is why it’s important that you exercise your brain so that you can age well.
Related: Grow New Adult Brain Cells
Interestingly, one study found that if you want to keep your focus and cognitive abilities sharp as you get older, you need to keep your heart healthy. This shows just how important the heart and head are to one another. The study found that participants with higher risk factors for heart disease like diabetes and high blood pressure experienced more cognitive decline than those with healthy hearts.
Although cognitive decline affects your head brain and your ability to process information, your whole body can influence your head brain. When you take a holistic approach to your health and think about your body as three brains, you can see how they interact with each other. When you ignore one and listen to the other, you may end up with unforeseen issues.
How to Nurture Your Three Brains for a Better You
How can you utilize your three brains most effectively?
The vagus nerve is the communication center for the three brains. It seems that when you stimulate the vagus nerve, it could have a beneficial effect on both the heart and gut. One way to stimulate the vagus nerve is through pranayama breathing exercises. Pranayama refers to breathing exercises that allow the free flow of energy throughout the body. It’s conscious breathwork that clears both physical and emotional obstacles in the body.
It’s thought that chanting also has a similar effect on the heart and gut as deep breathing exercises. What’s interesting is that breathing exercises have been shown to reduce high blood pressure. By benefiting the heart, people often experience mental clarity and improved decision making after stimulating the vagus nerve through deep pranayama breathing. Similarly, the gut also benefits from vagus nerve stimulation. Overall, the gut performs better, and digestive processes are smoother.
To practice deep belly breathing, it’s a good idea to adopt a regular breathing practice. It doesn’t need to be anything complicated. Simply set aside 10 minutes of your day in a quiet place to turn inward and practice some deep breathing. There are different breathing exercises to try such as lion’s breath, belly breathing, and alternate nostril breathing. Find a method that works for you and try to make it a part of your day.
It’s clear that there’s a strong link between the head, heart, and gut. To enter a state of deep thought and insight, the heart and gut brain must work together with the head. When all three brains work harmoniously together, it helps to improve well-being, both physically and mentally. Whether you listen to your gut, follow your heart, or think with your head, it’s time to start activating and tapping into all of your intelligence centers to create a better, healthier you.
Watch this video from Dr. Weston to help you rebuild your memory and focus with food and exercise.