J. Andrew Armour is a Canadian physiologist who has published quite a few papers on the regulation of the heart — a very complex subject. There are hormonal and external neuronal controls, and a specific tracery of internal neurons and neuron-like fibers that generate patterned muscle contractions. And muscle, of course, is itself called an excitable tissue because it has electrical properties that are essential for its function. There is a lot of cool stuff going on in cardiac research.
So, in 1991, Armour published on Intrinsic Cardiac Neurons in the Journal of Cardiac Electrophysiology. It’s solid work that summarizes these complex interactions, and explains how the heart has its own independent and relatively sophisticated independent electrical properties.
Physiological evidence indicates that afferent neurons, local circuit neurons, as well as efferent sympathetic and efferent parasympathetic neurons, are located in the mammalian intrinsic cardiac nervous system. Complex interneuronal interactions can occur between these neurons, as well as between such neurons and other intrathoracic and central nervous system neurons. A variety of neurochemicals have been proposed to be involved in such interneuronal interactions. Thus the electrophysiologic properties and synaptology of intrinsic cardiac neurons may be more varied than has been appreciated accounting, at least in part, for the variety of neuronal responses that in situ intrinsic cardiac neurons are capable of displaying. The various interactions that occur between intrinsic cardiac neurons and other intrathoracic neurons, as well as between neurons in all intrathoracic ganglia and the central nervous system, will have to be characterized in order to clarify the role of the autonomic nervous system regulating the heart throughout each cardiac cycle.
This is not revolutionary. It had all been pretty well known for decades, although Armour did a fine job of synthesizing all the pieces of the story.
In 2007, he also published a review of the importance of understanding cardiac circuitry, Potential clinical relevance of the ‘little brain’ on the mammalian heart, in Experimental Physiology. Again, this is good, useful, substantive stuff.
It is hypothetized that the heart possesses a nervous system intrinsic to it that represents the final relay station for the co-ordination of regional cardiac indices. This ‘little brain’ on the heart is comprised of spatially distributed sensory (afferent), interconnecting (local circuit) and motor (adrenergic and cholinergic efferent) neurones that communicate with others in intrathoracic extracardiac ganglia, all under the tonic influence of central neuronal command and circulating catecholamines. Neurones residing from the level of the heart to the insular cortex form temporally dependent reflexes that control overlapping, spatially determined cardiac indices. The emergent properties that most of its components display depend primarily on sensory transduction of the cardiovascular milieu. It is further hypothesized that the stochastic nature of such neuronal interactions represents a stabilizing feature that matches cardiac output to normal corporal blood flow demands. Thus, with regard to cardiac disease states, one must consider not only cardiac myocyte dysfunction but also the fact that components within this neuroaxis may interact abnormally to alter myocyte function. This review emphasizes the stochastic behaviour displayed by most peripheral cardiac neurones, which appears to be a consequence of their predominant cardiac chemosensory inputs, as well as their complex functional interconnectivity. Despite our limited understanding of the whole, current data indicate that the emergent properties displayed by most neurones comprising the cardiac neuroaxis will have to be taken into consideration when contemplating the targeting of its individual components if predictable, long-term therapeutic benefits are to accrue.
Here’s a diagram from that paper that might give you a visual depiction of what he’s talking about. It will look familiar to everyone who has taken a college level physiology course.
Now just take a moment and think about this. Here’s a piece of credible, robust science. How would an ignorant wackaloon interpret the story? Just close your eyes and let your imagination run riot for a while. Maybe you’ll come up with a wacky enough story that will make you rich. Or maybe you’ll come up with what you think is a crazy idea, but someone has already beaten you to it and published it.
After you’ve thought about a minute, you can go on and read the story of Gregg Braden. If you’ve got a loonier interpretation than he does, maybe you too can make good money on the New Age circuit!
You can find out all about Braden by ordering his book, Resilience from the Heart: The Power to Thrive in Life’s Extremes on Amazon. It’s not worth the money, so don’t buy it…especially since you can get a pdf of it for free from the publisher. Even at that it’s grossly overpriced.
I downloaded it and read the first chapter before tossing it out. Here’s a little taste.
In 1991, a scientific discovery published in a peer-reviewed journal put to rest any lingering doubt regarding the heart’s multi-faceted role in the body. The name of the article gives us a clue to the discovery: “Neurocardiology.” It’s all about the intimate relationship between our hearts and brains.
No, this seems to be incorrect. I cited the article published by Armour in 1991 above; he did write an articled titled Neurocardiology…in 2016. That abstract begins like so:
Cardiac control is mediated via a series of reflex control networks involving somata in the (i) intrinsic cardiac ganglia (heart), (ii) intrathoracic extracardiac ganglia (stellate, middle cervical), (iii) superior cervical ganglia, (iv) spinal cord, (v) brainstem, and (vi) higher centers. Each of these processing centers contains afferent, efferent, and local circuit neurons, which interact locally and in an interdependent fashion with the other levels to coordinate regional cardiac electrical and mechanical indices on a beat-to-beat basis. This control system is optimized to respond to normal physiological stressors (standing, exercise, and temperature); however, it can be catastrophically disrupted by pathological events such as myocardial ischemia.
Keep that in mind, that he’s discussing “reflex control networks” that maintain and adjust the heartbeat. But Braden continues:
The discovery described this powerful relationship that had been unrecognized in the past.
This is simply not true. Otto Loewi. 1921. They teach his experiment in high school, even. You’ve probably heard of it: Put a frog heart in a dish, stimulate the vagus nerve, and you get a change in the heart rate; take fluid from the dish and put it on a different heart in a different dish, and you get the same response. We’ve had both external electrical regulation and neurohormonal regulation all in the same experiment. We now have more specific detail, but let’s not pretend this stuff was “unrecognized”.
Dig yourself a deeper hole, Gregg!
A team of scientists, led by Dr. J. Andrew Armour of the University of Montreal, discovered that about 40,000 specialized neurons, called sensory neurites, form a communication network within the heart itself.
Now that makes me wonder where he’s getting his information, since that certainly is not anywhere in the paper…or any other paper Armour has written, I suspect. “Sensory neurites” aren’t what he thinks they are. “Neurite” is a general term that refers to any fine process emerging from a neuron, whether it is a dendrite or an axon. This is rather like being unfamiliar with what the term “digits” mean, so you refer to any group of people as a network of fingers. It’s a big red flag that declares that hey, this person knows nothing, not even the basic vocabulary, of the subject he’s just written a book about.
But wait! So far this is just fluff and nonsense, written by someone ten zillion miles out of his depth. It’s the kind of stuff I’ve seen from first year college students. It’s just stupid.
Most naive young students are not going to turn their misconceptions into a 295 page book, though. That takes real ambition and is going to require that you pad the story out a hell of a lot with garbage. Gregg Braden has risen to that challenge and takes a little misunderstood, out-of-context information and inflates it with chutzpah and bullshit and churns out a fat pile of lucrative baloney. You haven’t seen the worst of it yet.
Here’s what Braden infers from the fact that there is neural tissue imbedded in the heart.
Since the little brain in the heart has been recognized, its role in a number of functions not so readily acknowledged in the past have also come to light.
These functions include:
- Providing the heart-based wisdom known as “heart intelligence”
- Promoting intentional states of deep intuition
- Allowing for intentional precognitive abilities
- Directing the heart’s communication with sensory neurites in other organs in the body
I have to intrude on this little festival of New Age enthusiasm to say that none of those points is at all true, except the last one, which is basically trivially true for all the cells in a multicellular organism, except that it’s marred by his incomprehension of what the term “neurite” actually means.
The heart’s little brain has been found to function in two distinct yet related ways. It can act…
- …independently of the cranial brain to think, learn, remember, and even sense our inner and outer worlds on its own.
- …in harmony with the cranial brain to give us the benefit of a single, potent neural network shared by the two separate organs.
Sorry to intrude again, but any time Braden throws out a list, it’s more like a series of brain farts that have no logical connection to any fact or any of the real science he has set up as the implied context for his assertions. These are not true, either.
Dr. Armour’s discovery has forever changed the way we’ve been taught to think of ourselves. It gives new meaning to what’s possible and what we’re capable of when it comes to the roles played by the heart and the brain in the body. In Dr. Armour’s own words, “It has become clear in recent years that a sophisticated two-way communication occurs between the heart and the brain, with each influencing the other’s function.”
That last quote? True. Perfectly reasonable. Accepted by all biologists. Important, but not in the way Braden thinks. That the heart rate is regulated and that we can be consciously aware of our heart’s activity does not imply that the heart “thinks” (look back to that quote from Armour’s abstract: it’s a “reflex control network”), or that it drives “intuition”, or that we have precognitive abilities.
You also have a “little brain” in your gut; it’s called the enteric nervous system. It drives behaviors like peristalsis and controls reflexes like emesis and defecation. It’s primitive — cockroaches have a quite nice enteric nervous system, and ours isn’t much more complex, but is definitely larger. We do not generally regard our guts as conscious or thinking for us or giving us special psychic powers.
Except for one. Apparently, the colonic nerve net is quite capable of churning out New Age pseudoscience books.
The real shame here, though, is that Braden has basically hijacked Armour’s legitimate work and misused it to claim his nonsense is based on “peer-reviewed literature”. Read any of those papers, I assure you, and you’ll discover that none of them have any relationship to the tortured fantasies of Gregg Braden.