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Heart Matters: 10 Interesting Facts About The Human Heart You Did Not Know

Written by Reshma Pathare on Wed, 07 December 2022 — Fact checked by Dr. Sintayehu Abebe

Key Highlights

  • The heart is the first organ to start developing in the process of an embryo turning into a fetus.
  • Men and women have different cardiac compositions owing to their hormonal differences.
  • The heart has its own electrical system which helps control the functioning.
  • Laughter, regular sex, and externalizing one’s stresses are important ways to have a healthy heart.
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The heart is one organ that has captured the imagination of scientists and poets alike from time immemorial.

Leaving aside the literary significance of this ‘epicenter of life’, it is interesting to see what makes the heart so significant in the sustenance and functioning of human life.

Here are 10 interesting facts about the heart you might not have known about.

1. It is the first organ to start functioning after conception

The confirmation of a new life having begun inside a woman’s womb, is given by the presence of a tiny beating heart. The heart is the first organ that starts developing and functioning during embryogenesis.

The tiny heart starts beating by the end of gestational week 3, whereas by the end of week 4, it begins participating in the circulation process. By the end of the 7th week, it develops into a four-chambered fetal heart that can sustain the fetus in the hypoxemic environment of the uterus, while depending on the placenta for its metabolic functions, nutrition, respiration, and throwing out waste material.

Incidentally, after the fetus gets delivered as a baby, the previously-fetal heart undergoes several physiological, structural, and functional changes to start supporting the human body in the extrauterine environment.

Hence, it is said that life begins from the heart. The literary meaning of it apart, scientifically too, the heart is the first organ that helps the human embark his/her journey.

2. Heart is the most hardworking organ

Weighing barely 350 gm at the maximum, the human heart is the most hardworking organ of all. It starts working earlier than all the other organs of the body (at 4 weeks of gestation) and continues without rest until the person’s demise.

The heart beats around 72 times in one minute. So, how many heartbeats in a day does that translate to? This translates to i.e., approximately 1,00,000 times in one day.

Women’s heart beats run faster than that of men. On an average, a woman’s heart beats 78 times/minute, whereas a man’s heart beats 70 times/minute.

During its entire lifetime, the heart pumps around 2000 gallons (approx. 7570 liters) of blood through the body each day.

It uses a complex network of arteries to maintain a sustained pressure that will ensure continuous and optimum blood flow to all parts of the body.

Apart from oxygenated blood, the heart carries hormones, glucose, and amino acids to various parts of the body.

The heart is responsible for receiving deoxygenated blood. It also collects the metabolic waste products from the body and takes it to the lungs for oxygenation.

3. Hearts of men and women are different

Unbelievable as it sounds, men and women’s heart are marginally different from each other.

For starters, women’s hearts are smaller in size as compared to men. Some of the inner chambers of women’s hearts are also smaller than those of men.

This size difference is attributed to the hormonal differences in both genders. Testosterone in men is seen to enlarge the arteries, whereas estrogen and progesterone makes them smaller. Hence also, beyond a certain age, women are more prone to arterial blockages.

The walls of the inner chambers and the veins are also thinner in women than in men.

Since the size of a woman’s heart is smaller, it pumps lesser blood with each beat as compared to men. Hence, a woman’s heart needs to beat faster than that of a man, to compensate for the lesser volume with higher ejection speed.

Women show less overt and less intense symptoms than men when it comes to heart ailments. Hence, their diagnosis becomes delayed, and makes it more difficult for women to recover from such problems.

4. Estrogen enhances women’s heart health

While the role of the hormone estrogen in a woman’s reproductive health is well-known, it is pertinent to note that estrogen also supports and boosts a woman’s cardiac health in multiple ways.

In fact, the presence of estrogen is the main reason why women tend to get afflicted with heart problems almost a decade later than men (not considering, congenital defects and unhealthy acquired habits like smoking).

Estrogen helps enhance the levels of good cholesterol and reduce the bad cholesterol.

It helps to dilate and smoothen the blood vessels, thus helping the oxygenated blood flow more freely.

Estrogen enhances women’s heart health

Estrogen is helpful for absorption of free radicals that promote inflammation, and can damage the tissues and arteries.

Thus, when a woman becomes menopausal, the drop in her estrogen levels makes her increasingly prone to heart problems.

Decreasing estrogen also make women prone to type 2 diabetes, abdominal (visceral) fat accumulation, subcutaneous fat accumulation, and obesity – all potent risk factors for heart ailments.

Deficiency of estrogen in pre-menopausal or young women makes them prone to coronary atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular complications.

5. Heart has its own electrical system

Another aspect that makes the heart a fascinating organ is that it has its own electrical system, known as the cardiac electrical system.

It is an important part of the heart because even if there’s minimal or no blockage in the arteries, or even if the valves are functioning well, a damage to the cardiac electrical system may lead to a sudden heart attack which may even turn fatal.

The cardiac electrical system determines how robustly is the heart functioning by controlling the heart rate and organizing the beating of heart muscles.

The sinus nodes are known as the body’s ‘natural pacemakers’.

If some other part of the heart dons the role of the pacemaker and if/when the sinus nodes become damaged, it can lead to problems like shortness of breath and arrhythmia.

It is due to this cardiac electrical system that the heart can stay alive for some time even after the brain is dead, as long as it gets oxygen supply. The same can happen when the heart is removed from the body.

6. Being an extrovert helps increase longevity of the heart

It is well known that stress is detrimental to the human system in multiple ways. It mars the immune system, creates psycho-social problems, and even affects the heart health negatively.

While therapy and medication are some ways to control stress, being an extrovert can be a great stress-buster, and help improve cardiovascular health to a great extent.

Being an extrovert means being outspoken, sociable, and assertive. It means being someone who looks at the positive side of things instead of dwelling on negatives. It also means being a person who does not let panic or anxiety grip him/her in the face of challenges.

Studies have shown that extroverts display lesser heart rate reactivity and respiratory sinus arrhythmia withdrawal. They also adapt and adjust faster to the systolic blood pressure that is exerted in times of stress.

These factors help extroverts bounce back faster from stressful situations, thus causing least damage to their hearts.

7. Sex makes the heart live more

Sex can be a great form of exercise, as well as, a wonderful stress-buster for the mind, which in turn can boost the heart health by several notches.

Sex burns around 5 calories per minute, thus making it helpful for shedding a bit of weight while also bumping up the heart rate to healthy levels.

It leads to a surge of ‘feel-good’ chemicals like oxytocin and endorphins, which help control depression and anxiety, thus reducing the person’s vulnerability to heart problems.

Sex makes the heart live more

It also reduces the cortisol levels that may have been released in the body during stressful situations, thus making it resistant to heart-ailment-inducing inflammation.

Orgasms help release oxytocin and prolactin, which relax the body and help it sleep better. Good sleep can help regulate blood pressure, a pertinent factor in increasing the chances of heart diseases if left unregulated.

Sex helps keep the estrogen and testosterone levels balanced in women and men respectively. A disbalance in either of those is causative for triggering heart diseases.

8. Laughter makes the heart smile with good health

A good, hearty laugh is the best antidote to all the negative feelings that get spurred by anxiety and anger.

The chemicals released during anxiety can make the body prone to heart disease and vascular issues. Similarly, the chemicals that get released when we get angry, can trigger inflammation and muscular spasms, thus leading to heart attacks, or increasing chances of the same.

Laughter releases the feel-good chemical called endorphins, which reduce the load on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenaline (HPA) axis that gets burdened during anger and stress. This helps negate the ill-effects mentioned above, as also, gives a boost to the immune system.

As the body relaxes with a surge of endorphins, it lowers the blood pressure that gets heightened during anger or stress, thus making the body vulnerable to arterial clots of pressure.

Laughing heartily helps the body inhale more oxygen, which increases the volume of oxygenated blood in the circulatory system and decreases the risk of vascular problems.

9. ‘Broken heart syndrome’ is a reality

We have often heard of people dying of a broken heart. But if you think it is just a literary idea, think again.

Broken heart syndrome, also known as Takotsubo syndrome or stress cardiomyopathy happens when the heart undergoes tremendous emotional or physical stress, which causes their heart muscles to weaken to great levels.

Some examples of emotional stressors that can lead to a broken heart include shock, immense grief, pain due to separation/betrayal, or an unexpected event leading to intense fear.

Physical stressors can include seizures, excessive bleeding, high fever, or severe shortness of breath.

When the body and mind are overwhelmed by these intense emotions or causative factors, adrenaline and noradrenaline are produced in excessive measures to help cope with the stress.

This excessive adrenaline narrows the small arteries that supply oxygenated blood to the heart, thus causing a short-term decrease in the volume of blood supplied.

The adrenaline may also bind to the heart cells directly and lead to calcium entering the cells. This prevents the heart from beating properly.

The broken heart syndrome is said to be commoner in women than men.

The good part is that most cases of broken heart syndrome get cured in 4-6 weeks. Only a small percentage of them may have fatal effects.

10. The heart can get cancer

We hear about various parts of the human body – from the skin to the eyes - getting afflicted with cancer. But it is not common knowledge that even the heart can get affected by cancer.

Per se, the heart cannot develop a cancer in itself, because for a cancer to develop the cells of that organ need to mutate and multiply. However, the cells of heart muscles are so intricate and have such particularly specific functions, that they cannot mutate and grow.

But it is possible for a cancer from other parts of the body to metastasize and afflict the heart. This is not a very common occurrence but can happen nonetheless when cancer cells from the lungs or breasts attack the heart.

80% of heart tumors are benign and can include lipoma, papillary fibroelastoma, atrial myxoma, and fibromas rhabdomyoma.

Even though benign, these tumors need to be removed to prevent them from blocking the blood flow to the heart.

Rarely, one can also find malignant heart cancers such as cardiac angiosarcoma (which contain affected blood vessels), cardiac rhabdomyosarcoma, osteosarcoma and liposarcoma.

Pericardial mesothelioma is another malignant form of heart cancer which can severely affect the spine and brain as well.

People with immunodeficiencies can get afflicted by primary lymphoma.

Conclusion

Life begins from the heart, and its good health is pertinent to help us lead a healthy life. So, it is important that you keep yourself updated with interesting facts about the human heart.

Do go for an annual heath checkup to ascertain your heart’s health, among other things.

If you come from a family with history of heart ailments, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, it is even more important to start such checkups sooner than later. Same is the case if you’re a smoker, diabetic, or have a sedentary lifestyle.

Most heart ailments are curable if diagnosed in time.

Take preventive action early on, and get good heart health in the long run.

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Reshma Pathare

Reshma Kulkarni-Pathare has been a self-employed media professional since 1999. Starting off as a Freelance Journalist for Times of India Thane Plus, Reshma went onto write for more than 45 national and international publications including Times of India, New Woman, Femina, Indian Express, The Hindu, BBC Good Homes and many more. While her forte has been lifestyle writing, she is equally proficient in writing health articles. Her health articles have been published in Health International (Dubai), New Woman, Femina, and Mother & Baby.

Apart from being a journalist, Reshma also works as a copy-editor for self-publishing houses and academic journals.

She is an award-winning bi-lingual translator with more than 12 books published in her name.

She has been a Visiting Faculty Member for post-graduate department of mass media at MET College (Mumbai) and Welingkar WeSchool (Mumbai).

She has worked as a Consumer Marketing Insights Researcher for global organizations like CEB Iconoculture (USA) and Gartner (USA).

Consolidating her multifarious skills in the media, in 2021, Reshma launched her own boutique media agency called Talking Turkey Communications, which specializes in content writing, editing, and translation.

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