Homeostasis in a general sense refers to stability, balance or equilibrium. Maintaining a stable internal environment requires constant monitoring and adjustments as conditions change. This adjusting of physiological systems within the body is called homeostatic regulation.
Homeostatic regulation involves three parts or mechanisms: 1) the receptor, 2) the control center and 3) the effector.
The receptor receives information that something in the environment is changing. The control center or integration center receives and processes information from the receptor. And lastly, the effector responds to the commands of the control center by either opposing or enhancing the stimulus.
Positive and Negative Feedback
When a change of variable occurs, there are two main types of feedback to which the system reacts:
Negative feedback: a reaction in which the system responds in such a way as to reverse the direction of change. Since this tends to keep things constant, it allows the maintenance of homeostasis. For instance, when the concentration of carbon dioxide in the human body increases, the lungs are signaled to increase their activity and expel more carbon dioxide. Thermoregulation is another example of negative feedback. When body temperature rises (or falls), receptors in the skin and the hypothalamus sense a change, triggering a command from the brain. This command, in turn, effects the correct response, in this case a decrease in body temperature.
Positive feedback: a response is to amplify the change in the variable. This has a destabilizing effect, so does not result in homeostasis. Positive feedback is less common in naturally occurring systems than negative feedback, but it has its applications. For example, in nerves, a threshold electric potential triggers the generation of a much larger action potential. Blood clotting and events in childbirth are other types of positive feedback.
Homeostatic systems have several properties
They are ultra-stable, meaning the system is capable of testing which way its variables should be adjusted.
maintenance of balance
Physiology is largely a study of processes related to homeostasis. Some of the functions you will learn about in this book are not specifically about homeostasis (e.g. how muscles contract), but in order for all bodily processes to function there must be a suitable internal environment. Homeostasis is, therefore, a fitting framework for the introductory study of physiology.
Pathways That Alter Homeostasis
Nutrition: If your diet is lacking in a specific vitamin or mineral your cells will function poorly, possibly resulting in a disease condition. For example, a menstruating woman with inadequate dietary intake of iron will become anemic. Lack of hemoglobin, a molecule that requires iron, will result in reduced oxygen-carrying capacity. In mild cases symptoms may be vague (e.g. fatigue), but if the anemia is severe the body will try to compensate by increasing cardiac output, leading to palpitations and sweatiness, and possibly to heart failure.
Toxins: Any substance that interferes with cellular function, causing cellular malfunction. This is done through a variety of ways; chemical, plant, insecticides, and or bites. A commonly seen example of this is drug overdoses. When a person takes too much of a drug their vital signs begin to waver; either increasing or decreasing, these vital signs can cause problems including coma, brain damage and even death.
Psychological: Your physical health and mental health are inseparable. Our thoughts and emotions cause chemical changes to take place either for better as with meditation, or worse as with stress.
Physical: Physical maintenance is essential for our cells and bodies. Adequate rest, sunlight, and exercise are examples of physical mechanisms for influencing homeostasis. Lack of sleep is related to a number of ailments such as irregular cardiac rhythms, fatigue, anxiety and headaches.
Genetic/Reproductive: Inheriting strengths and weaknesses can be part of our genetic makeup. Genes are sometimes turned off or on due to external factors which we can have some control over, but at other times little can be done to correct or improve genetic diseases. Beginning at the cellular level a variety of diseases come from mutated genes. For example, cancer can be genetically inherited or can be caused due to a mutation from an external source such as radiation or genes altered in a fetus when the mother uses drugs.
Medical: Because of genetic differences some bodies need help in gaining or maintaining homeostasis. Through modern medicine our bodies can be given different aids -from anti-bodies to help fight infections or chemotherapy to kill harmful cancer cells. Traditional and alternative medical practices have many benefits, but the potential for harmful effects is also present. Whether by nosocomial infections, or wrong dosage of medication, homeostasis can be altered by that which is trying to fix it. Trial and error with medications can cause potential harmful reactions and possibly death if not caught soon enough.
The factors listed above all have their effects at the cellular level, whether harmful or beneficial. Inadequate beneficial pathways (deficiency) will almost always result in a harmful waiver in homeostasis. Too much toxicity also causes homeostatic imbalance, resulting in cellular malfunction. By removing negative health influences, and providing adequate positive health influences, your body is better able to self-regulate and self-repair, thus maintaining homeostasis.
Examples of Homeostasis Throughout the Body
The endocrine system consists of glands which secrete hormones into the bloodstream. Each hormone has an effect on one or more target tissues. In this way the endocrine system regulates the metabolism and development of most body cells and body systems. To be more specific, the Endocrine system has sex hormones that can activate sebaceous glands, development of mammary glands, alter dermal blood flow and release lipids from adipocytes and MSH can stimulate melanocytes on our skin. Our bone growth is regulated by several hormones, and the endocrine system helps with the mobilization of calcitonin and calcium. In the muscular system hormones adjust muscle metabolism, energy production, and growth. In the nervous system hormones affect neural metabolism, regulate fluid/electrolyte balance and help with reproductive hormones that influence CNS development and behaviors. In the Cardiovascular system we need hormones that regulate the production of RBC’s, elevate and lower blood pressure. Hormones also have anti-inflammatory affects as well as stimulates the lymphatic system. In summary, the endocrine system has a regulatory effect on basically every other body system.
The cardiovascular system, in addition to needing to maintain itself within certain levels, plays a role in maintenance of other body systems by transporting hormones (heart secretes ANP and BNP) and nutrients (oxygen, EPO to bones,etc.), taking away waste products, and providing all living body cells with a fresh supply of oxygen and removing carbon dioxide. Homeostasis is disturbed if the cardiovascular or lymphatic systems are not functioning correctly. Our skin, bones, muscles, nervous system, endocrine, lymphatic system, lungs, digestive tract, urinary system and reproductive use the cardiovascular system as its “road” or “highway” as far as distribution of things that go on in our body. There are many risk factors for an unhealthy cardiovascular system. Some diseases associated are typically labeled “uncontrollable” or “controllable.” The main uncontrollable risk factors are age, gender, and a family history of heart disease, especially at an early age.
The respiratory system works in conjunction with the cardiovascular system to provide oxygen to cells within every body system for cellular metabolism. The respiratory system also removes carbon dioxide. Since CO2 is mainly transported in the plasma as bicarbonate ions, which act as a chemical buffer, the respiratory system also helps maintain proper blood pH levels a fact that is very important for homeostasis. As a result of hyperventilation, CO2 is decreased in blood levels. This causes the pH of body fluids to increase. If acid levels rise above 7.45, the result is respiratory alkalosis. On the other hand, too much CO2 causes pH to fall below 7.35 which results in respiratory acidosis. The respiratory system also helps the lymphatic system by trapping pathogens and protecting deeper tissues within. Note that when you have increased thoracic space it can provide abdominal pressure through the contraction of respiratory muscles. This can assist in defecation. Remember the lungs are the gateway for our breath of life.