Throughout history, blood has both fascinated and awed us. It is central to many religious ceremonies, and early myths about blood have been used as the basis for everything from human sacrificial ceremonies to medical practice, and even poetry.
Blue-blooded, a term denoting royalty, was originally used by nobles of Castile who could see the "blue-blood" through their veins. In early England, red coverings were put on beds to treat smallpox, and strips of red cloth were used as cures for scarlet fever. Even today, many pills and medications are colored red, although this coloration has no medicinal value.
And let us not forget the vampire, the creature that lives on the blood of the living and keeps coming back from the dead to reappear in movie after movie after movie.
So what exactly is blood?
A big surprise for most people is that your blood is actually an organ, like your liver and kidneys. In other words, it is a "group of tissues of different kinds" that functions as one system and that performs a "specific" function or group of functions. With that in mind, let's take a look at this organ, at its composition and functions to better understand its importance and what can go wrong.
Now you might think that it would make sense to first explore what blood is made of before we explore what it does, but, in fact, the opposite is true. By first understanding the roles blood plays in our bodies, it will make it much easier to understand "why" blood is made the way it is. So, with that in mind, let's begin today's newsletter with a discussion of the specific functions that blood plays in our bodies.
Blood serves three primary functions in the human body:
Even when it comes to transportation, blood is not so simple. It actually transports four distinct categories of things: (1) gases, (2) nutrients, (3) waste, and (4) chemical messengers.
As you can see, the capacity of blood to perform even the simple function of exchanging gases is widely variable. At the end of this newsletter, we will explore some of the things you can do to improve the ability of blood to perform this function—as well as all its other functions.
A note on carbon monoxide: When talking about gas exchange in blood, it's important to remember that blood cells actually prefer carbon monoxide to oxygen. Once a red blood cell grabs onto carbon monoxide, it becomes very reluctant to let go of it—either to exchange for oxygen in the lungs or carbon dioxide at the cellular level. That's why doctors usually treat carbon monoxide poisoning by forcing pure oxygen into the lungs to force the blood cells to swap out the carbon monoxide.
In addition to transportation, blood also plays several "protective" roles in the body.
Your body depends on a very careful balance of a number of systems, and those systems operate within very narrow parameters. Fall outside those parameters by even a little and very serious illness or death can result. Some key systems that your blood keeps in balance include temperature, pH, and hydration.
The bottom line is that a balanced pH is vital. An extended pH imbalance of any kind threatens our well-being—threatens, in fact, our very lives. Managing the pH balance of all of our bodily fluids, tissues, and organs is so important that our bodies have developed systems to monitor and balance acid-alkaline levels in every cell and biosystem. And our blood plays a key role in maintaining that balance.
Even though we have merely overviewed the primary functions of blood in your body, we have enough information to start thinking about ways we can improve the ability of blood to perform those functions.
As we've seen, just by exploring some of the basic functions that blood performs, it opens the door to exploring how much we can influence the performance of those functions by our dietary and lifestyle choices. In the next newsletter, we will explore in some detail the actual composition of the blood. This actually takes you into your doctor's world since most blood tests actually are designed to measure the amounts of key components. Understanding these components and your doctor's tests will open up choices to you that your doctor might not otherwise present.
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