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NEUROBIOLOGY | Seeking wisdom from Homeostasis

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The elements of the human body live in an internal environment, the characters of which must be maintained and our knowledge concerning them is of supreme interest.

In 1932, Walter Bradford Cannon (1871–1945) who was an American physiologist, professor, and chairman of the Department of Physiology at Harvard Medical School, published ground-breaking work on human physiology — The Wisdom of the Body.

Walter Bradford Cannon

In his book, Walter Bradford Cannon coined a term, Homeostasis, a state in which the living body always strives toward a harmonious equilibrium. The book illustrates how the human body maintains steady levels of temperature and other important state of affairs of the human body such as water, salt, sugar, protein, fat, and calcium and oxygen contents of the blood. In simple words, homeostasis is a process that living things use to actively maintain fairly stable conditions necessary for survival.

Who’s the boss of the Wisdom of the Body?

The vital organs involved with the functioning of Homeostasis are liver and pancreas, skin, kidneys, lungs, hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Out of the above stated organs, hypothalamus acts like a boss who hires skeletal muscles, cardiac muscle, the large number of smooth muscles, including the pituitary glands and uses the outputs of the central nervous system to achieve homeostasis.

Pituitary gland

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Homeostasis: The role of Neurobiology in regulating the body temperature

Homeostasis is highly developed in warm blooded animals living on the land. Let us bring thermoregulation into the picture.

“Thermoregulation is a process that allows your body to maintain its core internal temperature. All thermoregulation mechanisms are designed to return your body to homeostasis. This is a state of equilibrium. A healthy internal body temperature falls within a narrow window.” Via Health line

Our brain temperature is defended at 37 degrees Centigrade or 98.6 F. One of the things that make mammals special is the ability to produce the heat by metabolism, using skeletal movement contractions and heat conservation. Another mechanism called vasomotion is utilized by our body to keep the temperature at 37 degrees centigrade. In this mechanism, when we are feeling hot, we send our blood to the skin to release the heat from our body. However, if our body is exposed to an extremely hot environment (heat wave), it’s not possible for us to cool down. In this situation, air conditioners appear to be a necessity instead of a luxury.

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“The health impact of a heat wave depends on the intensity and duration of the temperature, the acclimatization and adaptation of the population, and the infrastructure and preparedness. Exposure to heat causes severe symptoms, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke — a condition which causes faintness, as well as dry, warm skin, due to the inability of the body to control high temperatures. Other symptoms include swelling in the lower limbs, heat rash on the neck, cramps, headache, irritability, lethargy and weakness.

Heat can cause severe dehydration, acute cerebrovascular accidents and contribute to thrombogenesis (blood clots). People with chronic diseases that take daily medications have a greater risk of complications and death during a heat wave, as do older people and children. Reactions to heat depend on each person’s ability to adapt and serious effects can appear suddenly. This is why it is important to pay attention to the alerts and recommendations of local authorities.” World Health Organization

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FOOTBRIDGE: Two points at a height above the ground

While thinking of a footbridge, a hazy visual of a pedestrian bridge starts revolving around my eyes, I visualize the first point of the bridge as emotions and second point as homeostasis; I would make an effort to connect the dots by imagining a hypothetical situation later in the article.

Experiencing Emotions

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”

― Helen Keller

Speaking of emotions, biologically, emotions are states of minds associated with the nervous system; in simple theories, emotions are a class of feelings. We experience emotions and the emotions are pretty intense when we are in a flaccid state. Our bodies consciously and sub consciously are affected when an emotion/ emotions are triggered by any event. For instance, when we see a dead body, our bodies tend to move away from the body and we experience an emotion of fear/disgust, in that situation, eyes tend to narrow and our mouths shut tightly. All negative off-putting emotions are classified as “survival-mode” emotions, these emotions give indication to the body and the brain that our survival might be at risk.

“Our emotions, however, were designed and fine-tuned by evolution largely to prepare us for action, for movement — to alert us to our true situation and help guide choices that ultimately must become physical choices.” Via Psychological Today

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Emotions and Homeostasis

We know now that Homeostasis is a state of physical and psychological balance, when we are in a balanced state, we don’t experience survival mode emotions such as disgust, anger etc. The activation of negative emotions throws us out of the balance that is called to be in a non-homeostasis stage.

Let us consider a case of a Diabetes patient, Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar level occurs in a diabetic when the patient has not eaten enough food or the levels of Insulin is too high in the body. An excessive amount of exercise can also cause low blood sugar levels. In this situation, the most common symptoms experienced by the patient include shaking, fast heartbeat, sweating, anxiety, dizziness etc. Once the patient consumes glucose or food, the blood sugar levels increase and as soon as the requirement is fulfilled, the patient comes back to homeostasis.

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The disconnection between the brain and the body

In contemporary times, disconnect between the brain and the body is shockingly tragic and has triggered the research activities across the globe. Once a core disconnection takes place between the brain and the body, homeostatic drive has to constantly fight against that disconnection — the signals and motivations that the homeostatic drive tries to supply will often become, so to speak, jammed, misrouted, and misinterpreted, typically to extremely unfortunate effect. The outcomes of homeostasis imbalance are fatal and taxing equally on the brain and the body. Diseases that result from a homeostatic imbalance include heart failure and diabetes, but many more examples exist.

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Homeostasis has been shaping the research bodies for centuries; beyond biology, the social sciences, cybernetics, and computer science and engineering all use homeostasis as a framework to understand how people and machines maintain stability despite disruptions.


NEUROBIOLOGY | Seeking wisdom from Homeostasis was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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