“No knowledge can be more satisfactory to a man than that of his own frame, its parts, their functions and actions.” — Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) Today we would prefer to say both men and women would benefit from understanding their respective physical processes. Although, since we’re all big boys and girls here, we understand what Mr. Jefferson meant.
The human anatomy is an assembly of diverse biological systems. Each involves various organs that perform specific tasks. Our goal for better health is to create an environment in which all systems and their respective glands and organs are functioning optimally.
For a basic comprehension of these body operations, following is a fundamental overview of our anatomy and its multi-faceted systems. In no way is this an exhaustive detail of physiology, but instead a quick and simple guide for understanding how our bodies work. By referencing the information provided below, later posts will reveal why nutrients available from vegetables are important for us.
Cardiovascular / Circulatory System: Components of the circulatory system involve the heart, blood vessels (arteries and veins), capillaries, blood, lungs, brain, lymph nodes and vessels. Of this group, those specific to the cardiovascular system are the heart, blood vessels, capillaries, and blood. Blood vessels, comprised of arteries, veins, and capillaries, form the transportation network of this system. Sometimes referred to as the systemic system, arteries (red in color) take oxygenated blood away from the heart, while the veins (blue in color) take blood back toward the heart. Capillaries of this sub-system are miniscule connector blood vessels between the arteries and veins, and are responsible for the proper exchange of blood, oxygen, hormones, nutrients, secretions and waste materials to and from cells. Although the brain is part of the nervous system, it is critical to the circulatory system by providing signals to keep the heart performing its duty of taking in and pumping out blood. The lungs, which are in the respiratory system, lend their assistance to the procedure by supplying oxygen to the blood for distribution throughout the body. Lymph vessels and nodes aid blood vessels in maintaining correct body fluid balance. Such intricate cooperation between all components of the circulatory system reveals how our body systems can be so interdependent, yet meticulously efficient.
Nervous System: Our nervous system is comprised of the brain, spinal cord and nerve tissue, plus the sense organs of the eyes, ears, taste buds, smell and touch receptors. As one of the most vital body systems, it controls all other organ systems and bodily functions. It accomplishes these complex activities by sending, receiving and processing nerve impulses. There are three parts of the nervous system which work in concert with one another: the central nervous system, the peripheral or voluntary nervous system, and the autonomic or involuntary nervous system. The central nervous system evaluates information from the sense organs and relays this information to our brains. The peripheral nervous system is the liaison for nerve impulses to and from the central nervous system to our muscles and joints, as well as other glands. As the name implies, the involuntary or autonomic nervous system carries out body operations which we cannot consciously control; such as blood pressure, digestion, the cadence of our breathing, and core body temperature.
Respiratory System: The respiratory system consists of the lungs, bronchi, sinuses, nose, mouth, larynx or voice box, diaphragm and trachea. Air enters through the nose or mouth and moves down a long tube called the windpipe or trachea, which divides into two bronchial tubes leading into the lungs. Separating the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity is the diaphragm, which expands and contracts upon the rhythm of our breathing. With every breath we take, our respiratory system is responsible for transporting air into and out of the lungs, enabling our bodies to absorb oxygen at the cellular level. This is accomplished when oxygen passes through the millions of tiny air sacs in the lungs and enters our blood stream by way of the surrounding capillaries. During this process, the waste product of carbon dioxide is exhaled from the lungs.
Muscular System: Our muscular system contains skeletal, smooth, and cardiac muscle types, each with a specific purpose. The skeletal muscles, as their name implies, enable us to do things like move our limbs, chew food, or make facial expressions. This is the only muscle group we are able to consciously control. Smooth muscles are a set of involuntary muscles found inside of blood vessel walls and cavernous organs such as the stomach, intestines, esophagus, bronchi, and urinary bladder. The cardiac is another autonomic muscle and resides only in the heart. Its single purpose is to pump blood throughout our bodies.
Skeletal System: The skeletal system is made up of bones, cartilage, joints, ligaments and tendons. Their function is to protect our organs, shape and support our bodies; plus enable the body to move by operating in conjunction with the muscular system. The soft fatty tissue known as marrow inside our bones is responsible for producing red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and other immune system cells. More detail about immune system cells can be found in the Lymphatic System / Immune System segment.
Immune / Lymphatic System: Organs of the human immune system encompass lymph nodes and vessels, white blood cells, tonsils and adenoids, the thymus, spleen, appendix, Peyer’s patches and even our skin. This powerhouse of immunity may also be referred to as the lymphatic system. Its role is to help protect us against pathogens and disease. Our immune system initiates this defense process with the production of white blood cells, which in turn sends about one quarter of them (known as lymphocytes) to the lymph nodes to generate antibodies for further disease resistance. It also includes an arrangement of vessels and nodes for filtering out potential illness causing organisms. Our network of vessels serves an additional purpose of dispersing fluids and nutrients throughout the body, plus providing for drainage of excess fluids and protein to prevent tissue swelling. Overall there are twelve different immune cells, all originate in the bone marrow, and each has a specific biological sentry function.
Reproductive System: The reproductive system includes internal and external organs for both sexes. In men consisting of the testes, penis and prostate, and in women consisting of ovaries, the uterus and breasts. In males the testes generate male hormones responsible for secondary sexual characteristics such as puberty, growth of facial, pubic and armpit hair, muscle mass and bone density; plus produce sperm for sexual reproduction. The prostate aids in production of semen, and assists in releasing sperm during orgasm. In females the ovaries generate three forms of the female hormone estrogen which are responsible for secondary sexual characteristics such as development of breasts, growth of pubic and armpit hair, and also modulate the menstrual cycle and reproductive system; plus produce eggs for sexual reproduction. Our system of male and female sex organs is responsible for the inception of new human life. Once a viable sperm permeates a fertile ovarian egg, this egg ultimately resides in the uterus of the woman and a fetus will develop over the course of nine months.
Endocrine System: Glands of the endocrine system are located in different areas of our bodies. Beginning within the realm of our head and neck, we find the pituitary, hypothalmus, pineal, thyroid and parathyroid glands. Our upper and lower torso accommodates the thymus, adrenal, and pancreatic glands; while the pelvic region houses ovaries in women and testes in men. All Endocrine System glands generate and secrete hormones, which are agents that regulate and control a variety of bodily functions including heart rate, metabolism, blood sugar, growth and development, appetite, mood and stress management, sleep cycles, sexual function and reproduction, among others. These compounds are transported through the bloodstream to corresponding receptor cites of organs, tissues and cells.
Integumentary System: The integumentary system incorporates hair, nails, and all layers of the skin including the underlying exocrine glands, to form an external protective barrier for the body. Hair gives aid in protecting the entire body from UV radiation, functions as a sensory receptor to alert us when something lands on our skin, prevents foreign particles from entering our bodies through areas such as the nose and ears, and provides insulation for our heads. Nails strengthen and protect the ends and soft tip surfaces of our fingers and toes. Since skin is the largest organ of our bodies, one of its many functions as our external covering is to shape our physique. Another relevant undertaking the skin performs for us is to protect internal organs from chemicals, disease, injury, infection, UV light, fluid loss, and overall physical damage. The exocrine glands found beneath the skin surface are generally known as our sweat and oil glands. Their most common actions are allowing for the skin to excrete toxins through perspiration, and also furnishing the tongue with the ability to generate saliva needed to begin proper food digestion.
Digestive / Gastrointestinal System: Our entire digestive system involves the mouth, teeth, tongue, salivary glands, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, gall bladder, small and large intestines, anus and rectum. Digestion begins when food enters the mouth, is intercepted by the enzymes in our saliva coupled with the act of chewing, and is then swallowed. From there it travels down our throat, also known as the pharynx, to the esophagus on its journey into the stomach for the next step of the digestive process. In addition to releasing strong digestive enzymes and gastric acids, with powerful muscles the stomach also churns and grinds the food, preparing it for passage to the small intestine. Hair-like villi and microvilli, found in the intestinal walls, absorb most nutrients into the bloodstream. During this phase enzymatic and digestive secretions discharged by the pancreas, along with autonomic muscular contractions, continue to break down food particles. Bile from the liver released by the gall bladder completes the cycle of digestion within the small intestine. Remaining digestive dreck is moved to the large intestine, providing for proper riddance from the body. Once the colon is full, it empties this waste mixture of food debris and bacteria into the rectum to begin the elimination process.
Renal / Urinary System: Primary organs belonging to the renal system range from the kidneys, urinary bladder, ureters, and urethra; to even the skin and lungs. These organs work together in removing detritus and excess water from the blood, thereby aiding in blood pressure management. Our kidneys perform a unique array of ancillary duties for us. In addition to balancing the body’s levels of sodium, potassium and calcium, they actuate and produce hormones essential for good bone health, production of red blood cells, and appropriate immune response. Once the kidneys have removed waste from the blood, it combines with water to create urine. At this point, the urine travels down two thin tubes known as ureters, to the urinary bladder. After this bladder becomes full, it releases urine through the urethra. Another name for this efficient physiological elimination vehicle is the urinary system, which also incorporates bodily toxin removal functions performed by the skin through perspiration and by the lungs via exhalation. As a whole, the renal system does an amazing job of enabling our bodies to maintain water and chemical balance, while purging toxins.
It’s quite empowering to have a good command of how our bodies work and what we can do to keep ourselves in optimum health. Let vegetables and their many nutritional benefits assist you in this most important journey.