Homeostasis and Complementary Therapies
The word 'homeostasis' is made up of two Greek words: homeo; meaning the same or similar, and stasis; meaning stable, or standing in the same place. The body's systems participate in maintaining homeostasis, keeping the body's internal environment healthy despite external environmental change.
The cells that make up the body are bathed in extra cellular fluid which remains constant only if the blood supply remains constant. The circulation system takes blood to and away from the capillaries, here the exchange with extra cellular fluid take place. Nutrient molecules leave the capillaries to be taken up by the cells, and waste molecules given off by the cells are received by the capillaries to be transported away.
Critical to the internal environment is the circulatory system in that extra cellular fluid is nourished and purified by the movement of small molecules across capillary walls. Additional nutrients are added to the blood by the digestive system, while waste is removed by the excretory system. Oxygen is taken in by the respiratory system and excretes carbon dioxide. Oxygen is used during cellular respiration and carbon dioxide is a waste product of cellular respiration. Ultimate control over homeostasis is by the nervous and endocrine systems as they coordinate the functions of the body's systems.
Regulation of body temperature, blood pressure, pH, and glucose concentration are four examples of how the body maintains homeostasis. Involved to a degree in each of these regulations is the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus has a regulatory centre for body temperature but is also helps in the control of blood pressure and breathing rate through its control over the medulla oblongata. The hypothalamus controls the pituitary gland and indirectly controls the secretions of other glands, such as the thyroid and the adrenal cortex through the production of hypothalamic-releasing factors and release-inhibiting factors.?
To control bodily conditions, the body has both long-term and short term measures. To control temperature, the significant long-term measure to increase body temperature is an increase in thyroxin. Thyroxin raises the metabolic rate. The short-term measures would include the constriction of arteries to conserve body heat and shivering, and sweating with the dilation of arteries to lose body heat.
When the vasomotor centre stimulates the constriction of abdominal blood vessels and increases the heartbeat a rapid elevation in blood pressure occurs. When the kidneys secrete renin a longer lasting effect occurs leading to re-absorption of sodium and water. The resulting increase in blood volume increases blood pressure.
The kidneys are involved in regulating blood pH, but the effect may not be noticed for up to twenty hours. The pH of the body is immediately regulated by chemical buffers also, while the excretion of carbon dioxide must wait until blood moves through the lungs. The blood glucose level is usually regulated by glucagon and insulin. But other hormones can also have an effect since thyroxin and glucocorticoids promote gluconeogenesis.
In maintaining homeostasis a feedback mechanism is often involved. When the body temperature rises above or falls below a certain level, the temperature-regulating centre is activated. The centre stops sending out stimulatory nerve impulses once the temperature is within a normal range. The vasomotor centre promotes a rise in blood pressure, but once this has been attained the centre is no longer active. Chemoreceptors in the aortic and carotid arteries signal the respiratory centre and the breathing rate increases, if the pH is too acidic. These bodies no longer signal the respiratory centre and breathing rate returns to normal once the pH is within a normal range. Insulin is secreted when glucose concentration is high; but once the glucose level falls, insulin is not secreted. Feedback is a self-regulating mechanism as these examples show.
There are numerous complementary medicines ranging from acupuncture to yoga which help to regain balance in the body. I am going to concentrate on the ones that you have probably read about or heard of in the media. They are acupuncture, ayurveda, aromatherapy, homeopathy, nutritional therapy, and reflexology.
In Acupuncture, homeostasis is the centre pillar from which all diagnosis is made. Acupuncture is a healing system which has been practised by the Chininese and in other Eastern countries for thousands of years. It focus on improving the overall well being of the patient, rather than the isolated treatment of specific symptoms. In traditional Chinese philosophy it is believed our health is dependent on the body's motivating energy - known as Qi - moving in a smooth and balanced way through a series of meridians (channels) beneath the skin. Qi made up of equal and opposite qualities - Yin and Yang - and when these become out of balanced, illness may result. Inserting fine needles into the meridians, an acupuncturist can stimulate the body's own healing response and help restore its natural balance. The aim of acupuncture is to treat the whole person so they can recover the equilibrium between the physical, emotional and spiritual.
Ayurveda is a system of healing which has been used in India for thousands of years and its aim is to provide guidance in food and lifestyle to maintain wellbeing, health and cure the ill. Ayurveda is made up of two Sanskrit words: 'Ayu' which means life and 'Veda' which means the knowledge of. Ayurveda will suggest specific lifestyle and nutritional guidelines and sometimes herbal remedies to assist the individual in reducing the 'dosha' that has become excessive. There are three 'doshas' - Vata (impulsion, circulation, respiration and elimination), Pitta (metabolism) and Kapha (growth).
Aromatherapy is based on the principles of holistic health and dates back 4000 years in the Middle East and China. It employs highly concentrated essential oils extracted from herbs and flowers that contain hormones, vitamins, antibiotics and antiseptics. Applied to the skin-often in massage-or through inhalation, the oil or combination of oils can be used for medicinal, meditative, restorative or relaxation purposes. Aromatherapists believe that essential oils restore the body's natural life force to help the body heal itself and it is believed that the oils have both physiological and psychological affects.
Homeopathy is a system of healthcare developed by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700's. Homeopathy gets its name from the phenomenon of cure by similars; from the Greek, homoeo = "similar", pathos = "suffering". Cure by 'similars' is where a substance that could produce disease in a healthy person is used to invite a healing response in someone presenting with a similar disease. Also in homeopathy is the theory of administrating drugs in minute doses and keeping to a single remedy at one time. Homeopathy views disease as a disharmony of the whole person, and considers the state of the whole person - physically, mentally, and emotionally.?
Nutritional therapy uses food and supplements to encourage the body's natural healing. It does this by detoxifying the body, correcting vitamin and mineral deficiencies, restoring healthy digestion and developing a positive attitude. The nutritional therapist will diagnose illness by asking questions concerning medical history, dietary history, family history, menstrual problems, digestion, energy levels and exercise and also doing tests such as hair mineral analysis, hormone tests or food intolerance tests.
Reflexology also known as zone therapy, is an ancient healing therapy based on the idea that in our feet, hands and outer ear have reflex points that are actually "reflections" of body parts. Modern reflexology was developed by Dr William Fitzgerald in the early twentieth century. He divided the body up into ten zones which are believed to have energy flows. This healing technique involves a steady pressure on the reflex points on the feet, hands or outer ear, which correspond to areas throughout the body. Reflexology speeds up the body's natural healing abilities and directly acts upon particular organs, glands and body parts through gentle stimulation upon the points or reflexes.
Stewart Hare C.H.Ed Dip NutTh
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