Health is a matter of balance: homeostasis explained

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What is the definition of good health?

The pursuit of optimal health often leads us to the gym in January, encourages us to try the fad diet, and refrains from excessive drinking. And while some of these activities help us stay healthy, there is no exercise, diet, or supplement that promotes a continued state of good health. It’s possible to have a few drinks, skip the occasional gym session to watch a series, and indulge in the occasional junk food. Why? Because good health is a matter of balance, or in terms of human physiology, homeostasis.

homeostasis is balance

Homeostasis is defined as “the tendency towards a relatively stable equilibrium between two interdependent elements”. Sounds great, but what does it mean for our daily lives?

Think about day and night. It cannot be day without a corresponding period of night. If there was too much light, we would have trouble sleeping and resting. And the same thing happens when we reverse the terms. Without light, we would live in perpetual darkness and the plants would die. The best situation is a balance between both, although, naturally, there will always be extreme periods, such as winter or summer. This same principle can be used to try to understand what homeostasis is and how it is achieved.

The body has a complex design, and a very common question regarding homeostasis is: “What aspect of our physiology should we focus on?” Homeostasis is maintained throughout physiology. The mechanisms that operate within the body need balanced conditions to be in optimal shape. This is the true definition of good health, a state in which our body manages all internal processes in equal measure.

Homeostasis forces us to balance various mechanisms

Going back to the night and day example, while it fits well with the basic premise of homeostasis, it is not entirely accurate. Because while only one variable is taken into account for day and night, homeostasis has hundreds of different mechanisms that are closely related.

Instead of having one balance axis, we have several. The following image will help you get a better idea, it is a representation of how our physiology works. Think of the immune system as a hanging mobile.

immune system

Each axis represents a different process. The pendants suspended from each axis are our signaling molecules, telling the body what to do based on which internal system they belong to. In the diagram, the example is our immune system, and the pendants are cytokines – proteins that tell other cells what to do.

Our internal balance changes, but that’s not bad

If, by definition, homeostasis is a state of balance, and balance is the key to a healthy body and mind, what happens if we tip the scales too far to one side? We all know the answer. How did you feel the last time you had a cold? Tired, congested, unable to concentrate?

Let’s look at the diagram of our physiology. On the right side, one of the pendants is out of control, a sign that it has been infected with a virus, in this case, the common cold. The pendant has grown in size, overloading the immune system. Now, instead of being in a state of homeostasis, the entire mobile has shifted to one side, and will continue to oscillate as the body attempts to treat the infection. The symptoms we experience as a result of a cold are created by this imbalance.

immune system

To restore balance, our immune system will need to regulate itself and return to a state of homeostasis. Once the infection has been treated, each axis will stop fluctuating and calm down, returning to a state of balance. Our body always tries to return to a state of homeostasis naturally, but its position could be different from before the cold. This is called dynamic homeostasis. The human body does an excellent job of trying to mitigate these imbalances, and despite all the movement that goes into dealing with the problem, more often than not, harmony is eventually restored.

Drugs cure symptoms, not systems

We say most of the time because the common cold can be cured without taking supplements or medication. We should not avoid the use of drugs in specific situations, but we must take into account the effect they have on the body’s natural ability to recover homeostasis.

In the same scenario as above, we have caught a cold and our immune system is out of balance. Several pendants have gone haywire and all the cytokines in our immune system are trying to restore homeostasis. But this time, we decided to take a drug to treat the infected cells. The medicine works, but it puts extra pressure on the axis of the cell it is treating. Drugs are designed to cure symptoms, but not always systems.

extra pressureNow, instead of the entire immune system changing to restore homeostasis, each axis begins to buckle under the pressure exerted by the drug. Our entire physiology is under enormous pressure. And if we add a complication or other infection to this, the weight will be too much for our “mobile”. One of the axles is broken. The rest of the system is desperately fighting to restore homeostasis. But this huge swing can have dire consequences.

help the body

As far as possible, we must help the body to restore homeostasis

A plant-based diet rich in nutrients and vitamins, decent physical shape, adequate sleep, and mental health care all help the body restore homeostasis naturally. Just like in the day and night example, you can’t have one without the other. There will be long periods of darkness. The key is to help the body return to its natural balance as quickly as possible. Our diagrams can be applied to any physiological process; The principle is the same. The key to good health is in balance.

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