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How Your Body Keeps Itself in Balance

Updated on January 21, 2016
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Some days, it's impossible to keep everything in balance.

You're stressed. You're tired. You're too relaxed. You have too much energy. As soon as you cross one task off your monstrous to-do list, three more tasks appear.

Externally, it's hard to keep up with the unpredictable nature of our world.

Internally, through, your body is hard at work making sure you stay alive despite uncontrollable factors like stress and hot or cold temperatures. This phenomenon has a name: homeostasis.

What is homeostasis?

You might remember the term homeostasis from a general biology course taken a long time ago at a community college far, far away. It's your body's way of maintaining the stable conditions it needs to survive.

That's right. You were born equipped with your own personal survival kit, and you didn't even know it.

How does it work?

Homeostasis comes in many forms, everything from temperature regulation to blood pressure maintenance to blood pH and blood sugar concentration.

When the temperature outside changes, for example, the control center of your body, called the hypothalamus, reacts by telling other parts of your body to adjust in some way to heat up or cool down your internal temperature.

Similarly, when you eat, dumping an excess of sugar into your body, your pancreas starts producing and sending out insulin, a hormone that contributes to maintaining your normal blood sugar levels. People with diabetes don't make enough insulin to control their blood sugar when they eat. They have to take in insulin from another source so their levels don't get too high or drop too low.

Which daily factors try to throw us off balance?

The better question to ask here is, which don't?

Everything from exercise to laughing at a funny video online to grabbing a mid-afternoon snack puts your body's many biological systems on alert. All of these systems work together to keep your whole body in balance no matter where you are or what you're doing.

This is why you sweat when lifting something heavy, or have to catch your breath after walking up three flights of stairs. We shiver when we're cold and pee a lot when we drink too much water. We're humans. It's what we do.

What happens when our bodies can't keep up?

Even biology has its limitations. Sometimes, we're not quite as efficient at breathing as the person sitting next to us. We have to take insulin before we eat lunch. We have to go on blood pressure medication. If our fever climbs too high, the results are fatal.

Today, you might feel as far from equilibrium in your life as you've ever been before. Nothing's going right. Everything's a mess. You just can't seem to hold it together.

Always keep in mind what's going on inside your body as you're reading this right now. Every breath you take, every time you stand up, take a walk, eat a hamburger, your body is at constant work keeping you as close to equilibrium as possible.

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