Homeostasis the body’s ability to remain in balance through a series of processes that are
initiated by feedback from various receptors throughout the overall system. The processes
involved in homeostasis allows the body to adapt to various conditions both inside and outside of
the body in an attempt to keep it stable and functioning properly. As the human body is
constantly exposed to various degrees of extremes, either through its outside environment or due
to internal illness, the endocrine glands, hormones and chemical messengers form a finely tuned
network of pathways and processes. With each component doing its part in the fragile design,
they work together to create balance and harmony.
Homeostasis: What it is and what it does
Through a delicate set of metabolic processes, a state of balance is achieved within which
the human body functions at its peak. Each process interacts with another by using chemical
messengers to relay feedback about various things going on in and around the body. Hundreds of
these processes occur at any given moment. Many are constant processes that must continue to
occur on a regular basis for the body to stay alive. Other processes occur in reaction to stimuli
that signal the body that something has changed. A sudden drop in external temperature may
trigger a process that dilates blood vessels and brings them away from the surface of the skin in
an attempt to conserve heat.
A state of homeostasis, or balance, is needed for the organs and other body parts to
function in harmony with one another. While the body is at rest, maintaining balance is fairly
easy. When external or internal factors begin to change, chemicals or hormones are released that
trigger responses within the body to bring it back into a state of balance. Receptors placed
throughout the body pick up signals from various types of stimuli and feed the information back
through the nervous system to areas of the brain that control bodily responses. Once the desired
response is achieved, the body begins to move back into a state of balance. As the stimuli begins
to diminish, so does the body’s additional responses. These adjustments are necessary to
Without the body’s ability to adjust to stimuli, it would constantly be in a state of flux and
would eventually die. The same would also be true if the body could make no adjustments
whatsoever. For example, having a set body temperature that never changed, would cause the
body to overheat in the summer months and freeze in colder temperatures. The stomach would
constantly register as either full or empty, causing a person to either starve themselves or eat
themselves to death. Because our body comes with a range of temperatures and triggers, it is
allowed to adjust and maintain a constant internal environment.
The Role of the Endocrine System in Homeostasis
The role of the endocrine system is one of checks and balances. Its many receptors are
constantly measuring and searching for any change in the norm, while the glands are ready to
release hormones and other chemical messengers at a moment’s notice to help counteract any
negative action taken within the body. The endocrine system acts like processors in a computer
with the brain being the mother board. It is made up of several glands adrenals, thyroid,
parathyroid, ovaries, pancreas and pituitary just to name a few. They manufacture and release
hormones in the body that act as chemical messengers that send and receive messages back and
forth to the brain as well as other glands. When a stimulus is detected, feedback is sent to a
specific gland in the endocrine system and a hormone is released to compensate for the stimuli
that was received.
The adrenal glands are made up of two parts. The cortex which produces testosterone,
aldosterone and cortisol and the medulla which produces epinephrine and epinephrine.
Testosterone is produced by both men and women, with women producing the least amount.
Testosterone is responsible for triggering muscle growth and plays an integral part in the
reproductive system. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are hormones produced when the body
enters the “fight or flight” state. When these hormones are released, the basic body processes
such as urination, begin to slow down, while the processes needed to help the body get away
become fine tuned (Parker & Rainey, 2004).
Another gland in the endocrine system is the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland produces
many hormones, two of which thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) help to regulate the
body’s metabolic rates. When two little of the above hormones are produced hypothyroidism
occurs. Hypothyroidism leads to a sluggish metabolism, weight gain and fatigue.
Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, occurs when two much of the hormones are produced,
leading to excessive weight loss and an over abundance of energy (“Hypothyroidism –
The adrenals and the thyroid glands affect every process in the human body in some form
or another. The hormones they release trigger biologic responses in almost every other gland and
system throughout the human body. Without them their would be no sex drive, fight or flight
response or urge to eat and drink.
What Happens if Hormones Are Out of Balance?
When hormones are out of balance, several things begin to occur. First, the body begins
to do whatever it has to regain its equilibrium. Glands can become diseased and begin to produce
abnormally high amounts of hormones or cease producing them altogether. A perfect example of
this is Type 2 Diabetes. In this case, the pancreas, either produces insulin and the body does not
recognize it or, something happens within the pancreas and it stops producing insulin. The
body’s blood sugar levels rise because there is not enough insulin to break it down into usable
components for the body to absorb. As blood sugar levels continue to increase, the body goes
into a coma and the person eventually dies (“Diabetes basics: Type 2”, 2012).
When not enough thyroid hormone is produced, the body’s metabolism tends to bottom
out. Fatigue is common. Their hair and skin become dry and dull. Because they have lost their
source of energy, the body’s processes also slow down preventing calories from being utilized.
This leads to excessive weight gain. As a person begins to lose ground physically, their mental
acuity also decreases leading to depression and other mental disorders.
The Regulatory Effect of Homeostasis
The regulatory effect of homeostasis is established through the body’s use of hormones
and other chemical messengers that work to send and receive feedback. When the body is in a
state of balance, messages are sent and received in a constant flow of information. When stimuli
is received that something may be out of the ordinary, signals are sent to not just one
mechanism, but several. Small changes in temperature or stress will trigger minor fluctuations
within the system, while extreme changes that occur in a short amount of time will trigger
responses throughout the entire system, much like a battleship being called to full alert.
Normally, the endocrine system will respond in kind to the degree of stimuli it receives.
Minor stimuli, such as 5 degree temperature change will result in minimal response. Extreme
changes, such a 50 degree change in temperature will result in maximum response. Once the
body has been sent into full alert, the chemical messengers work double time to monitor and
send input back to receptors so continual adjustments can be made in regulating the various
bodily systems. As the messengers begin to send fewer and fewer distress signals, the body
continues to gradually return to a state of balance. While some changes are made faster than
others, the body’s overall sense of balance remains intact.
How Extremes Can Cause Our Bodies To Go Out of Balance
Extremes in our external environment can also cause our bodies to go out of balance.
Stress is a key factor in this situation. With low to moderate levels of stress, our bodies can
establish a pattern that most glands in the endocrine system can keep up with. If stress is taken to
the extreme and the body begins to be overloaded, certain parts of the body can become
distressed. The heart, for example, can become enlarged and lead to varying degrees of heart
disease or even a heart attack.
Excess amounts of stress also lead to an large amounts of cortisol being produced by the
adrenal glands. Cortisol is a component in the body that actually does serve a purpose. Cortisol,
in proper amounts, regulates both blood glucose levels and blood pressure. When too much of
the steroid is present, it begins to accumulate in various areas in the abdomen, lower back and
hips causing extra weight gain (“Cortisol level”, 2012).
Homeostasis and Pregnancy: Why Balance is Important
Keeping the body in a state of balance during pregnancy is imperative for the health and
formation of the baby. It is also necessary for the continued health of the mother. By maintaining
a state of balance in the mother’s body during pregnancy, the developing fetus is allowed to take
what is needed during the growth phases. Calcium and magnesium are taken to help build
healthy bone and cartilage, while insulin is used to ensure adequate blood glucose levels. This in
turn helps to provide the necessary nutrients to aid in the developing stages of the baby’s vital
organs and brain (“Homeostasis, Steady States, and Equilibria”, 2012).
For the mother, homeostasis must be maintained to keep her body healthy enough to
support the life growing inside of her. If the mother does not provide adequate amounts of
nutrition, the baby will fail to grow and eventually die. The same is true if the baby begins to
make more demands on the mother than normal. Multiple babies can literally starve a mother, if
she does not eat enough of the right foods, drink plenty of water and take necessary supplements
to support the extra lives she is carrying.
The mother’s blood pressure must be maintained to make sure she, as well as the unborn
child or children, receive adequate blood flow. Since the blood is the nutrient pipeline for the
fetus, making sure blood glucose levels remain steady is also important. During birth, if blood
pressure and other homeostatic processes are not maintained at average levels, the mother could
begin to hemorrhage and eventually have a stroke.
Homeostasis is the state of balance and harmony. Good health is achieved when the
normal state of the body falls within a specific range. The body’s ability to adjust to its
surroundings and continually re-establish that delicate state of balance is what leads to good
health. While homeostasis may seem precarious and difficult to achieve, the body and its myriad
of processes and glands continually work together to gingerly bring both extremes back into
alignment. Even if one of the body’s glands becomes diseased or is damaged because of illness
or injury, the body continues to strive to regain balance, doing whatever it must to work its way
back into harmony.
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