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Homeostasis: 1. What is osmoregulation and why does the body need it?

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Sub-index of biology notes on homeostasis: Kidney structure and function - osmoregulation


(1) What is osmoregulation and why is it needed?

This section will help you answer questions such as: How does the body control its water content?  Why is it important for the body to control its water content? How do the kidneys work? Why are the kidneys important? What can you do about kidney failure?

Homeostasis control in the human body - regulating water content

The first thing to realise is that water is a very important molecule in the body (around 60% of body mass), acting as a solvent to dissolve substances for transportation, acts as reaction medium and maybe a reactant molecule in the metabolic chemistry of cells.

Homeostasis is a word that is sometimes used to describe your bodily functions that try to maintain a stable constant internal environment including the factors listed above.

Know that internal conditions that are controlled in the body include water control, ion and urea concentrations.

Know and understand that water and ion content, body temperature and blood glucose levels must be kept within very narrow ranges.

Know and understand that waste products that have to be removed from the body include:

Carbon dioxide, produced by respiration and removed via the lungs when we breathe out.

Urea, produced in the liver by the breakdown of amino acids and removed by the kidneys in the urine, which is temporarily stored in the bladder.

The body's control of water content and ion concentrations is called osmoregulation.

It is most important that the water content of the blood is controlled to keep cells functioning correctly.

Body cells are surrounded by tissue fluid.

Tissue fluid usually has a different water potential to the fluid inside cells (mainly the cytoplasm).

Tissue fluid moves out of the blood capillaries to supply all the needs of cells.

If the water potentials are different, then water will move in or out of cells by osmosis.

If the water concentration in the tissue fluid is too high, water is diffuses into the cells by osmosis because of the higher water potential of the tissue fluid - this is because the concentration of dissolved substances in the cells is greater than that in the tissue fluid.

If too much water is absorbed the cells can burst and die quite easily (the process is called lysis) - they don't have rigid cell walls like plants, which can withstand much greater changes in water concentration changes.

If the water concentration of the blood is too low, water is lost from cells by osmosis causing the cells to shrink and possibly malfunctioning.

In other words if the water potential of the cells is higher than the surrounding fluid, water will diffuse out of the cells by osmosis - this is because the concentration of dissolved substances in the tissue fluids is greater than that in the cells.

If the water potential of the cell fluids equals the water potential of the surrounding fluids (similar concentrations of dissolved substances), there is no net transfer of water and the cells are quite stable, won't change size and can function normally.

Therefore it is obviously important to keep the water content of the body at the right level to keep the cells in a 'healthy' state and functioning correctly.

Even the loss of a few % of our body's weight in water can make us feel thirsty and uncomfortable - mild dehydration.

With ~5% water loss we lose our ability to function properly e.g. doing our job at work.

If the water loss of the body's weight reaches over 10%, the situation is life threatening.


Keywords, phrases and learning objectives for this part on ?

In terms of homeostasis know what is meant by osmoregulation and explain the human body needs it.


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