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When you think about the fact that your body contains trillions of cells in nearly constant activity, and that remarkably little usually goes wrong with it, you begin to appreciate what a marvelous machine your body is. Walter Cannon, an American physiologist of the early twentieth century, spoke of the “wisdom of the body,” and he coined the word homeostasis (ho”me-o-sta’sis) to describe its ability to maintain relatively stable internal conditions even though the outside world changes continuously. Although the literal translation of homeostasis is “unchanging,” the term does not really mean a static, or unchanging, state. Rather, it indicates a dynamic state of equilibrium, or a balance, in which internal conditions vary, but always within relatively narrow limits. In general, the body is in homeostasis when its needs are adequately met and it is functioning smoothly.
Maintaining homeostasis is more complicated than it appears at first glance. Virtually every organ system plays a role in maintaining the constancy of the internal environment. Adequate blood levels of vital nutrients must be continuously present, and heart activity and blood pressure must be constantly monitored and adjusted so that the blood is propelled to all body tissues. Also, wastes must not be allowed to accumulate, and body temperature must be precisely controlled. A wide variety of chemical, thermal, and neural factors act and interact in complex ways—sometimes helping and sometimes hindering the body as it works to maintain its “steady rudder.”

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