Omega 3, Where do I begin?


So my super hero metaphor can’t be a total babe? Who’s blog is this anyway ūüôā

So this article is going to dive right into omega-3 fatty acids. Oh I know what you’re thinking, but there’s¬†really nothing funny about fatty acids. In fact, I was a little disappointed that after hours of back-breaking¬†research (which I gathered from PubMed, Wikipedia, and a 3 page brochure I found in the parking lot) I¬†was unable to find a single connection of the name “omega-3” to any known marvel comic super hero¬†created by Stan Lee. Stan if you’re reading this, the world is waiting for a hero, buddy.

Once upon a time (called two weeks ago) I touched on saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Feel free to glean¬†through that article now and sing its praises on facebook and twitter if you haven’t already. I’ll wait.¬†Let’s get to it!

Oh yeah, that's right.

Oh yeah, that’s right.

So let me start by saying that omega 3 is an essential fatty acid that our body needs, and not in that Motown
“oh baby, I need your loving” kind of way, but in that “get these in your diet or else” kind of way. Anytime¬†you see “essential” mentioned in nutrition it’s typically referring to something the body needs but can’t make¬†effectively on its own. Babies¬†who do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids from mom during pregnancy can develop nerve and vision problems. ¬†A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can lead to fatigue, a crap memory, skin like the Mojave desert, heart issues, and a bad case of the blues (mood swings, depression).

There are many types of omega 3 but the nutritional heavyweight title goes to DHA (docosohexanoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentanoic acid). These are derived almost exclusively from marine life (fish, fish oil, algae) and eggs.


There is another fancy omega 3 called ALA that we get from plant sources like flaxseed, olive oil, and walnuts but we only like it because it can be converted into DHA and EPA. Medical eggheads believe that DHA and EPA hold more nutritional punch, and as far as clinical research goes, they have a little more street credit. With that being said, if you’ve got some mouth-watering sources of ALA in your pantry don’t hesitate to tap that. Moving on…

What’s in a name?

So in reality there are about as many variations of fatty acids out there in the wild as Law & Order episodes. To distinguish between them the cool kids (scientists) describe them by the number of carbons they have and the location of the double bonds.
Remember that it’s the double bonds that make unsaturated fatty acids so kinky. The omega business is¬†referring to the location of the first double bond that happens in the fatty acid chain, starting from the end¬†(or omega) of the chain. So an “omega 3” fatty acid means that the first double bond is 3 carbons from the¬†end of the fatty acid chain.


just remember to count 3 carbons from the end to the 1st double bond.

That’s it. No, don’t think any harder on that. No, look at me…let it go.

Omega 3 what have you done for me lately?

When a healthy level of omega 3 fatty acids are supplied from your diet they have the jedi ability to help lower our LDL cholesterol levels and help encourage higher, healthier HDL cholesterol levels in our blood stream. Now omega 3 has a more abstract role reducing inflammation throughout the body. Research has shown that DHA and EPA inhibit inflammation by suppressing inflammatory cytokines which are like cellular text messages that trigger cell responses.

What did inflammation ever do to us?

Well Inflammation is our body’s natural healing response when it comes to injury and infection. However, sometimes, not unlike a good friend (you know who you are), it can get a little out of hand. From an immunity stand point inflammation increases the fluid volume in the vessels and make blood vessel walls accessible for white cells to pass through in order to migrate to the source of an infection and kick ass. It also involves increased plasma flow allowing crucial proteins open access. This typically causes swelling, redness, heat, and in many cases, pain and discomfort. Fluid increases around the tissues and those tissues are surrounded by nerves usually. So as your tissues swell it pushes on the nerves and causes pain. This like many natural responses requires checks and balances. There are an [EXPLETIVE] ton of conditions involving chronic inflammation, a classic example being rheumatoid arthritis that tends to involve the small joints of the body.

So when an infection or injury is resolved you would probably like the inflammation to mellow out. Some researchers believe that part of our body’s ability to keep inflammation in check is largely associated with a balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. By “balance” of course they mean get more Omega 3 into the diet. I personally hate this kind of health debate with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. Both omega 3 and 6 are essential to our diet and another group of researchers in the same FRIGGIN room will say that having to balance the two is shenanigans (technical term). So my advice is make like the Eskimos (Inuit to be polite) and just eat your oily fish! If you’re on the fence about any of it just stick to eating a diet lower in saturated fat and cholesterol which will help reduce your chances of heart disease no matter which way your omega door swings.

I hope this guides you in the right direction. Stay curious, stay classy, and never stop learning my friends.


was going to make a joke about Inuits and fish but…what a beautiful culture. Oh well

Saturated Versus Unsaturated…Fight!!

Ok, it’s time to put on our grownup organic chemistry pants. Yes, I know they’re snug and just a little itchy, but to fully understand saturated and unsaturated fats you gotta get down on the molecular level.¬†Are you ready to get down? That’s the spirit! I like your energy.

dork pants

Don’t tell me you don’t have chemistry pants. You’re 2000 and late!

What is fat besides something you pay a monthly gym membership fee to get rid of?

In order to keep that crazy dance called living going the body needs protein, vitamins, carbohydrates, and lipids. Huh, Lipids…? Let’s chat about molecules for a second. Lipids are a broad category of molecules to include cholesterols, phospholipids, and triglycerides. Your cholesterols can be supplied by your diet and tend to make up things like cell walls and some hormones. Don’t worry, I wrote another article about them. Phospholipids, like all lipids, have the curious property of being hydrophobic, a portion of the molecule refuses to mingle with water (haters are gonna hate) which creates a situation where long chains of phospholipids will form structures that contort and close in on each other to keep the water out. This makes the molecule ideal for forming things like cell membranes and vessicles.


WARNING this content is rated “Mature”

Now what we call fats are another name for that subgroup of lipids called triglycerides. They look
something like this…

triglyceride (1)

Do you see this madness up there? That’s a triglyceride (fat) molecule….well the atomic formula for one. It has a glycerol unit that connects 3 fatty acids like the handle to a 3 pronged Afro pick. Oh don’t turn your nose up to this diagram. This is where we need to play. You see all those happy little hydrogens? There’s something you need to know about the element carbon. It loves attention, how else do you explain an atom that can bond up to 4 atoms at once. It’s more high maintenance than a bitter, Hollywood Hills¬†divorc√©e.

trophy wife

Carbon is cruel mistress

Carbon has a deep and real connection with Hydrogen and will give all of her time (bonds) to it but she will also bond with another Carbon if there’s a space left. She’s…um…adventurous. Anyway, when carbon and hydrogen are exclusive they like to form these really long chains that are structurally uniform. They look something like this…


eww gross, I hate chemistry. I can just feel this diagram mocking me.

When carbon has a space free (unsaturated) and or double bonds to another carbon it forms a kink in the chain and that structure changes the way that fat will now behave.¬†Saturated fats contain chains of carbon bound exclusively to every available hydrogen. So they are¬†“saturated” with hydrogens. Unsaturated fatty acid chains are a little friskier, molecularly speaking, and¬†have kinks in the chain as a result of one or more missing hydrogen pairs.


now that’s kinky stuff

These structural changes affect the way the molecule behaves and it’s the behavior of molecules that we really care about. So how do they behave?

Well since saturated fats are so DANG uniform, the triglyceride molecules they form can stack on top of each other really well like Lincoln logs…oh wait, were you born after the 80’s? I mean they stack like Jinga blocks. So saturated fats tend to form solids at room temperature like butter, A.K.A the Golden God, or like the bacon fat you watched cool in the frying pan that one time and for a second you thought to yourself “is that what it’s doing in my arteries?” Yes, that’s exactly what it’s doing. You knew what you were doing, but you didn’t stop did you…DID YOU?!

Because unsaturated fats are so kinky (tee hee) they don’t stack as well and thus tend to remain fluid at room temperature. These are the olive, cannola, vegetable oils that are far better for your ticker (heart healthy). When they describe these fats as mono or polyunsaturated they are referring to whether or not there is one (mono) or more (poly) hydrogens missing from the fatty acids.

Trans fats (when fats attack)

Yeah, unsaturated fats are great and all but since they’re a little light on the hydrogens, stray elements like sulfur like to wander in every now and then and make those oils go rancid when left unattended. So they tend not to have a great shelf life and they don’t exactly spread or bake like butter. Trans fats happened because manufacturers partially hydrogenated (added hydrogens) to unsaturated fats. As a result, you can eat honey buns that have been in the vending machine since the Clinton Administration but they’re about as healthy for your heart as crude oil.

I hope that clears a few things up. Stay curious, stay classy, and never stop learning my friends ūüôā

Muscle Mania

man that guy is swollen. What do you think...shellfish allergy?

man that guy is swollen..what do you think shellfish allergy?

If you ask some folks about muscle function they may start pointing and naming off the ones that they’re proud of and that’s if they haven’t already sent you pictures of their P90X abs in front of the bathroom mirror with their camera phone set to stun. If you’re like me, you’ll point to the ones you badly need to take to the shop (gym) for repair. However, we’re not here today to play pin the tail on the gluteus maximus. No my friends, in order to give muscle function the attention it deserves we need to get deep and real on the microscopic level..up close and very personal. Cue super hi-tech, magnified computer graphic model! Oh wait, I’m not actually funded. Well check out this boring 1970’s¬†model below…just as good.

When I say “muscle” and I look at this diagram below, that looks not unlike a mattress box spring, my first thoughts are “what the hell is…” A single skeletal muscle is a lot like Kanye West, layered and complex. No worries, we’ll get back to this picture in a bit and hopefully it will make a lot more sense and if not well….maybe you shouldn’t put so much pressure on people. I mean do you have to stand so close?

protein structure inside filaments inside muscle cells...very lifelikesource:

protein structure inside filaments inside muscle cells…very lifelike

3 main types of muscle

  1. skeletal Рlargely responsible for movement pushing, pulling, support and posture most of which is under the direct influence of our voluntary or conscious control and manipulation
  2. smooth Рlines the walls of organs, aiding in the function of the esophagus, stomach, intestines, uterus, bladder, and blood vessels
  3. cardiac Рwhich has a similar construction to skeletal muscle but functions involuntarily like smooth muscle

Anyway, muscles get their strength, flexibility, stability, and overall sex appeal from a mosaic of tiny working bits and pieces. Let’s have a look at them shall we…

The breakdown of a single skeletal muscle goes like this from largest to smallest

The BIG parts

Muscle (let’s say bisceps) composed of bundles of fascicles encased in a protective perimysium¬†coat. Those fascicles are composed of bundles of muscle fibers (myocytes) which are cells encased in their¬†own protective edomysium coat composed of collagen – by the way, collagen is one of the things¬†people suffering from scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) have trouble making. Ok, that’s the last I’ll mention the gross anatomy because we need to get down to the business of the myocytes. That’s really where the action is.

Da Business

Individual muscle cells (myocytes if you’re nasty – Janet Jackson reference) are made up of myofibrils which are bundles of protein. Oh man, are you getting tired of bundles yet…when does it end? Never. Here’s where it get’s fun because now we’re on the cellular level and you know I like it when we get cellular. Muscle cells are composed of myofibrils each one is a curious jigsaw of proteins that slide past each other at specific, fine tuned junctions that collectively result in muscle contraction and relaxation. That’s right the deeper you go down the simpler everything is…just consider that at it’s core the source of a muscle’s movement is the sliding of proteins.

Those hero proteins

Actin – form thin filaments

Myosin – form thick filaments

and once more with feeling..source:

and once more with feeling..

Powered by the cellular energy of ATP within¬†short regions of the myofibril called sarcomeres, the myosin heads glide past the neighboring actin filaments. A collection of these filaments within myocytes responding to nerve impulses change the muscle’s shape and this is what does the work. What do you mean “am I just going to end it there?” Oh you just watch me. It’s true, physiologically and anatomically muscles have a great deal of complexity. If I’ve left you with more questions…if you suddenly feel a gap in your understanding, then my work here is done. Stay curious, stay classy, and never stop learning my friends ūüôā

The Zen of Cardiac Blood Flow


So hearts come color coded now? Oh man, surgeons have it easy

I’ve given up on learning the secrets to winning a woman’s heart and settled for learning
how they tick…or should I say beat. Well, here is what I’ve learned so far…

A Word or Two about Gravity

Yes, gravity is always an issue. It acts on blood moving through the body no differently than
it acts on feathers, wooden balls, Chuck E. Cheese tokens or whatever else that 16th century wild man
Galileo decided to drop from tall buildings in Pisa. The heart performs remarkably well
despite blood’s downstream tendencies, pumping against the stream so that no organ gets
cut out of the action.

Hey don’t fall asleep on me yet. I’m only telling you this painfully obvious fact to point out
that since the heart muscle directs blood flow there really is no reason to go looking uphill to figure out where it all begins. Which direction you choose to describe blood flow starting from is really a matter of perspective, by that I mean the fate of oxygenated versus deoxygenated blood. Since it’s all about me, I’m going to start with the flow of oxygenated blood traveling from the lungs.

Listed in order

Oxygenated Blood

  1. Lungs
  2. pulmonary veins
  3. left atrium
  4. bicuspid valve/atrioventricular valve
  5. left ventricle
  6. aorta – its branching arteries which feed the systemic circulation

Deoxygenated Blood

  1. superior & inferior vena cava
  2. right atrium
  3. tricuspid valve/right atrioventricular valve
  4. right ventricle
  5. pulmonary semilunar valve
  6. pulmonary artery/trunk
  7. lungs

The tune goes like this…


I was always too busy pumping the brakes and swearing to notice the striking similarities

So the lungs have done their part, allowing red blood cells to exchange their CO2 from the
tissues for oxygen from the aveoli into neighboring capillary beds. Once oxygenated, the
blood returns to the heart from the lungs by a set of pulmonary veins which empty into the
Left atrium like jumper cables to a battery. Medieval architects constructed atriums in
cathedrals to serve as the first giant, open chambers that you would enter. The atriums of
the heart are constructed in much the same way (that’s right, I learned that in public
school). Blood from the atrium enters into the left ventricle after passing through the
bicuspid valve. As the ventricle contracts the oxygen charged blood moves into the aorta
from which it can flow freely into the wild (or the systemic circulation making up the rest of
the body if you want to be boring). The aorta is a major intersection of arteries that branches
off to the body, the Jersey Turnpike of the vascular system.

So now that the blood has had time to mingle with the organs and tissues, toured the
sights, been places…what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas that sort of thing, it is just
about tapped out of oxygen. The blood then returns to the heart from two different
directions. Blood from the upper body will be entering through the superior vena cava and
the blood coming from downtown will be entering through the inferior vena cava. Much like it did on the left, blood will first enter the right atrium. Blood will then flow into the right
ventricle after it has passed through the double doors of the tricuspid valve. Contraction of
the ventricle will move the deoxygenated blood into the pulmonary artery where it will revisit
the lungs for more of that sweet sweet oxgen. I love a happy ending.

A few things to consider..

Valves are a pretty nifty thing to have in a fluid environment under relatively high pressure. The heart has a lot of blood to move and can’t just take a deep breath and let it all out at once
like the big bad wolf. It needs to take a lot of smaller breaths, relax and contract. The valves
stop the blood we started with from being forced backwards under the pressure every time
the heart muscle changes it’s shape.

The left and right sides of the heart are cleverly separated from each other by septa. These are thick, tough walls of cardiac muscle that keep the oxygenated blood from mixing it up with the deoxygenated blood among the atria and ventricles.

The pulmonary veins are kind of special. If you’ve ever studied the difference between arteries and veins, the veins are typically illustrated in textbooks as blue and the arteries are always red. Illustrators do this to emphasize the oxygenated versus deoxygenated nature of the vessels. So then non-conformists like the pulmonary veins come along and throw everything off because they deliver oxygenated blood to the heart. So now what color should we use?

Anyway, I hope this helps you on your way towards academic rock stardom. Stay classy my friends and never stop learning ūüôā

Balancing Act II

nobody likes a show off

nobody likes a show off

And we’re back. This is part dos of our discussion about pH balance and if you didn’t read part I well then I’ll wait for you to do that now. No seriously, these two articles go together like beans and rice, ebony and ivory…’cause they’re bad boyz 4 life. Check it out…Monday morning, essay¬†test!

So we left off with respiratory and metabolic acidosis, which was a heart warming tale all by itself, but primarily dealt with how the body adjusts to increased blood acidity, or a lowering of blood pH. Then you asked “what happens when the blood pH is too high” and I was so impressed by that question that I dedicated another article just to answer it. Nice Job!

Respiratory Alkalosis – Got CO2?

Remember hemoglobin, that fun¬†protein¬†in our red cells that binds both oxygen and carbon dioxide? Well the CO2¬†doesn’t bind to the same site on the molecule but it does alter the molecule’s ability to bind more oxygen. If the reverse happens with increased levels of oxygen, then there are less seats available for the CO2¬†to sit. This sets up the conditions for a decreased partial pressure of CO2¬†(hypocapnia) which makes the blood sad. When this raises the blood pH we call it respiratory alkalosis.

Some of the main clinical signs that someone is going into this type of respiratory funk include hyperventilation, tingling, and numbness (and not in that fun “I can feel it working” kind of way).

Then cue the Kidney’s…

The kidneys of course respond by conserving H+ ions, which means that there is decreased secretion of H+ and so no H+ is joining with HPO4 to be excreted in the urine as H2PO4. There is also more HCO3 excreted in the urine so that the pH scale can balance yet again.

Metabolic Alkalosis – Kidneys say it aint so

This whole drama happens when there is a reduction in a non-volatile acid in the balance equation or when there is an excess of HCO3¬†in the plasma. For example, vomiting causes a loss in HCL while HCO3¬†stays behind (not a pleasant example I know but I did it for science). This could be caused by primary hyperaldosteronism, vomiting, and of course ingesting large amounts of an alkaline substance (don’t do that, they call that poisoning yourself where I’m from).

And well I think that’s all I have to say about that….for now. Stay curious, stay classy, and never stop learning my friends.

Balancing Act

Well it’s about time! pH balance is fascinating stuff. I guarantee this is one of the spiciest topics yet..3 peppers, Scout’s honor (was never a boy scout). We just can’t rap about physiology without giving a shot out to our body’s mad acid/base buffering skillz. Party people throw your hands up…if you want to, and stay tuned.

makes my back sore just looking at her

makes my back sore just looking at her

That’s right my friends we’re talking about acids and bases today! DJ, turn the music up because we’re about to get all the way down. The body loves to stay in balance…oh wait, that is a painfully broad statement isn’t it? Put a different way, if there is one thing the body HATES it’s being out of balance. In this case we’re talking about pH. If you don’t remember basic chemistry 101 or never had it (consider yourself lucky), pH¬†deals¬†with acids and bases, and that whole pH scale, which measures hydrogen ions (H+¬†ions vs OH¬†ions) in a solution. The presence and concentration of those ions give substances distinct chemical characteristics…the neutral, harmless purr of a glass of milk or the flesh eating burn of battery acid. The scale has a range of 0 to 14 with 7 being neutral. So pure water kept¬†close¬†to room temperature would measure at about 7 and something like orange juice with a pH of 3 would be lower on the scale and thus more acidic. Basic, or alkaline substances would be higher in pH, as in higher than 7.

man, this diagram is about as exciting as an unsalted, stale pretzel but you get the point

man, this diagram is about as exciting as an unsalted, stale pretzel but you get the point

And here’s the Respiratory part of it…

So… I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this but…your¬†cells produce volatile acid. Yeah, they’ve been doing it while you weren’t looking this entire time. Feel a little betrayed? Hey, I’m here for you. Of course, by that I mean that they produce waste in the form of CO2¬†(the byproduct of aerobic¬†metabolism). That dirty ole CO2, in the presence of water, which is basically everywhere, produces H2CO3¬†(AKA carbonic acid which gives soft drinks that snappy fizz that burns oh so good) and your cells do this 24hrs a day 365 days a year no smoke breaks, no sick days, no time off for good behavior.¬†Now¬†these sneaky substances will¬†begin¬†to build up, alter your pH balance, and cause all manner of unhipness unless they are buffered or purged from our bodies(good word right? I may not do drugs but I am hooked on phonics). Typically since it is a volatile substance it can be released by the lungs to be set free into the atmosphere (about 15,000 mmol/day). CO2¬†produced by tissue cells diffuses into red blood cells. RBC’s are armed with carbonic anhydrase [every time you see the ending -ase think enzyme of course] which facilitates this fun little reaction where the wandering CO2¬†combines with H2O to form H+¬†& HCO3¬†and that equation, if you’re nerdy (awesome) like me and just have to know, looks like this…

[CO2¬†+ H2O –>H2CO3¬†–>H+¬†+ HCO3]

That nasty ole CO2 can now leave the red cell to be transported to the lungs in the plasma as HCO3, what the cool kids (scientists) call carbonate. The lonely H+ also gets buffered by the red cells. Now that the HCO3 has reached the lungs it will re-enter the reds and be reversibly converted back into CO2 & water by that same carbonic anhydrase. That nasty ole CO2 can now diffuse into the lung alveoli to be exhaled, released into the atmosphere like pigeons at a magic show (come on, the kid in you wants to smile).

Why does the CO2¬†need to be converted into carbonate in the first place if it’s just going to be converted right back into CO2? CO2¬†is crazy reactive and we don’t want it binding with any ole molecule willy nilly while it’s exposed in our plasma. Also, the hemaglobin protein in our red cells binds both oygen and CO2. Increased intake of CO2¬†results in that whole carbonic acid business whenever the CO2¬†makes contact with the water in our plasma which means more H+¬†ions will be released into the blood which, as we mentioned before, are the heart and soul of acidity in the first place.

Hey, slow down Speed Racer, where are you going? There’s more to this story…

You see that was just how our body rids itself of the CO2/volatile compounds. Cellular metabolism also produces NON-volatile acids that require a little more metabolic gynastics from our bodies(salicyclic acid, lactic acid, ketoacids). Now it is our kidneys that come into play here adding that vital buffering, “make it all better” compound, HCO3¬†back into the plasma so that the volatile acids can dissociate with it. So if I can take you back to chemistry 101 for a minute, pretty much all of your acidic substances H2SO4, H2PO4, etc. are going to have their hydrogen ions dissociate in water. Now that H+¬†can be coerced away by that molecular smooth talker HCO3¬†yet again, leaving the other nasty bits (technical term) to be excreted in the urine. Meanwhile the H+¬†joins with our HCO3¬†in the very same reaction we chatted about before by the very same carbonic anhydrase which frees up the CO2¬†again, to be released into the lungs…again.

Acidosis¬†–¬†reminds me of a Pink Floyd Album

considered making a drug reference here...but let's not ruin the magic

considered making a drug reference here…but let’s not ruin the magic

Many physiology texts will differentiate respiratory acid/base balance from metabolic even though they both ultimately involve the lungs at some point as a final purging step for CO2. That’s mostly due to the fact that when things go out of wack with your pH balance it is linked to either a respiratory or metabolic(kidney) impairment. The two main routes our body takes to compensate for pH is by respiring CO2¬†through the lungs and by excreting acidic wastes in the urine via the kidneys.

There is a considerably narrow pH range that healthy human blood tends to stay within, 7.35-7.45. When the blood pH drops below this range cellular damage can occur. So here’s the thing, we have all these fancy pants enzymes and protein complexes that make all the necessary biochemical reactions in our cells possible. Every single one of these enzymes and biochemical pathways have temperatures and pH ranges where they function best or not at all. Think of the bloodstream as an environment or habitat for our living cells.That habitat has to be maintained or those cells will cease to thrive.

Respiratory Acidosis – when CO2 attacks..

just think candy bar wrappers in the backseat and this image totally works

just think candy bar wrappers in the backseat and this image totally works

With respiratory acidosis if you are hypoventilating for some reason (not getting enough oxygen and not expelling enough CO2) the CO2¬†will build up in the blood (hypercapnea) like so many candybar wrappers in the backseat of a subaru packed with roadtripping Spring Breakers. The kidneys will typically look out for us, compensating with increased secretion of all that stray H+¬†(which is awful nice). The H+¬†will eventually be excreted in the urine as H2PO4¬†after it combines with some HPO4¬†that I suppose was just hanging out in the nephrons (tiny functional units) of the kidneys. The kidneys will also add HCO3¬†back into the plasma to buffer CO2¬†another day. You just gotta love those kidneys…maybe you should send a thank you note.

A number of things can lead to respiratory acidosis, but primarily anything that impairs ventilation like drugs (opiates, anesthetics, powerful sedatives), or cardiopulmonary disease can have adverse effects on your body’s respiratory buffering system.

Metabolic Acidosis – Respect the Kidneys

Hey, remember when I was rambling earlier about how the kidneys feed bicarbonate (HOC3) back into the bloodstream to help manage pH? (it was a good story and you really enjoyed it) Well when you have metabolic acidosis you are basically experiencing a significant decrease in plasma HCO3. So in this situation your blood is becoming more acidic because Its ability to buffer acids has been compromised in some way. This can occur in renal failure, lactic acidosis (the build up of lactate through anaerobic cell metabolism), uremia, and from toxins among other things. This can often result in hyperventilation as you gasp to bring in more oxygen into the lungs. The kidneys begin to compensate for this by secreting more H+ in order to be evacuated in the urine in the form of H2PO4.

Now you’re probably saying “Whoa now, if the blood can become too acidic can’t it also become too alkaline? That’s when I give you this stunned look like “Wow, what a great question” to which I would reply…

“But that does happen..and there’s definately more to it…”

Sorry, just not in this article. Are you kidding, look how long this thing is already, but stay tuned for part II where we’ll get into Alkalosis. I promise it’ll be loaded with physiology goodness. Stay curious, stay classy, and never stop learning my friends ūüôā

Lightly Salted

mmm…salt. Good to the last blood pressure¬†raising drop. No, salt isn’t evil. It’s necessary for maintaining the zen-like balance of our bodies, but perhaps it’s time to give our nutritional knowledge a total makeover.

This is almost as much salt as Paula's recipe called for.

This is almost as much salt as Paula’s recipe called for.

Spend enough time playing high stakes mahjong¬†with health enthusiasts outside of the local smoothie shop and it won’t be long before “salt” is thrown around like a four letter word when things get a little heated (and salt is 4 letters…how perfect is that?). How did salt, the Ying to pepper’s Yang, land itself on America’s most wanted list? I blame its devious ability to raise blood pressure. It is the sodium component of salt that is responsible for influencing the absorption of water by our bodies. Table salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl) is the main source of sodium in our diets. So for many of us, lowering our sodium levels is pretty much synonymous with cutting back on salt.

Aldosterone and Friends

Oh yeah, this is where all the magic happens.

Oh yeah, this is where all the magic happens.

Alright people let’s talk seriously about urine for a second and try not to go “eewww he’s talking about pee”(well you can if you want to). Urine is what you get when blood plasma has been scrupulously filtered by the kidneys¬†so that whatever the body isn’t using right then and there (salts, nitrogenous waste, elf magic) doesn’t get reabsorbed back into the circulation. So urine is actually just ultra filtered plasma…and that’s not so sketchy is it? The chemistry of our bodies is largely regulated by how our kidneys¬†produce urine…salty like the dead sea one day…watered down like cheap beer the next.

Our always handy adrenal cortex produces the hormone aldosterone in response to physiological cues (not voodoo as I previously suspected). Aldosterone’s main magic trick is to increase the overall blood volume. Guess increasing the reabsorption of sodium by the teeny tiny functional units of the kidney (nephrons). Water kind of plays follow the leader with sodium. So if sodium goes out then water comes back in.

So that means….

The body can manipulate the concentration of water in the blood by manipulating the levels of sodium. The kidneys¬†are able to retain sodium which in turn allows water to flow back into circulation. Since water makes up more than 50% of the total volume of blood, sodium’s ability to lead water alters the blood volume through the vessels, and the increase in blood volume increases the amount of pressure that the blood flow exerts on vessel walls. Too much salt in the diet¬†overloads your kidney’s capacity to deal (technical term). The body has a nifty early warning system¬†for when your salt/water mojo is out of whack – thirst. It’s not just for Gatorade commercials.

SHAZAAAM!!!! Ok that’s enough physio for now. You can let the kids back in the room..scary monsters are gone.

There is a hefty percentage of Americans that exceed the maximum daily recommendation of sodium (less than 2400 mg) in the first half of the day. Fast foods¬†and processed foods are largely to blame whereby the products that we consume have already been seasoned, often with a great deal more salt than we would have added ourselves (have you blamed your cheeseburger for anything today? Please take a moment and do that). In fact, canned soups are a notorious source of sodium in most household kitchen cabinets. “Naughty chicken noodle soup! Go in the corner and think about what you’ve done.”

So buy more fresh ingredients. Prepare more of your own meals. Stay hydrated, stay classy, and never stop learning my friends.