Human physiology is the study of how the human body functions. This includes the mechanical, physical, bioelectrical, and biochemical functions of humans in good health, from organs to the cells of which they are composed. It serves as the foundation of modern medicine. The human body consists of many interacting systems of organs. These interact to maintain homeostasis, keeping the body in a stable state with safe levels of substances such as sugar and oxygen in the blood. Each system contributes to homeostasis, of itself, other systems, and the entire body. Some combined systems are referred to by joint names. For example, the nervous system and the endocrine system operate together as the neuroendocrine system.
As a discipline, it connects science, medicine, and health, and creates a framework for understanding how the human body adapts to stresses, physical activity, and disease. Human physiology is closely related to anatomy, in that anatomy is the study of form, physiology is the study of function, and there is an intrinsic link between form and function. The study of human physiology integrates knowledge across many levels, including biochemistry, cell physiology, organ systems, and the body as a whole.
History of Human Physiology
The study of human physiology began with Hippocrates in Ancient Greece, around 420 BCE, and with Aristotle (384–322 BCE) who applied critical thinking and emphasis on the relationship between structure and function. Galen (ca. 126–199) was the first to use experiments to probe the body’s functions. The term physiology was introduced by the French physician Jean Fernel (1497–1558).In the 17th century, William Harvey (1578–1657) described the circulatory system, pioneering the combination of close observation with careful experiment. In the 19th century, physiological knowledge began to accumulate at a rapid rate with the cell theory of Matthias Schleiden and Theodor Schwann in 1838, that organisms are made up of cells. Claude Bernard (1813–1878) created the concept of the milieu interieur (internal environment), which Walter Cannon (1871–1945) later said was regulated to a steady state in homeostasis.
Study of human physiology
The major systems covered in the study of human physiology are as follows:
- Circulatory system – including the heart, the blood vessels, properties of the blood, and how circulation works in sickness and health.
- Digestive/excretory system – charting the movement of solids from the mouth to the anus; this includes study of the spleen, liver, and pancreas, the conversion of food into fuel and its final exit from the body.
- Endocrine system – the study of endocrine hormones that carry signals throughout the organism, helping it to respond in concert. The principal endocrine glands – the pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, pancreas, parathyroids, and gonads – are a major focus, but nearly all organs release endocrine hormones.
- Immune system – the body’s natural defense system is comprised of white blood cells, the thymus, and lymph systems. A complex array of receptors and molecules combine to protect the host from attacks by pathogens. Molecules such as antibodies and cytokines feature heavily.
- Integumentary system – the skin, hair, nails, sweat glands, and sebaceous glands (secreting an oily or waxy substance).
- Musculoskeletal system – the skeleton and muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Bone marrow – where red blood cells are made – and how bones store calcium and phosphate are included.
- Nervous system – the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system. Study of the nervous system includes research into the senses, memory, emotion, movement, and thought.
- Renal/urinary system – including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra, this system removes water from the blood, produces urine, and carries away waste.
- Reproductive system – consisting of the gonads and the sex organs. Study of this system also includes investigating the way a fetus is created and nurtured for 9 months.
- Respiratory system – consisting of the nose, nasopharynx, trachea, and lungs. This system brings in oxygen and expels carbon dioxide and water.