The Mystery Of Our Bodies
Consult your doctor about matters concerning your health, particularly if you feel you need immediate attention.
Everything you ever wanted to know about your slimy innards (and a bunch of stuff you'll wish you didn't). "Anatomy is destiny," Sigmund Freud once said. Then again, Siggy also opined that "time spent with cats is never wasted," so perhaps he should've stuck to pondering the psychosexual rami-fi-cations of kielbasa.
Nevertheless, he was onto something: The human body is a marvel yet to be equaled in nature or a Japanese robotics lab. Your 206 bones, 600 muscles, 100,000 miles of blood vessels, and assort-ed innards-all laboring in harmony-enable you to pursue the full spectrum of human endeavor.
Of course, the typical guy treats his body like a rental car, filling it with garbage and dinging the chassis with no regard for what lies down the road. Luckily, your vessel is more resilient than a Taurus. The damage inflicted by most of your bad habits starts healing the moment you put down that bacon, rum, and tobacco sandwich.
Since the dawn of the human race, we've been studying the mystery of our bodies, and in the past few years scien-tists have made incredible discoveries that help us further understand who we are. To quote another great thinker, your body is a machine, a chemical laboratory, a powerhouse. So get ready-we're going in.
The heart weighs less than a pound and thumps 100,000 times a day. About the size of a clenched fist and located in the center of your chest-not on the left side-your heart has four chambers made of muscle that form a squishy pump. It beats about 100,000 times and processes 2,000 gallons of blood daily. "The heart makes the Energizer Bunny look like a wimp," says Dr. Clyde W. Yancy, chief of the cardiothoracic transplantation program at Baylor University Medical Center. "It goes on and on." Unless, that is, you treat it like a garbage disposal. "I've opened up blood vessels that look like congealed cheese," says Dr. Yancy. "I haven't eaten pizza in 15 years."
Scientific big-brains have yet to figure out the exact connection between stress and heart disease, but research indicates that the surge in adrenaline produced by stress causes the blood to clot more readily. On a behavioral level, mortgage payments and work deadlines tend to make us scarf cheese-steaks and skip Tae Bo class. "If you're a 30-year-old male and you don't have stress, either you're a bum or independently wealthy," diagnoses Dr. Yancy. "And if you hang on to stress, it will end up becoming a physical issue." So go for a swim or jog through a grizzly den while smeared with honey-whatever helps you blow off steam.
Stem cells, those multipurpose little miracle organisms that scare President Bush more than a whole library of books, may be coming to a heart attack near you. Doctors intend to direct stem cell therapy to damaged areas of a diseased heart at the time of bypass surgery in hope of revitalizing tissue and improving overall heart function, says Dr. Yancy: "We could very well prevent the development of heart failure, or 10 to 15 years from now, actually reverse the effects of a heart attack." We've got an even bolder idea-inject stem cells directly into cheeseburgers! Bonus: New research on intuition demonstrates that the heart may keep us alive in more ways than one. When subjects were shown random images, their heart rates increased five to seven seconds before seeing an emotionally charged image such as a car crash or a coiled snake. Researchers propose that the heart's central role in "intuitive perception" may influence decision making in everything from defensive driving to high-stakes business meetings. In other words, yes, you have ESP.
Inside your quarter-inch-thick skull, wrapped in three layers of gooey membranes, your brain weighs in at about three pounds-roughly the same as a bottle of scotch. Made of soft, squeezable flesh deepred in color, the human brain contains more than 100 billion neurons, cells that process and transmit information back and forth. Not only is the organ the center of information processing and consciousness, but it also controls body temperature, pulse rate, and sex drive.
New studies are solving the most intriguing human mysteries-how we feel love, what happens when we sleep, even the design of bionic limbs that'll be controlled by thought. In the hunt to cure diseases and injuries, scientists are focused on neurogenesis, the brain's ability to grow new neurons. But some of the most interesting research has nothing to do with our well-being. Take the dorsal striatum. Located in the center of the brain, it's responsible for cravings. Research at the Brookhaven National Laboratory has proved that if it's stimulated, cravings can occur when you're not hungry. Thus the fetishized adverts for Taco Bell's Cheesy Gordita Crunch, where hot sauce seems to ooze out of your TV screen. Those ads are designed to stimulate the same part of the brain that's responsible for cocaine cravings in addicts.
No operation or syringeful will turbocharge your noggin better than a regimen of physical exercise. "Studies in both animals and humans show that exercise leads to a lot of changes in the brain: increase in blood flow, regulation of chemicals associated with brain plasticity-our ability to learn-and neurogenesis," says Dr. Yaakov Stern, who heads the Cognitive Neuroscience Division at Columbia University Medical Center.
Booze really does kill brain cells. "The threshold for neurotoxicity with alcohol is about one ounce a day," says Dr. Kenneth Heilman of the University of Florida. While social drinkers rarely show signs of permanent neuronal damage, studies in rats have found that binge drinking in adolescence leads to memory loss in adulthood.
Since the beginning of recorded time, humans have worshiped blood - drunk it, painted with it, named their gangs after it. Technically, blood is a tissue, like muscle or skin. You have 5.6 liters of it pumping through roughly 100,000 miles of arteries, veins, and capillaries. Think of red blood cells, the key ingredient, as 18-wheelers moving around the superhighways and roads within your body, carrying oxygen and nutrients where they're needed and carting away the garbage. Your network of blood vessels also functions as a liquid cooling system that keeps your organs from stewing in their own juices. At all costs, keep this stuff on the inside of your body.
How much can you lose without dying? Estimates vary. The Nazis reportedly did experiments, results unknown. "Generally, if you're athletic and healthy, you could lose maybe 40 percent of your blood and live, as long as you got a transfusion fairly quickly," says James Louie, M.D., a VP at the New York Blood Center. By the way, red blood cells have a lifespan of about four months, meaning your entire supply turns over three times a year. The dead cells head for the spleen, your heart's recycling dump.
Blood doping is the process of adding more oxygen-carrying agents to the bloodstream through the injection of synthetic hormones (such as EPO) or blood transfusion. This practice can deliver up to a five-percent boost in your body's athletic capabilities, says Michael Ashenden, who heads the Science and Industry Against Blood Doping consortium. "Compared with the one-percent improvement an elite athlete might hope for during an entire training season and the half-percent difference between winning and losing," he adds, "it's easy to recognize the enormous temptation to cheat, especially when the chance of being caught is minimal."
Like Yodels-they're hard on the outside, soft in the middle. You're born with 300 bones. By the time you're an adult, some have fused together, so now you've got 206, assuming you haven't tangled with any wood-chippers. Bones do more than hold up all your skin and guts. Inside is a soft center-marrow, which produces red and white blood cells.
Researchers at McGill Univer-sity in Montreal have created a way to make artificial human bones using-€¦an ink-jet printer. Let's say you show up in the ER with a crushed right leg. Doctors take a 3d MRI of the uninjured bone in your left leg, then scan it into the printer. The machine then creates a 3-D object using a cementlike powder and coats it with phosphoric acid. (Phosphorous is one of the main components of human bone.)
The result: a replacement bone. "Traditionally, doctors repair a missing bone with bits of the patient's own transplanted bone, which is painful, or from a cadaver, which is often rejected by your body," explains inventor Jake Barralet, professor of dentistry at McGill. "But since this new technology mimics your own bone's shape, structure and material, the thought is your body will accept it and healing times can be shortened." The procedure could be widely available within the next five years.
It ain't easy busting a bone. The impact on the bones in your knee as you walk, for example, equals seven times your body weight, says Dr. Vonda Wright of the University of Pittsburgh. When force is applied across the bone instead of lengthwise, that's when the suckers break. Think of that famous Joe Theisman ankle holocaust. "De-pending on how the blow lands," says Dr. Michael Pearl of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, "the pressure doesn't have to be all that great." Snap.
Yeah, yeah - calcium, protein, multi-vitamins. Here's another tip: "Every time you jump, the fluid in your bone moves, signaling the cells to build more bone," says Dr. Pamela Hinton of the University of Missouri. Aim for three medium-impact exercise sessions a week. Or blow it off and buy an ink-jet printer.
Your reproductive organ is the love of your life. It'll never leave you (let's hope), and, like a woman, despite its ups and downs, it's still incredibly fun to spend quality time with. The creation of sexual dysfunction drugs - Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra - has spurred a remarkable wave of scientific research into the function of the male reproductive system. This proves two things: The desire for sexual gratification will always be an impetus for innovation. And pharmaceutical company executives will crawl until their fingers bleed after the next big payday. By the way, your suspicions were correct: Ron Jeremy is a freak of nature. The average penis length is about 3.75 inches and six inches erect.
All the latest research is focused on finding a sexual dysfunction pill that won't have side effects (seeing blue, headaches, those pesky 48-hour hard-ons-call your doctor if you grow a vagina). All three pills mentioned above employ the same basic mechanism; they relax the muscles around the blood vessels in the penis, allowing more blood to flow. What'll work better is anyone's guess. The holy grail? It's no secret - a Viagra that'll work on women.
The first step to keeping your gun properly loaded is to "never, ever buy any pill or potion hyped on the Internet to increase size," says Palo Alto, California sex therapist Marty Klein, Ph.D. "They're all frauds." Instead, consider this: Everything that helps prevent heart disease helps your sex organ function properly, explains Fair Oaks, California sex therapist Louanne Weston, Ph.D. Flaccid or erect, penis size and health depend on the amount of blood flowing through it. That means don't smoke, eat a low-fat diet, exercise, and keep your gut from hanging over. "When you have a big belly," says Bloomfield Hills, Michigan psychologist and sex therapist Dennis Sugrue Ph.D., "fat encroaches on the base of your penis, making it look smaller," resulting in it's-in-there-somewhere syndrome. Meanwhile, the debate over surgical enhancement of the penis has the medical community enraged. Some 20,000 patients have gone under the knife; today the surgery costs between $8,000 and $10,000. There are dozens of lawsuits pending over botched jobs, leaving the poor guys in John Wayne Bobbit-€"like purgatory. Go forward at your own risk.
Your high school coach told you that guts are what it takes to win football games. Technically speaking, however, the intestines and other associated innards support "everything involving the ingestion, digestion, and rejection of food," says Dr. Patricia Raymond of Eastern Virginia Medical School. They're also the source of some amazing and slightly repulsive trivia: 22 feet: length of the garden-hose-diameter small intestine if untangled; 48 inches: length of the firehose-diameter large intestine (a.k.a. the colon); 10 to 20 times a day: "normal" rate for humans to pass gas (unless you're an elevator operator). Bonus fact: The tubes of the gastrointestinal tract are like interchangeable plumbing pipes. If surgeons had to remove a portion of your esophagus, a piece of colon can replace it. Eww.
Does the word colonoscopy make you squirm? In the not-so-distant future, the rectum-poking procedure might be replaced by advanced capsule endoscopy, in which the patient simply swallows a tiny wireless probe that takes digital images of the bowel. "Technology companies are even working on capsules that can be remotely navigated to conduct biopsies and treat ulcers and tumors to avoid invasive surgery," says Dr. Mark Sapienza, a gastroenterologist at New Jersey's Englewood Hospital. Sorry, colonoscopy fans. You'll have to get your action elsewhere.
It ain't pretty, but it's your best friend in a toxic world. At three pounds, the liver is the largest internal organ, composed of two lobes the size and shape of a catcher's mitt, which palm the stomach. Unlike other organs, this bad boy can regenerate, much like Hayden Panettiere on Heroes but not nearly as cute.
Cut out 60 percent-for donation or to pair with a silky Chianti-and it'll regrow itself. The liver is the body's "factory, recycling center, and storage facility," says Dr. James R. Burton Jr., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado. It makes cholesterol, the gook that keeps cell walls healthy. It recycles your blood, filtering it through and pulling out the toxins like a sieve. And then it takes all the garbage, breaks it down, and routes it to your kidneys so you can piss it out.
You know the story: Don't drink too much. But keep in mind, your liver is one tough hunk of disgusting-looking flesh. It's likely to handle all the abuse you can give it. One common practice it doesn't like, however, is the hangover Tylenol. Beat back a morning headache with this drug - the liver's nemesis - and you'll really feel the pain. "If you're a chronic alcohol drinker," says Dr. Sanjiv Chopra, dean for continuing education at Harvard Medical School, "taking just six Extra Strength Tylenol at one time can destroy your liver."
The bad news is that the obesity epidemic is both ruining livers and decreasing the supply of healthy livers for transplant. The operation is not a pleasant procedure; the late Evel Knievel (who knows a thing or two about pain) compared getting his liver transplanted to "replacing a football in your stomach." The good news is that pork isn't just for barbecuing any more. God-like doctors are genetically modifying pigs so that their livers won't be rejected by picky human bodies during cross-species transplantation, and trying to make the pig livers produce more human-like proteins for continued function. The next hurdle: Convincing transplant recipients to keep their filthy rooms clean.
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