Blood is to health care as oil is to transportation. Oil, is that the most precious of fluids? In these days when fuel costs often soar, many might think so. In truth, though, each one of us carries around a few liters of a far more valuable fluid.
Think of it: As billions of barrels of oil are extracted from the earth every year to quench mankind’s thirst for fuel, some 90 million units of blood are drained from humans in hopes of helping those who are ill. That staggering figure represents the blood volume of some 8,000,000 people.
Still, like oil, blood seems to be in short supply. Medical communities worldwide warn of blood shortages. What is it that makes blood so valuable?
A UNIQUE ORGAN
Because of its amazing complexity, blood is often likened to an organ of the body. “Blood is one of the many organs –incredibly wonderful and unique.” Unique indeed! One textbook describes blood as “the only organ in the body that’s a fluid.” The same reference calls blood “a living transportation system.” What does that mean?
The circulatory system is like the canals of Venice,” says scientist N. Leigh Anderson. It transports all the good things, he continues, and it also transports a lot of junk. As blood makes its way through the 100,000 kilometers of our circulatory system, it comes into contact with nearly every tissue in our body including the heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs –vital organs that process and rely on blood.
Blood brings many “good things” to the cells of your body, such as oxygen, nutrients, and defensive help, but it also carries away “junk,” such as toxic carbon dioxide, the contents of damaged and dying cells, and other waste. The role of blood in waste removal helps to explain why it can be dangerous to come into contact with blood once it leaves the body. And no one can ever guarantee that all of the “junk” in blood has been identified and removed before it is given to someone else.
Without question, blood performs functions that are essential to life. That is why the medical community has made a practice of transfusing blood into patients who have lost blood. Many doctors would say that this medical use is what makes blood so precious. However, things have been changing in the medical field. In a sense, a quiet revolution has been underway. Many doctors and surgeons are not so quick to transfuse blood as they once were. Why?
Medical experts estimate that 200 million more units of donated blood are needed worldwide each year. Developing lands are home to 82 percent of earth’s inhabitants, yet less than 40 percent of all blood donations come from such places. Many hospitals in those lands cope without blood. Every day almost half of the procedures requiring blood transfusion are either canceled or postponed because of lack blood.
Blood shortages are also common in wealthy countries. As populations have aged and medical techniques have advanced, surgeries have increased. Additionally, more and more blood donors are turned down these days because of high-risk lifestyles or travel that may have exposed them to disease or parasites
An atmosphere of desperation seems to have developed among those responsible for stocking blood. Youths, who generally have less-risky lifestyles, are sometimes targeted as a safe blood source. For example, schoolchildren now supply 70 percent of the blood in Zimbabwe. Blood-collection centers are keeping longer hours, and some countries even allow them to provide compensation in order to recruit and keep donors.
A campaign in the Czech Republic invited citizens to quench their thirst with liters of beer in exchange for some of their blood. In some areas in India, authorities recently went knocking on doors looking for donors who might be willing to help replenish an exhausted blood supply.
The most common cell in your bloodstream gives blood its red color and is thus called a red blood cell. Just one drop of your blood contains hundreds of millions of such cells.
When viewed through a microscope, they look like doughnuts with a depressed center instead of a hole. Each cell is packed with hundreds of millions of hemoglobin molecules is, in turn, a beautiful spherical structure made of about 10,000 hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur iron, which give the blood its oxygen-carrying ability.
Hemoglobin facilitates the transport of carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs, where it is exhaled.
Another vital part of your red blood cells is their skin, called a membrane. This marvelous covering enables the cell to stretch into thin shapes so as to pass through your tiniest blood vessels and thus sustain every part of your body.
Your red blood cells are manufactured in your bone marrow. Once a new cell enters your bloodstream, it may circulate through your heart and body more than 100,000 times. Unlike other cells, red blood cells have no nucleus.
This gives them more space to carry oxygen and makes them lighter, which helps your heart to pump trillions of red blood cells throughout your body. However, lacking a nucleus, they are unable to renew their internal parts.
Thus, after about 120 days, your red blood cells begin to deteriorate and lose their elasticity. Large white blood called phagocytes consumes these worn-out cells and spit out the iron atoms.
The scarce iron atoms attach themselves to transport molecules that take them to your bone marrow to be used in the manufacturing of new red cells. Every second, your bone marrow releases two million to three million new red cells into your bloodstream.
If your trillions of red blood cells were suddenly to stop functioning, you would die within minutes. The value of blood as a life-safer and life-sustainer has been appreciated from the earliest times in the history of mankind. In fact, our ancestors recognized the value of blood perhaps more than we do today. Sacrifices, now and in the past, are performed to spill the blood of an animal and thereby appease the angry gods.
The conventional symbol of blood is red, and this generally signifies the danger that might follow the spilling of blood through accident or violence. The red flag of revolutionaries is purported to be symbolic of the blood spilled by heroes during popular uprisings.
Scientifically, blood is the agent that carries the vitalizing agent oxygen to all tissues of the body, and carries carbon dioxide from the tissues for excretion in the lungs. Blood is given to hospital patients in order that they may not die from excessive bleeding or from severe anemia.
Such is the value and importance of blood to all animal and human life that this list could continue indefinitely. Yet all such value and significance can be attributed mainly to tiny particles in blood –the red blood cells.
They are so minute that they cannot be seen by the naked eye and yet no mammalian life is possible without them. Their recognition requires at least the magnification afforded by light microscopy.
The average red blood cell is shaped like a biconcave disk measuring 7 microns in diameter. It has a volume of 90 femtoliters and contains 30 picograms of hemoglobin. About five million of these tiny elements are in a microliter of blood, and nearly 300 microliters make up a drop of blood!
One dares not therefore attempt to calculate the number of red cells present in an average milliliter or cubic centimeter of blood –and even more frightening, the number of cells in one pint or 500 milliliters of blood, the conventional unit of collection and transfusion of blood.
FLEXIBLE CELL WALL
Each particle has a cell wall made up of fat [phospholipid] and protein in such a way that fluid cannot enter or exit from the cell unless there is a break in the continuity of the cell wall or if the cell is placed in a solution which is either weaker or stronger than its internal fluid environment.
The cell wall is flexible, a characteristic which enables the blood cell to squeeze through tiny blood vessels, some of which have diameter smaller than its own.
The cell wall encloses a cytoplasm which contains, among other things, enzymes which break down glucose, and thus produce energy in the process to aid the cell’s activity. And more importantly, the cell contains hemoglobin, a red pigment containing iron, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues and carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs, and thence to the outside world, as mentioned earlier.
It is, in fact, this pigment which makes the red cell unique among the cells of the body. Its importance cannot be overemphasized, as it is the life line of the individual.
One gram of hemoglobin carries approximately 1.34 millimeters of oxygen. A normal hemoglobin level in average adult is around 15 grams per 100 millimeters of blood. Every minute the heart pumps about 5 liters of blood around the body in an average-sized man, the equivalent of 750 *1.34 milliliters of oxygen –to the tissues of the body per minute.
VALUE OF HEMOGLOBIN
The physiological value of hemoglobin as an oxygen carrier lies in its affinity for oxygen, which is so nicely balanced that hemoglobin becomes 95-96% oxygenated in the lungs, while in the tissues and capillaries, it can give up as much of the gas as is demanded.
If the affinity were much less, complete oxygenation in the lungs could not be approached; if it were greater, the tissues would difficulty in removing from the blood the oxygen they need. Thus, both oxyhemoglobin and reduced hemoglobin exist in all parts of circulation but in greatly varying proportions.
The hemoglobin that is freed after release of oxygen picks up carbon dioxide produced in the tissues as part of the tissues’ waste products of metabolism. The carbon dioxide combines with the hemoglobin to from carbonxyhemoglobin which travels in the veins back to the lungs, where the carbon dioxide is released by enzyme activity, and hemoglobin is once again free to take oxygen back to the tissues from the lungs.
The cycle then continues, with oxygen coming into the lungs with each breath we take and carbon dioxide being expelled with each exhalation. Red cells are produced in the bone marrow and require iron, folic acid, and vitamins among other things for normal function.
When the diet is persistently low in these elements, the hemoglobin content of the red cell becomes low and the situation called ANEMIA ensues. On the other hand, some people are born with red cells containing abnormal hemoglobins, such as in sickle cell anemia, and Thalassemia.
Scientists using newer and more sophisticated tools have now described hundreds and hundreds of abnormal hemoglobins. Techniques used in these discoveries include electrophoresis, genetic studies, isotopy, x-ray diffraction studies, and “finger printing” of hemoglobins, to name a few.
To the mystic, the air we breathe contains, quite apart from the oxygen we have been discussing, the positive aspect of Nous, viz., the vital life force. This comes into human body with the first breath of the newborn baby. Apparently every subsequent breath replenishes it.
Basically, however, the red cells are negatively charged, whereas the vital life force is positively charged. By the law of polarity, the negatively charged particle has an irresistible affinity for the positively charged force. So the vital life force in the air we breathe into the lungs passes from the lung air spaces to the red blood cells circulating in the blood vessels.
In conclusion, we might like to remind ourselves that each cell of the body is a unique entity that has a psychic and a physical part. It is probable that the oxygen vitalizes the physical part and the vital life force vitalizes the psychic aspect of each cell.
It is incontrovertible that the particle which coordinates the supply of both the oxygen and the vital life force to the tissue cells must be unique. The red blood cell is truly a “miracle particle.”