If herbalism is to sustain a consistent argument, it is essential that its practitioners have an interest in the medical sciences. Though it may have been the instinctive choice of the great majority of the population, herbal medicine will never have a future unless it comes to terms with changes in medicine in the last century and provides its own coherent and credible perspective on them.
In some ways though, the herbologist’s interest in the medical sciences is limited to three disciplines. Anatomy and histology, the structure of the body and its tissues provide context, though it is not as important as it is to the medical practitioner. Aetiology, the cause, set of causes, or manner of causation of a disease or condition is much more important than anatomy.
It is, however, the study of body function (physiology) that captures the herbalist’s imagination. Herbal remedies are employed specifically with the aim of affecting the behaviour of the body and mind, much more than with the intent of attacking a disease. Simon Y. Mills author of The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine
In this unit, we start our study of human anatomy and physiology, and aetiology.
- Anatomy refers to the body parts (structure) while physiology refers to how they work (function). How parts are constructed relates to how they work.
- Humans – and other complex multicellular organisms – have systems of organs that work together, carrying out processes that keep us alive.
- The body has levels of organization that build on each other. Cells make up tissues, tissues make up organs, and organs make up organ systems.
- The function of an organ system depends on the integrated activity of its organs. For instance, the digestive system organs cooperate to process food.
- The survival of the organism depends on the integrated activity of all the organ systems, often coordinated by the endocrine and nervous systems.
If you were a single-celled organism and you lived in a nutrient-rich place, staying alive would be pretty straightforward. For instance, if you were an amoeba living in a pond, you could absorb nutrients straight from your environment. The oxygen you would need for metabolism could diffuse in across your cell membrane, and carbon dioxide and other wastes could diffuse out. When the time came to reproduce, you could just divide yourself in two!
However, odds are you are not an amoeba and things aren’t quite so simple for big, many-celled organisms like human beings. Your complex body has over 30 trillion cells, and most of those cells aren’t in direct contact with the external environment. A cell deep inside your body – in one of your bones, say, or in your liver – can’t get the nutrients or oxygen it needs directly from the environment.
How, then, does the body nourish its cells and keep itself running? Let’s take a closer look at how the organization of your amazing body makes this possible.
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Pause and Reflect
Take some time to reflect on what you’ve learned in this unit.
- Create your own table summarizing the main organ systems of the human body, their functions, and the organs, tissues, and structures involved.
- Which organs systems do you think are directly involved in detoxification? Which, if any, are indirectly involved?
- Did you have any “AHA” (Eureka) moments? What were they? Share your top AHA in a Reply below.