Know Your Body

Dr Vernon Coleman MB ChB DSc

Human bodies are very complicated. They should come with an owner’s manual.

Your body is tougher than you imagine and contains numerous techniques for helping you stay alive in an emergency.

Each part of your body has powers and strengths you hardly ever use and probably aren’t aware of. Only in an emergency, when you need to run faster, jump higher or fight harder than ever before in your life do your body’s abilities become clear.

The following summary of your body’s strengths is taken from my book Coleman’s Laws.

There are 200 bones in a normal, healthy body — each one specially designed for strength and movement. The biggest bone is the femur or thigh bone. Some of the smallest are the bones in your wrist. Bone has one enormous advantage over other strong materials such as steel — it can repair itself if it is damaged. If you break a bone your body will automatically repair the damage. But, recognising that the break must have occurred at a site of weakness, the new bone will be stronger than the one you broke.Your bones are built and joined together so well that you can lift something that weighs more than you do.

A man’s brain weighs about 1.4 kg. A woman’s weighs about 1.25 kg. Packed with nerve cells the brain reaches its maximum size and potential at the age of around 20 and then slowly deteriorates as cells die off. Specific parts of the brain have specific functions. For example, the back part of your brain controls your vision while the front part governs thought and personality. Your brain contains 1,000,000,000,000 cells. Each individual cell has 5,000 connections with neighbouring cells. And every minute of every hour of every day — even while you are asleep — those cells and connections are buzzing with information. Messages travelling along your body’s nerves bring information from every individual organ and muscle.To ensure that the right information is recognised — and acted upon — your brain will only respond when 100 identical impulses are received. Isolated bits and pieces of unsubstantiated neural ‘gossip’ (which could lead to a dangerously inappropriate response) are ignored. Only trends produce action. The brain, like the rest of the body, thrives on exercise. A brain which is fed a variety of different tasks will stay healthier than one which is unused. (But the brain, like the muscles, needs rest in order to function most effectively.)

If a speck of grit or a small fly gets into one of your eyes then tears will be produced to wash the irritant away. In addition your eyelids will temporarily go into spasm to protect your eye from further damage. If the foreign body in your eye could be infected then the tears your eyes produce will contain an antiseptic.

Your body stores fat to provide you with emergency energy supplies. Weight for weight fat contains more stored energy than anything else. As an extra refinement your body stores its fat in places that will make you look as attractive as possible to members of the opposite sex. That’s why women store most of their fat on their bottoms, hips and breasts. In an emergency you can live on your body’s stored fat supplies for several weeks.

The average heart beats 70 times a minute. In 70 years it will beat over 2,500 million times without a service. Your body contains eight to ten pints of blood and in a day your heart will pump these eight to ten pints around your body well over a thousand times. Whatever your age and size your heart will be roughly the same size as your fist. A man’s heart will weigh slightly more than a woman’s heart. Without a good, steady flow of blood your body cannot do anything. Blood carries oxygen and food supplies and removes unwanted and potentially harmful wastes. In an emergency your heart will beat faster — going up from around 70 beats a minute to close to 200 beats a minute — in order to provide your tissues with extra blood and, therefore, additional food and oxygen. Normally, your heart pumps ten pints of blood through your arteries every minute of every day. But the amount of blood your organs and tissues need will vary from minute to minute. If you are being chased by a mugger your body will need more blood than if you are slumped in a chair watching television. In an emergency — when your organs need extra supplies — your heart can pump fifty pints of blood a minute to give your muscles extra power and strength.

Food which enters the intestinal tract begins its journey by travelling down the oesophagus or gullet. It then passes into the stomach and duodenum, before entering the small and large intestines. Altogether the whole intestinal tract is around thirty feet long — coiled inside your abdomen. The intestines have the job of digesting and breaking down the food you eat, absorbing useful nutrients and getting rid of the waste. Intestines tend to be rather idiosyncratic and what suits one person may upset another.

You have two kidneys, one on each side of your spine, embedded for safety in fat. Each kidney weighs just over a quarter of a pound and both contain an amazingly complex filtration system. All the blood in your body passes through your kidneys every few minutes to have the waste substances taken out of it. If your kidneys don’t work properly wastes will accumulate and will eventually produce blood poisoning. Your kidneys function best if regularly flushed through with a supply of flesh, pure water. If you go out for the evening and drink several pints of fluid your urine will become very pale and dilute. But if you spend a day in the sun and drink very little your urine will become darker and more concentrated. Your kidneys have the job of regulating your body’s fluids so if you drink too little your kidneys will preserve liquid. But, in addition, your kidneys also ensure that salts, electrolytes and other essential chemicals are kept well-balanced. If you sweat a great deal and lose fluids and salt your kidneys will make sure that your body retains fluid and salt. Your body has plenty of spare kidney capacity. You could lose one and a half kidneys and still have enough kidney tissue left to survive.

Your liver weighs 2.5% of your body weight and is on your right hand side looking down, just underneath your ribs. Your liver helps produce red blood cells, manufacturers antibodies which fight infection, stores iron, vitamins and carbohydrates, produces bile which helps digest fats, and breaks down drugs and poisons into waste chemicals. All this chemical activity produces so much heat that your liver plays an important part in keeping your body warm. If you consume a lot of fat or substances containing toxins, it is your liver which has the task of breaking the substances down ready for excretion. If you persistently eat too much fat and drink too much alcohol or take too many drugs then your liver will fail earlier than it might otherwise have done.

When we are born our lungs are small, solid and yellow. When we take our first breath our lungs expand and turn pink. If you live in the country and breathe fresh air your lungs will stay pink. But if you smoke, or live in a city, your lungs gradually become darker. Your lungs ensure that the air you breathe gets into your blood to provide your tissues with oxygen. Your body needs oxygen to survive. Under ordinary circumstances your lungs take in just a few litres of air every minute. But in a crisis your lungs increase their capacity and can bring over 100 litres of air a minute into your body. Your body has plenty of spare lung capacity.

Half the average person’s body weight is made up of muscles. There are over 600 muscles in a normal, healthy human body. Each one is a separate organ controlled by its own nervous system and supplied by its own blood vessels. To keep the muscles in trim they need regular exercise. But they should be rested if they are sore or painful.

Navigational System
Human beings — like birds — have an inbuilt navigational system. Your system may be rusty through disuse but it is there. You have the ability to find your way home in the dark.

Tucked in between your stomach and your duodenum, your pancreas produces the juices and enzymes which help digest the food you eat. Cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine and too much sugar will damage the pancreas.

Copyright Vernon Coleman October 2021

Taken from the book `Coleman’s Laws’ by Vernon Coleman. `Coleman’s Laws’ is available as a paperback and an eBook.