I am your Amazing Body by UE Foundation - Read Online
I am your Amazing Body
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When you consider how important they are to our very existence, it’s amazing how little most people know about their own bodies. The heart, the lungs, the liver – we know those things are vital to life and health, and perhaps vaguely understand what they do. But the pituitary gland? The hypothalamus? What are they? And the brain? – too complicated even to think about.

Most of us understand the workings of our cars and computers better than we understand our own bodies. So, as soon as we get disturbing news from the doctor, we begin a frantic search of the internet to learn as much as we can about our condition.

There’s an easier way to get educated about your body, and you are looking at it. J.D. Radcliff was a highly respected science writer. In the 1960s, after interviewing dozens of leading medical authorities, he wrote a series of articles for the Reader’s Digest explaining the workings of the human body. He wrote in plain language and explained things in a way that was easy to understand. It became the most popular series the Digest ever published.

How J.D. Radcliff explained the body, in plain English:

The skin: "You think of me as a not too interesting sausage wrapper, an inert parchment demanding much shaving, bathing, scratching, anointing, and giving little. How wrong you are. I am an absolute essential."

The bloodstream: "Think big when you think about me. I am a transport system with 75,000 miles of route – more than a global airline. I am also a garbage man and delivery boy with 120 trillion customers..."

The thymus: "Until recently I've been regarded as a kind of poor relation in your family of glands. Like your appendix I was looked on as an evolutionary leftover – useless, nonproductive, a source of no good and possibly of trouble. How times change! All of a sudden I find myself the hottest item in medical research, the possible key to problems ranging from allergy and arthritis to cancer and aging."

Published: UE Foundation on
ISBN: 9781301678631
List price: $4.99
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I am your Amazing Body - UE Foundation

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I AM something like a big city. I have dozens of power stations, a transportation system, a sophisticated communications setup. I import raw materials, manufacture goods, and operate a garbage-disposal system. I have an efficient government – a rigid dictatorship, really – and I police my precincts to keep out undesirables. All this in something my size? It takes a good microscope to even see me, and a super microscope to peep inside my metropolis! I am a cell, one of the 120+ trillion in your body. The cell is often called the basic element of life. Actually, we are life itself. As a rod cell in your right eye, I will speak for the vast population of which I am a member.

There is no such thing as a typical cell. We are as different in form and function as a giraffe and a mouse. We come in all sizes, the largest of all being an ostrich egg. From there we scale down to a point where a million of us could sit comfortably on the head of a pin. And we come in a variety of shapes – discs, rods, and spheres. We participate in everything you do. You lift a suitcase and think your arm is doing the job. Actually, it's invisible muscle cells, contracting. You ponder which necktie to wear: it's brain cells that do the pondering. Or you shave your face: nerve and muscle cells perform the entire operation. For that matter, the facial hairs you chop off were produced by other cells.

My task as a rod cell in the eye is to catch faint light – say the twinkle of a star - simplify and change it into an electrical signal, which I then send to your brain. If enough signals arrive, you see the star. Since each of us 250 million rod cells in your eyes contains 30 million molecules of light-catching pigment, we naturally use a bit of electricity. To generate it, I have some thousand mitochondria – super minute, sausage-shaped power stations, that burn fuel (sugar), produce electricity and leave ash (water and carbon dioxide) behind. In this complex chemical process they synthesize a substance called adenosine triphosphate – ATP for short. It is the universal power source for every living thing, from rhubarb to clams to man. When, there is need for energy – to make the heart beat, to expand the chest in breathing, to blink an eyelid – ATP breaks down into simpler substances, releasing power as it does. As long as you live, there will be this call for energy and ATP. Even in deepest sleep there is a torrent of activity – cellular furnaces burning to keep the body warm, brain cells discharging electricity to make dreams, heart cells pulsing to keep the blood flowing. The breakdown (and building up) of ATP is constant. All of us cells have mitochondria, with one notable exception, red blood cells. Since they do no manufacturing and are swept along by the bloodstream, they have no need for power.

Perhaps the ultimate wonder among cells is the female egg, as in the body of your mother. Once fertilized, this single cell divides over and over, until there are the two trillion cells of a baby. Phenomenal as such multiplication is in itself; the truly striking thing is the enormous amount of information stored within the fertilized egg. That tiny fragment of life contains the blueprint for building that complex chemical plant, the liver. It stores coded information on hair color, skin texture, body size. It knows when to shut off growth of a little finger. Even at the outset, it knows approximately how bright I may be years later, what diseases I might be susceptible to, even my general appearance.


COMPARED TO ME, other wonders of the human body pale into insignificance. I am a three-pound mushroom of gray and white tissue of gelatinous' consistency. No computer exists that can duplicate all my myriad functions. I have a network of over a hundred thousand miles of blood vessels and one hundred billion+ neurons and over 10 times that many supportive glial cells, all this fitted into the crown of a size 7 hat! I am your brain, with genius ability. I have the capacity to perform some ten quadrillion operations per second. Imagine the scope and complexity of every telephone system throughout the entire planet: your brain embodies that same scale of complexity and capacity in each and every individual brain cell. In other words, your potential to achieve whatever you want is truly without limit.

But I'm not just a part of you; I am you – your personality, your reactions, and your mental capacity. You think that you see with your eyes, hear with your ears, taste with your tongue, and feel with your fingers. All these things happen inside of me – ears, tongue and fingers merely gather information. I tell you when you are sick, when you’re hungry; I govern your sex urge, your moods, everything.

Even when you’re asleep I continue to handle traffic that would swamp all the world's telephone exchanges. The amount of information flooding in on you from the outside is staggering. How can I cope with it all? I simply select what is important, and you ignore the rest. If you put music on and attempt to read at the same time, you will concentrate on the music or the book, but not both. If you become involved in a particularly good novel, you shouldn't be surprised if you don’t remember hearing your favorite musical passage.

Of course, if something potentially dangerous happens, I instantly shift gears. You slip on the ice and I immediately direct you to regain your balance, and then signal your arms to break the fall. Finally, if you hit the ground, I let you know if you’re hurt. And the event is stored in my memory to warn you to walk carefully on ice in the future.

In addition to taking care of such emergencies, I have thousands of housekeeping chores to perform. Overseeing breathing, for example, sensors inform me that carbon dioxide is rising in your blood and that you need more oxygen. I step up the breathing rate – timing the contraction, and relaxation of chest muscles.

In thousands of such ways I baby you. In return, I am piggishly demanding. Although I represent only one to two percent of your body weight, I require 20 percent of the oxygen you inhale and a fifth of the blood your heart pumps. I am utterly dependent on a constant supply. Let there be a temporary shortage and you faint. Let the supply be cut off for a few minutes and I suffer grave damage – paralysis or death may result. I also demand a steady, supply of nourishment: glucose. Even in situations of acute starvation, I get first call on any available, for without me you would die.

In many respects, I am like a vast, unexplored continent, with little more known than the rough outlines of the shore. But the researchers who are attempting to map me have come up with some fascinating information. For example, although all pain is felt in me, I myself have no pain sensation even when I'm cut. Thus, brain surgery is performed with the patient wide-awake, allowing the brain explorers to stimulate specific areas of me electrically and observe the response. If you ever undergo such surgery, you will be amazed at what can happen. A tickle of electricity in one place and you might see a, long-forgotten third-grade teacher. Stimulated in other places, you might hear a train whistle or a recitation of a nursery rhyme you couldn't have recalled a few hours earlier. I'm like an old attic containing mementos of a lifetime. You might not be aware of what is in the attic, but it's there.

The brain mappers have at least a rough outline of my primary functioning areas: