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The Plumbing And Sewering Of The Body

Source: A Handbook Of Health

The Wastes of the Body. Almost everything that the body does in the
process of living means the breaking down, or burning, of food; and
produces, like every other kind of burning, two kinds of waste--smoke
and ashes.

The carbon dioxid smoke, as we have already learned, is carried in the
blood to the lungs, where it passes off in the breath. The solid part of
our body waste, or the ashes, is of two kinds--that which can be
melted in water, or is, as we say, soluble; and that which cannot be
melted in water, or is insoluble. The insoluble part of our solid body
waste goes into the feces and is thus disposed of.

The soluble part of the body waste goes by a somewhat more roundabout
route. With the carbon dioxid it is poured by the body cells into the
veins, carried to the heart, and pumped through the lungs, where the
carbon dioxid is thrown off. Going back to the heart it is pumped all
over the body, part of it going through a very large artery to the
liver, part through two large arteries to the kidneys, part to the skin,
and the rest all over the remainder of the body.

The blood goes completely round the body-circuit from the heart to the
fingers and toes, and back again to the heart, in less than forty-five
seconds. Practically every drop of blood in the body will be pumped
through the liver, the kidneys, and the skin, about once every half
minute, so that they get plenty of chance to purify it thoroughly when
they are working properly.

This sounds rather complicated; but is interesting, because it shows
how much of a mind of their own the different organs and stuffs in our
bodies have, or what, in scientific language, we call power of
selection. The skin glands pick out of the blood those waste substances
which they are able to get rid of. The kidneys pick out another class of
waste substances, which they are best able to deal with; while the liver
which is the most important of all, attacks almost every kind of waste
brought to it by the blood, and prepares it for disposal by the
intestines, skin, and kidneys.

The Liver. The liver has a size to match its importance. It is the
largest and heaviest gland, or organ, in the body, and weighs about
three pounds, a little more than the brain. It buds off from the food
tube just below the stomach, so that its waste tube, the bile
duct--about the size of a goose quill--opens into the upper part of the

The main work of the liver is to receive the blood from all over the
body and to act upon its waste substances, burning them up so that they
can be taken up, and got rid of, by the glands of the skin and the
kidneys. In the process it very frequently changes these waste
substances from poisonous into harmless forms; and even when disease
germs get into the body and infect it, the poisons, or toxins, which
they pour into the blood are carried to the liver and there usually
burned up, or turned into harmless substances.

The liver is, therefore, to be regarded as a great poison filter for
the entire body. So long as it can deal with the poisons as fast as they
are formed, either by the body itself, or in the food, or by disease
germs, the body is safe and will remain healthy. But if the poisons come
faster than the liver can deal with them, as, for instance, when we have
eaten tainted meat or spoiled fruit, or have drunk alcohol, they begin
to poison our nerves and muscles, and we become, as we say, bilious.
Our head aches, our tongue becomes coated, we have a bad taste in the
mouth, we lose our appetite and feel stupid, dull, and feverish.

Such waste materials as the liver cannot burn down so that the kidneys
and skin can handle them, it pours out through its duct into the
intestine as the bile. The bile is a yellowish-brown fluid, which
assists the pancreatic juice in the digestion of the food, and helps to
dissolve the fats eaten, but is chiefly a waste product. It turns green
when it has been acted upon by acids, or exposed to the air. So that the
bile which you throw up when you are very sick at your stomach, is green
because it has been acted upon by your gastric juice.

As you will remember, the blood which comes from the stomach and bowels
is carried by the portal vein to the liver first and, through that, to
the heart, instead of going directly to the heart, as all the other
impure blood in the body does. This is owing, in part, to the fact that
this blood, being full of substances freshly taken or made from the
food, is very likely to contain poisons; indeed, as a matter of fact,
blood taken from these veins on its way to the liver, and injected
directly into the blood vessels of an animal, acts like a mild poison.

In part, however, this blood goes first to the liver, because the liver,
besides being a great blood purifier, is a blood-maker in the sense
that it changes raw food-stuffs in the blood from the intestines into
forms which are more suitable for use by the brain, the muscles, and the
other tissues of the body. Some of the sugars, for instance, the liver
turns into a kind of animal starch (glycogen), which it stores away in
its own cells. It also turns both sugars and proteins in the portal
blood into fat, part of which it pours into the blood, and part of which
it stores away also in its own cells. Thus the liver owes its great size
partly to the large amount of blood-purifying, filtering, and
poison-destroying work which it has to do, and partly to its acting
as a storehouse of starch and fat, which the body can readily draw upon
as it needs them.


As all poisons formed in, or entering, the body are brought to the liver
for destruction, it is in an extremely exposed position, and very liable
to break down under the attack of these poisons, whether of infectious
diseases, or chloroform, or alcohol, or those formed by putrefaction in
the stomach and intestines. This is why those who have lived long in the
tropics and suffered from malaria, dysentery, and other infectious
diseases, and those who drink too much alcohol, or have chronic
indigestion, or dyspepsia, are likely to have swollen and inflamed

The Gall Bladder. The liver has on its under side a little pear-shaped
pouch called the gall bladder, in which the bile is stored before it
is poured into the bowel. If this becomes inflamed by disease germs, or
their poisons, in the blood, little hard masses will form inside it,
usually about the size of a grain of corn, known as gall stones. So
long as they stay in the gall bladder, they give little trouble, but if
they start to pass out through the narrow bile duct into the intestine,
they cause severe attacks of pain, known as gall-stone colic, and, by
blocking up the duct, may dam up the flow of the bile, force it back
into the blood again, and stain all our tissues, including our skin and
our eyes, yellow; and then we say we are jaundiced. Jaundice may also
be caused by colds or other mild infections which attack the liver and
bile ducts and clog the proper flow of the bile.

The Kidneys. The kidneys are another form of blood-filter, which deal
chiefly with waste stuffs in the blood left from the proteins, or Meats,
of our food--meat, fish, milk, cheese, bread, peas, beans, etc. These
waste-stuffs, called urea and urates, are formed in the liver and
brought in the blood to the kidneys. These lie on either side of the
backbone, opposite the small of the back, their lower ends being level
with the highest point of the hip-bones, nearly six inches higher than
they are usually supposed to be. When you think you have a pain across
the kidneys, it is usually a pain in the muscles of the back much lower
down, and has nothing to do with the kidneys at all.

A very large artery carries the blood from the aorta to each side of the
kidney, and a large vein carries the purified blood back to the vena
cava and heart. Two smaller tubes about the size of a crow quill, the
waste pipes of the kidneys (the ureters), carry the water containing
urea and other waste substances strained out by the kidneys and called
urine, down into a large pouch, the bladder, to be stored there until
it can be got rid of.

The kidneys then are big filter-glands. They, like the lungs, are made
up of a mesh, or network, of thousands of tiny tubes of two kinds, one
set of tubes being blood vessels, and the other set the tiny branches of
the kidney tubes which finally run together to form the ureters. The
urine filters through from the spongy mesh of blood tubes (capillaries)
into the kidney tubes and is poured out through the ureters. It is very
important that the urine should be discharged as fast as it fills the
bladder, that is, about once every three hours during the day. Nothing
should be allowed to interfere with this; and whenever nature tells you
that the bladder is full, it should be emptied promptly, or the poisons
which nature is trying to get rid of in the urine may get back into the
blood and cause serious trouble.

Diseases of the Kidneys. Naturally, the kidneys, working all the time
and pouring out, as they do every day, from three to four pints of the
liquid waste called urine, are subject to numerous diseases and
disturbances. One of the common causes of these is failure to keep the
skin thoroughly clean and healthy, as perspiration is of somewhat the
same character as the urine; and if it be checked, it throws an extra
amount of work upon the kidneys.

Another most important thing to keep the kidneys working well is to
drink plenty of water, at least six or eight glasses a day, as well as
to eat plenty of fresh green vegetables and fresh fruits, which, as we
have seen, are eighty per cent water. Remember, we are a walking
aquarium, and all our cells must be kept flooded with and soaked in
water in order to be healthy. If the blood becomes overloaded with
poisons, so much work may be thrown upon the kidneys that they will
become inflamed and diseased and cannot form the urine properly; and
then poisons accumulate in the system and finally produce serious
illness and even death.

It was at one time believed that eating too much of certain kinds of
foods, particularly those that leave much nitrogenous waste in the body,
such as meat and fish, could produce a diseased condition of the
kidneys, known as Bright's Disease; but we have found that the larger
part of such cases are due to the attack of the germs of infectious
diseases, particularly scarlet and typhoid fevers, tuberculosis, and
colds. The popular impression that colds from wet feet or long drives in
winter may settle in the kidneys is wrong, except in so far as those
colds are caused by infectious germs.

Another cause of disturbance and permanent damage to the kidneys is the
habitual use of alcohol. Even though this may be taken in only moderate
amounts, the constant soaking of the tissues with even small amounts of
alcohol may be most harmful to the kidneys, as well as to the liver.

Next: The Muscles

Previous: Diseases And Disturbances Of The Skin

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