Summary: In the second part of Fractals, the Golden Ratio and Your Health, we will explore in greater detail how fractals are not only models of growth and maintenance but may shed light as to what is optimal health.
The human experience requires proper function of a series of organ systems, tubes and filters constructed by cells and their products. These systems allow for us to sustain and adapt to our lives as terrestrial animals. Effectively, we are a universe of water-immersed microscopic cell sheets organized into tissues and organs, combined with commensal bacteria on the “outsides” of our bodies – and then some. Our bodies are likened to an internal ocean with water comprising 64-83% of each system. Even the hardest part of our body – bones – are far from devoid of water – consisting of 30%.
The process of this organization can be seen as a scaling up of the primordial single cell organisms to the macro-systems that continue to evolve – the code to which is imprinted in our DNA. What are some of the benefits that afford multisystem organisms, such as animals, a greater ability to adapt to various environmental pressures that are encountered? The writing will expound on the possible benefits of cell community and how understanding fractals can create greater insight on how structure enables function in complex organisms. It is with hopes that through this exploration we can understand what makes us uniquely human and what is health.
Before we begin the journey, it is important to mention that any attempts to understand the process by which complex organisms have emerged require some degree of hopeful connection in our retrospection. Things just happened as time unfolded and it would be more than naïve to say that humans could be capable of understanding all of the variables. Though, we assume that they were guided by numerous evolutionary selection pressures in the environment, such as gravity, sunlight, ambient radiation, food and water resources and otherwise unknown survival pressures. There are also countless examples how evolution has occurred in more recent times (e.g. the bubonic plague; the peppered moth and the industrial age).
I can’t say that a “flap of a butterfly wing” didn’t have a role in our evolution – the so-called “butterfly effect.” We are merely just observers in the confines of scientific reasoning, consequently, some of what we describe as “benefits” may be more creative, or speculative, in nature. I do not subtract the possibility of divine nature in this seemingly random and impossible series of events.
Fractal organization allows Scaling
The network of veins, arteries and nerves look very similar to the branches and root systems of trees or the network of rivers and streams. This is no coincidence, representing a dance of a structure as it balances and counterbalances multiple forces. Although our bodies are finite units and do not go on ad infinitum with iterations as the Mandelbrot set, within them are housed multiple intricate structures that possess these attributes.
Your thorax houses numerous nerves, arteries and veins, the esophagus, the heart, and the lungs. With a ruler or tape measure, you might find that your chest and abdomen are about 20 inches long, 15 inches wide and 7 inches thick. If you measure your lungs they may be approximately 12 inches long 6 inches wide and a three inches thick.
Within the lungs are pathways for air, or bronchioles. When we inspire, these tubes lead the air to microscopic chambers, alveoli, where gas exchange occurs within the vascular beds. Imagine if you took the paths and placed them end-to-end. The length would be approximately 1500 miles, the distance between New Orleans and Boston. The tiny alveoli that are responsible for gas exchange number into the 300 to 500 million.
What about the intestines: If the small intestines were stretched out, it would measure between 10 and 20 feet long. If the large intestines were measured out, the length would measure to approximately 5 feet long.
Kidneys: Each kidney contains approximately 1 million nephrons measuring 1-2 inches long. If you added the total amount of nephrons in the body and their average length, you would have 2,000,000 inches, or 31 miles!
What do this mean? The body is a universe of tissues which are designed to fulfill its needs – from getting oxygen to every cell of our body and adjusting it on demand – as in our respiratory and circulatory system, to disposing gas, liquid and solid waste through expiration, micturition and defecation, and absorbing the nutrients from the environment that we consume and detoxifying any harmful forms of foods including sugar (digestive and hepatic system) and adapting to stressors and producing hormone precursors (endocrine and metabolic systems).
Fractals function as a biologic buffer from perturbations
A single cell organism meets its fate by even slight perturbation of solute content, such as too much salt, sugar or hydrogen (acid) in the environment. It is for this reason, that substances such as these are used as preservatives to prevent spoiling of food. This solutes will cause a cell to lyse, or break down, as its water inside is released outside as an attempt to balance the environment.
A larger organism is protected by many layers of cells, such that only after a significant poisoning, would it succumb to these solutes. Many cell layers and systems protect the organism from the environmental circumstances.
Optimal Health Occurs when all systems are Functioning smoothly
The body is a synthesis of systems that have grown together during development, where genetic code met environmental pressures. The systems work in concert to provide an optimal state of metabolism, circulation, respiration, digestion, excretion, movement and sensation. When one system is compromise, it affects other system. Additionally, although a disease process may manifest as one dysfunction, all the systems in some way are affected.
Ways in which one may develop disease. At the crux of optimal health is understanding what happens to an organism as it ages or changes from within as a result of ongoing pressures.
Inflammation. Inflammation alters the fractal structure, impairing its function. One of the cardinal signs of inflammation is functio laesa, or a reduction in function. As molecules such as cytokines and chemokines signal neighboring and distant cells to react to the stressor, cellular stress leads to impaired oxidative functioning and the deposition of fibrin and other molecules. The pliability of the structure decreases, and, with this loss, functional decline.
Consider diabetes mellitus, a result of hormone dysregulation caused by a diet rich in artificial food – and supersaturated concentrations of the solute glucose. Elevated glucose leads to inflammation, which impairs the function of the pancreas. The glucose is left unchecked in the bloodstream, where it travels through the entire circulatory system, potentially affecting every cell. The elevated glucose causes glycation complexes which exert inflammation and tax the immune system and decreases the fractal dimension (complexity).
The disease occurs throughout the body. It developed because of the dietary selection. I can go further to describe how behavior plays a role in diet and how stressors contribute to behavior. What I am describing is the flexion point of a complex fractal system and the environment.
Sudden Structural Damage. An acute stressor to the body, such as what occurs in a stroke, impairs oxygenation of tissues of the involved downstream portion of the brain. There is an area of tissue that infarcts (or dies), and, encircling this, is a vital but threatened area with diminished blood supply known as the penumbra. Restoration of blood flow with an evolution of the insult often leads to some return of function. A scarring process in the brain known as gliosis occurs in the stroke area.
A New Health Paradigm?
In a time of burgeoning rates of obesity, diabetes, and cancer, in the setting of a sedentary lifestyle and environmental impacts, our medical system is broken and inept at addressing this complex interplay.
The dynamic process that is occurring is no different to what has always been: a complex biological system interacting with the environment. How can we shape our understanding of these patterns to support the mission of health? Truly, addressing health should not just be relegated to the clinic setting – but in the community, schools, and parks.
Does a fractal model help scientists understand some of the previously unanswered challenges? In this era of science and unraveling the genome, have we come to a point where complexity has outpaced our ability to understand it?
Western medicine uses a system of fragmentation of variables to explain physiologic processes which are far from predictable in this manner. However, it is possible to predict patterns using newer technologies which offer greater computation, interactive, and visual-spatial outputs. Ultimately, the scientific method is likely to be enhanced by these new tools.
Will it be possible to assess one part of the body, for instance, a skin biopsy, and use our growing understand of complex systems to interpret one’s health – even while all of the puzzle pieces are yet to be known? That will be the subject of future writing.
For additional information on fractal concepts, check this link.
Categories: Other Health and Wellness Topics