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The Kidneys-A Brief Evolutionary Story

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

The Kidneys-A Brief Evolutionary Story

Once upon a time, a very very very long time ago, you and I were very small creatures floating freely in the vast oceans of the earth. How small were we? We were tiny, just one cell big. To put that into perspective, we are much bigger now, about 60 trillion (60,000,000,000,000) cells bigger.

Life was easier then. Floating in an ocean full of nutrients, we took in what we needed directly from the environment and got rid of any non-useful substances in the same way, released directly from our little bodies into the sea around us.

Well, it seemed like getting bigger might be a good idea, and so we started adding more cells to our bodies. Life was still pretty simple at first as these cells could still interact directly with the environment around them, pulling in foodstuffs, releasing wastes.

Over time we became even bigger and had to start evolving ever more complex ways of getting nutrients to every single cell (they all need to ‘eat’), no matter how far inside of the body they were. And as always, we had to have ways of getting rid of the waste products (they all need to ‘poop’).

Things got distinctly more difficult as we made our way to land. Now, we had to adapt to a wholly new environment. Extracting nutrients from the atmosphere, locomotion on solid earth, protecting ourselves from direct sunlight, new food sources, and getting our water needs met.

Our bodies became ever more complex. And larger. And we developed decidedly more complex systems. A respiratory system to help extract oxygen from the air around us, and release the gaseous byproduct. A digestive system to take in, absorb and excrete food. Strong skeletal muscles to move us around. And a pseudo-ocean inside of us, the bloodstream. Through an elaborate circulatory system, this became the highways, roads and paths inside of us to deliver what was needed to every individual cell, no matter how tightly hidden away, and the ability to get rid of all the unwanted materials.

But the blood traveling through the circulatory system is a closed system, going around and around and around. No outlet unless we are bleeding. So what was needed was a filter and removal system. This filter would ‘read’ the blood, and while keeping the vast majority of necessary substances such as water within our bodies also the ability to remove toxins, excesses and waste products.

The urinary system is just such a device. After the blood is filtered, the unwanted portions are sent down to a storage unit (the urinary bladder) where they stay out of harms way, until till time to eliminate them

At the heart of this system are the two kidneys. Their goal, is to maintain homeostasis, that is, keeping things at normal levels in the body. They do this with about 1 million small tubes called nephrons. Each one of the nephrons independently filters to insure the blood is kept right and proper, the correct proportions of things.  A massive amount of blood is sent through the kidneys each day, about 45 gallons (180 liters) pass through each 24 hours. And of all of this only about 2 quarts (2 liters) are excreted as urine. 45 gallons! A day! Imagine an average size garbage can, that’s about the right size. And now imagine dipping a quart size canning jar in and removing 2 jars worth of fluid from the garbage can. Of course we don’t have that much blood in us, we have about 1.3 gallons (5 liters) so it is constantly re-circulated and re-scrutinized.

So the kidneys are the guardian filters of the blood. And the blood is the thoroughfare from which most substances move throughout our body. Their well-being is essential for overall health. They help maintain the closely guarded pH of the blood, the electrolytes (important elements such as sodium and potassium). They help regulate blood pressure, and a variety of other important functions.

But this is not a dissertation about the kidneys, no, this about one organ system that allowed us to evolve from the very simplest of organisms floating in a very large bath, to the exceedingly complex creatures whom we now are.

And the journey is not finished.

Postscript. I realize that this is way oversimplified and I left out many other important bodily systems (reproduction anyone?) and I took other poetic license as well, after all, many of our body systems were adapting and changing at the same time. But I wanted to filter it down to this bare kidney story. I hope you have found it entertaining.

Quick comments on the GMP’s (Good Manufactoring Processes)

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Contentious Herbal Issue, about the GMP’s (Good Manufacturing Processes). These are new enforceable FDA legal standards for retail supplement products, including internally taken herbal medicines.
While I was at the American Herbalist Guild (AHG) Symposium, I went to a class about the GMP’s and how smaller companies can become compliant. I appreciated the presenter’s information and real-life details trying to help people get through all the confusing mandates and details that are necessary to be up to GMP code.
Before I get into how I feel about this issue, I want to say a few things for clarification. First, I am FAR from being any kind of expert on this issue and so some of my details may be wrong. I am lightly knowledgeable at best about the subject, but my opinions are based on the gestalt of this thing not the minutiae.
Second, I am not really looking to start a flame war here, though I invite others thoughtful opinions for, against, in the middle or otherwise about GMP’s.
I left the above class frustrated (not at the informative presenters) and tried to figure out why. On the face of it, GMP’s are a ‘reasonable’ idea, that is, products are what they say they are, and so consumers know what they are getting.
The problem is all rules and contrivances necessary to get there. While it certainly seems ~possible~ to achieve being GMP compliant, there is A LOT of paper work and other details necessary to keep the FDA at bay.
But here’s where it gets more maddening for me. When I talk to some of the makers of herbal products, some of those who are GMP compliant make it sound easy for anyone to get there. It is surely not. If one is primarily a product maker, then perhaps they can devote the ongoing time and resources necessary to stay compliant. However, if you are a generalist herbalist on your own, and also see patients, gather and/or grow some of your own medicines, teach classes, etc, then it is not easy at all. So what these rules do in my mind is push this category of herbalist out of the picture (insert visual photo of a fuming Michael Moore here). So for small batch herbalists who may just sell locally, these rules will take a needed source of income away from people helping their community and making it more difficult to help keep herbal medicine local, affordable and accessible.
Okay, for those of you who are saying, yea 7Song, but what about the consumer?, I say to you “Please show me some documented or anecdotal stories that make these rules necessary for these kind of herbal producers”. How many times have herbalists sickened or poisoned their neighbors with their products? I am sure that it has happened, but as we all well know (need I say ‘steroid shots’) that no amount of rules will stop the occasional unfortunate accident. And generally the herbalist will be accountable, maybe not legally, but people will talk.
It is difficult for me to hear from those who are compliant and have the resources (money and people) but don’t see how these rules affect this category of shall we say, community herbalist?
Here is my analogy. To me, it is like licensing herbalists. At this point I personally would get licensed as I have been practicing long enough and have enough connections to make sure my name gets passed on as a Qualified Herbalist. And for others who are not, I would say ‘don’t you all see, it is for ~consumer protection~ that we need to be licensed. Otherwise how we would we parse those who have passed the tests from others who have not gone through the hoops we have?’ Well, I say F# that. There will always be people, licensed or not who are in it strictly for money or other reasons that are not about helping people or making quality products. And I don’t mind being associated with riff-raff. If there were simple ways that made distinctions between different levels of herbalists and did not exclude, I guess I might be open to it. But generally, it is about the integrity of the individual herbalist to let potential patients know their abilities
Okay, I don’t mean to really get into a licensing rant for herbalists debate here, I am just trying to make the point that our ready acceptance of GMP’s is similar as it will turn away ‘herbal people’ who might contribute to their neighborhoods and larger communities.
I don’t have any answers to this predicament; I just want to give voice to some of my feelings from this weekend. I hope we as a community of plant-loving, human-supportive people can do as best we can to help support others to be engaged in the old and new traditions of herbal medicine. ~7Song