The term adaptation denotes a characteristic that favors survival in specific environments. Homeostatic control systems are inherited biological adaptations. An individual's ability to respond to a particular environmental stress is not fixed, however, but can be enhanced, with no change in genetic endowment, by prolonged exposure to that stress. This type of adaptation—the improved functioning of an already existing homeostatic system—is known as acclimatization.
Let us take sweating in response to heat exposure as an example and perform a simple experiment. On day 1 we expose a person for 30 min to a high temperature and ask her to do a standardized exercise test. Body temperature rises, and sweating begins after a certain period of time. The sweating provides a mechanism for increasing heat loss from the body and thus tends to minimize the rise in body temperature in a hot environment. The volume of sweat produced under these conditions is measured. Then, for a week, our subject enters the heat chamber for 1 or 2 h per day and exercises. On day 8, her body temperature and sweating rate are again measured during the same exercise test performed on day 1; the striking finding is that the subject begins to sweat earlier and much more profusely than she did on day 1. Accordingly, her body temperature does not rise to nearly the same degree.
Vander et al.: Human Physiology: The Mechanism of Body Function, Eighth Edition
II. Biological Control Systems
7. Homeostatic Mechanisms and Cellular Communication
© The McGraw-Hill Companies, 2001
Homeostatic Mechanisms and Cellular Communication CHAPTER SEVEN
The subject has become acclimatized to the heat; that is, she has undergone an adaptive change induced by repeated exposure to the heat and is now better able to respond to heat exposure.
The precise anatomical and physiological changes that bring about increased capacity to withstand change during acclimatization are highly varied. Typically, they involve an increase in the number, size, or sensitivity of one or more of the cell types in the homeo-static control system that mediates the basic response.
Acclimatizations are usually completely reversible. Thus, if the daily exposures to heat are discontinued, the sweating rate of our subject will revert to the preacclimatized value within a relatively short time. If an acclimatization is induced very early in life, however, at the critical period for development of a structure or response, it is termed a developmental acclimatization and may be irreversible. For example, the barrel-shaped chests of natives of the Andes Mountains represent not a genetic difference between them and their lowland compatriots but rather an irreversible acclimatization induced during the first few years of their lives by their exposure to the low-oxygen environment of high altitude. The altered chest size remains even though the individual moves to a lowland environment later in life and stays there. Lowland persons who have suffered oxygen deprivation from heart or lung disease during their early years show precisely the same chest shape.
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.