What Is Blood?

bloodBlood, a river of life so precious, every child in the world cries when just one drop of their own is spilled. Moms everywhere then trade secrets on how to get it out of their child’s clothes.

Everyone seems to know blood is needed to transport oxygen and nutrients throughout our bodies, but what exactly is it and where does it come from?

All types of blood contain within it, three main things; Red blood cells, white blood cells, and plasma. Before we get in to what these three things do and where they come from, let’s first talk about the types of blood.

Blood comes in 8 forms, separated in to 4 types; A, B, AB, and O. These types are grouped together by the presence, or absence, of an antigen. Antigens being substances within the body that can cause your immune system to react, releasing antibodies. Those antibodies then, in effect, find and kill the substance. Someone with type A blood will have type A antigen. Type B will have type B antigens and type AB will have both type A and type B antigens, while type O has neither.

These 4 types are further broken down by another type of antigen called an rH factor. If you have this type of antigen, you’re considered positive. If you don’t, then you’re negative. The type of blood you are will depend on the types of blood your parents have. Like so many other parts of our bodies, blood type is genetic.

These blood types really do matter. Someone with type B blood will have immune system antibodies for type A. Should you give that person type A blood, their immune system would attack those red blood cells. The result is unwanted side effects that can lead to death! If you don’t know your blood type and need a transfusion, type O- red blood cells and type AB+ plasma can be given to most people. This is why they’re considered universal donors.

blood-11Now that we know the types of blood, lets look at what’s inside all of them. 45% of your blood volume is red blood cells, while white blood cells make up less than 1%. The rest of your blood is plasma.

Red blood cells are, for the most part, created within the bone marrow of large bones. Their production is regulated by a hormone known as erythropoietin (EPO). That would be the same EPO that Lance Armstrong loved so much. All hail the king of the cheaters! They are constructed from a type of protein called hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is what gives these cells their distinctive red appearance. Their large number is what gives blood it’s crimson complexion.

The main purpose of red blood cells is to carry oxygen to all the organs and cells of the body, while helping to carry carbon dioxide away. It does this by allowing oxygen molecules to bind to the large amount of iron contained within the hemoglobin.

When a cell is working appropriately, it creates hydrogen atoms that cause the pH level within the cell to lower. When blood is delivered to that cell, the low pH causes the oxygen molecule to be released from the iron, giving your cell the oxygen it needs to continue functioning. The carbon dioxide produced as a result of your cell working, can also be carried away by your hemoglobin. Only about 14% though. The other 86% is carried by the blood in the form of bicarbonate (HCO3). The chemistry involved with that, however, is a topic for another discussion.

White blood cells are also known as leukocytes. They’re mostly created within our bone marrow from a type of stem cell called a hematopoietic stem cell. These cells help your body fight infections, or other foreign substances within the body. They are what your immune system is made of… for the most part. Unlike the singular red blood cell, white cells come in 6 main forms, numbering around 4-10 thousand per microliter of blood. Should you have a higher number than this, you probably have an infection somewhere in your body. The 6 types are: Neutrophils, Eosinophils, Basophils, Bands, Monocytes, and Lymphocytes.

Each type of white blood cell plays a different role in the kind of infection your body is trying to fight. One example is Neutrophils. These cells kill bacteria by consuming them in a process called phagocytosis. If you have an elevated level of Neutrophils within your blood, you would likely have an infection caused by bacteria. How your body makes more white blood cells in response to infection, is controlled by complex mechanisms within the immune system. When you’re sick, it’s the specific types of white blood cell levels that help your doctor narrow down the cause of your ailment.

The last part of our blood is plasma. Making up most of bloods volume, this river of life is mostly just water. About 91% to be specific. 7% of plasma is made up of proteins that perform numerous functions within the body, antibodies that help fight infection, and fibrinogen and clotting factors that help blood clot. The remaining 2% contains nutrients like sugars and vitamins, hormones such as insulin, and electrolytes like sodium and potassium.

Most of what is in plasma comes from your digestive system. You can think of your digestive system as separate from your body, just contained within it. From your mouth to your anus, anything that you eat or drink must get broken down by this system in to the parts your body can use. Once this is done, those nutrients will then pass through this system and make it in to your blood. Your grandma said it best when remarking “You are what you eat”.

blood-12In the end, spill your blood carefully my friends. You need almost every part of it. Should you be so unfortunate as to get it on your clothes, tell your mom to soak it in 1 quart warm water, 1 tablespoon of ammonia and 2 teaspoons of detergent. Let sit for around 15 minutes, remove the ammonia and launder normally. You’re now ready for your next blood-bath.

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