We live in a world made from matter. Matter is made up of atoms and molecules that follow the laws of nature. All life is made up of atoms and molecules that are organized into cells. Our body has trillions of them. One of the most important types of molecules in the body are the proteins. We have thousands of different types of proteins inside our body and they do most of the work. The proteins in our body are made up of many different amino acids joined together in a specific order by chemical bonds. There are twenty different amino acids in the body and they mostly are made up of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen atoms.
Everybody knows that we have to have enough protein in our diet to stay healthy. And most people know that the body uses the individual amino acids from these ingested proteins to make its own proteins so they can do the work needed to keep us alive. There are even some people who know that some of the bodyís proteins reside inside the blood (plasma protein) and do their job within the circulation. However, what most people do not know is that without enough of this plasma protein in the circulation there would be no circulation in the first place and without it no life. This is because it seems that everybody does not know that, when not resisted by some sort of innovation, the laws of nature do not bring about life, as evolutionary biologists would have us believe, but death. Having enough plasma protein in the blood is a good example of this truth. But before you can understand and appreciate why this is so, you must first learn how the body provides its tissues with what they need to live and how the laws of nature affect where water is located within the body. Only then will you be able to understand and appreciate why the body must have enough plasma protein in the blood to maintain the effectiveness of its circulation.
Blood: What Is It?
One-celled organisms are like microscopic islands in that they can get what they need to live from the surrounding water in which they are suspended. However, the human body is surrounded by air, not water, and consists of over a hundred trillion cells, most of which are not in direct contact with the environment. Yet, in general, the body needs many of the same chemicals to survive as do one-celled organisms. Rather than being like a microscopic island, surrounded by water that contains what it needs to live, the body is like a huge land mass which needs rivers to transport what it needs to its cells within the interior of the continent.
Instead of rivers of water, the body uses the circulation of blood to provide its cells with what they need to live. The job of circulating the blood throughout the body is done by the cardiovascular system which consists of the heart and the blood vessels. There are about five liters of blood in the circulation. Blood is a complex fluid which consists of a pale yellow liquid, called plasma, with different types of blood cells suspended within it. The red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues for energy, the white blood cells help fight infection and the platelets help with clotting when injury takes place. The plasma makes up just over one-half of the blood by volume and so there are about three liters of plasma in the circulation. The plasma consists mostly of water (> 90%) with many chemicals, like glucose and sodium, and other biologically important molecules, including the plasma proteins, dissolved within it. Except for the gamma globulins (antibodies) which are made in specialized immune cells, most of the plasma proteins are produced in the liver. The plasma protein mainly consists of albumin, the globulins and the clotting factors. When the clotting factors are removed from the plasma the fluid left behind is called the serum. Albumin represents about 60% of the total plasma protein in the blood and about 25% of the total protein output of the liver. Albumin not only serves to transport lipids, certain hormones and other chemicals in the blood, but, as mentioned above, is also very important for maintaining the effectiveness of the circulation. For without albumin there would be no circulation and without it no life.
The Circulation: How Does It Work?
As noted above, the job of the cardiovascular system, sending blood throughout the body, is done by the heart and the blood vessels. The left side of the heart pumps the blood into the systemic arterial system where it travels to the tissues. In the tissues the blood enters the microscopic thin-walled capillaries. The walls of the capillaries have pores which allow water and various chemicals to be exchanged between the circulation and the cells. After traveling through the capillaries the blood returns to the right side of the heart through the systemic venous system. The right side of the heart then sends the blood through the pulmonary arterial system to the lungs to drop off carbon dioxide and pick up oxygen. The blood then returns through the pulmonary venous system to the left side of the heart and the whole cycle begins again.
The effectiveness of the circulation is dependent on mainly four things;
First, the structure and control of the heart must be adequate to pump the blood with enough force to the capillaries and back to the heart again. If there isnít enough blood pressure within the cardiovascular system to force the blood to flow to the tissues and back to the heart again the body will die.
Second, the structure and control of the blood vessels must be such that they can support and provide a clear passageway for the blood to reach the capillaries and come back to the heart again. If the blood vessels do not have the capacity to maintain enough pressure and blood flow within them then the tissues will not receive enough blood and the body will die.
Third, the porous structure of the capillaries must be such to let water and other chemicals go back and forth between the circulation and the tissues. Without the capillaries the cardiovascular system is useless. Essentially the capillary is the “organ of the circulation” because that's where all the action is. It's where the exchange of water and other chemicals takes place between the blood and the tissues. The heart is just the power and the blood vessels are just the pathway for the blood to get to the capillaries. But, if the capillaries cannot allow enough water and other vital chemicals to be exchanged with the tissues then the body will die.
Finally, the fourth thing needed to make the circulation effective is having enough blood volume. The blood cells make up about 45% of the blood volume and the plasma makes up the other 55%. But the plasma itself consists mostly of water (> 90%). The red blood cells may carry oxygen but they have to have enough water in the plasma to float in to reach the tissues. And without enough water in the plasma vital chemicals like glucose and sodium would never be able to be carried to the tissues as well. The heart may be pumping well enough, the blood vessels may have the capacity to carry the blood to the tissues, and the capillaries may be able to let the exchange of chemicals take place, but if there isnít enough blood volume (water in the circulation) then there wonít be enough blood pressure to provide enough blood flow to the tissues and the body will die. The amount of water in the circulation (plasma volume) is directly related to mainly two things; the bodyís total content of water and how the laws of nature affect where water is located in the body.
Water: Where Does It Naturally Go Within The Body?
Water is the bodyís most abundant molecule. By weight, it makes up 60% of the body. It is important to note here that water can move freely across biological membranes. The water in the body is located in either one of two places; either inside the cells or outside the cells. Two-thirds of the bodyís water is called the intracellular fluid because it is located inside its trillions of cells. The remaining one-third of the bodyís water is called the extracellular fluid because it is located outside the cells. About 80% of the extracellular fluid (water outside the cells ) is located between the cells and is called the interstitial fluid. The remaining 20% of the water outside the cells (extracellular fluid) is in the blood (plasma) that is circulated throughout the body by the cardiovascular system.
The distribution of water outside the cells i.e. between the plasma (in the circulation) and the interstitial fluid (water surrounding the cells), is directly dependent on the laws of nature. Blood is pushed by the heart under pressure through the arteries to the tissues. By the time the blood enters the arterial side of the capillary it has a force of about 35 mmHg behind it. And as the blood flows through the capillary and exits through the venous end this force has dropped to about 15 mmHg. It is this (hydrostatic) pressure that literally squeezes some of the water out of the blood through the tiny pores in the walls of the capillary as it flows from the arterial to the venous end. Think of it like squeezing soft boiled potatoes through a potato ricer to make mashed potatoes. In fact, in a very short time this hydrostatic pressure can force an amount of water equal to the total plasma volume (3 liters) out of the circulation and into the interstitial fluid throughout the body. It is obvious that if most of this squeezed out water were not to be immediately brought back into the circulation, then death would take place in a matter of several minutes. For, without this water in the circulation there would be no circulation and no life. So, since the heart must generate enough pressure to circulate the blood throughout the body one has to wonder what prevents all of the water in the circulation from being squeezed out of the blood into the interstitial fluid?
The force of nature that counters this filtering of water out of the circulation, by trying to pull it back in again, is called osmosis. Osmosis is one of the main forces that determines where water moves within the body. Here is out it works. Biological membranes allow water to pass freely through them but generally do not allow large molecules like proteins to pass through. When two solutions with different amounts of dissolved particles per unit volume (concentration) are separated by a membrane that allows only water to pass through, but not the dissolved particles, then water will naturally move from the solution with the lower concentration of particles to the solution with the higher concentration of particles. This natural movement is said to take place by osmosis. The difference in total particle concentration between the solutions determines what is called the osmotic pressure. A bigger difference results in a higher osmotic pressure being applied to the membrane and more water moving across it from a solution of lower concentration to a solution with an higher concentration. The final result of this water movement by osmosis is that the concentration of total particles on both sides of the membrane will be the same, somewhere between the original two. It is like the membrane feels a persistent tension that cannot be relieved until enough water moves by osmosis from one side to the other to give it peace.
Interstitial fluid has much less protein in it than what is in the blood. Since most of the protein from the circulation and the interstitial fluid cannot pass through the capillary wall, this means that, by osmosis, water naturally tends to move from the interstitial fluid into the circulation. Of course, it is important that the plasma protein not be able to easily leave the circulation because it has a lot of transport work to do there. So, in addition to this transport work, the plasma protein, particularly albumin, is largely responsible for limiting how much water is filtered out of the blood by hydrostatic pressure.
The osmotic pressure applied by the plasma protein, to bring water back into the blood, is the same throughout the capillary at about 25 mmHg. Recall, from above, that the hydrostatic pressure, squeezing water out of the blood, at the beginning of the capillary is about 35 mmHg and at the end is about 15 mmHg. This means that at the arterial end of the capillary the hydrostatic pressure is trying to push water out of the blood with a force of 35 mmHg while the plasma protein is trying to bring it back in by osmosis with a force of 25 mmHg. Therefore the net flow of water at the beginning of the capillary is going out of the circulation at about +10 mmHg (35 - 25). Somewhere in the middle of the capillary the hydrostatic pressure drops down to 25 mmHg, which being equal to the osmotic pressure being applied by the plasma protein in the blood, results in no net flow of water in or out of the circulation (25 - 25). However, by the time the blood exits the capillary the hydrostatic pressure has dropped to about 15 mmHg while the osmotic pressure applied by the plasma protein remains at 25 mmHg. Therefore at the venous end of the capillary the net flow of water comes back into the circulation at about -10 mmHg (15 - 25). Of course, the total filtering of water through the capillary is also dependent on many other factors as well; such as the capillary membrane surface area and permeability and the velocity of blood flow through the capillary. But, this explanation provides a basis for understanding why having enough plasma protein in the blood is vital for maintaining the effectiveness of the circulation. How so? Read on!
Life And Death And The Laws Of Nature: Real Numbers Have Real Consequences
Human albumin is made up of 585 amino acids bonded together in a specific order. Since there are twenty different amino acids, this means that the probability of albumin coming into being by chance is 1 in 20585. This is equal to 1 chance in 10760 which is a one followed by 760 zeros. For those who believe that “given enough time anything can happen” it is sobering to realize that since there are 86,400 sec in a day (60 x 60 x 24) and 31,557,600 sec in a year (x 365.25), this means that the earth has existed for only 1.4 x 1017 sec (x 4.5 billion). Moreover, if one assumes hypothetically that in every nanosecond (10-9 sec) of the earthís existence a trillion (1012) different chemical reactions producing a protein with 585 amino acids could have taken place then there would have only been 1.4 x 1038 of these reactions in the lifetime of the earth. But, a total of 10760 of these chemical reactions would have been needed to get just one molecule of human albumin anyway. It would seem that, in at least this hypothetical scenario, for just one molecule of albumin to come into being one would have to wait until the earth was older by a factor of 10722. Clearly, this is an impossibility and is why the liver cells, rather than relying on random chance and the laws of nature, use the instructions contained within the DNA in their nuclei to produce enough albumin to keep us alive. But how much is enough and how is the production of albumin controlled?
How the liver knows how much albumin to make is as yet poorly understood. However, it is thought to be related to the osmotic pressure that albumin applies across the walls of the capillaries within the liver itself. The production of albumin also seems to be affected by hormones like insulin, cortisol and thyroid hormone as well. The normal range of albumin in the serum is 3.5-5.5 units. Some common conditions that can lead to seriously low albumin levels are severe malnutrition and diseases of the liver, the kidneys and the gastrointestinal tract. In severe malnutrition, not having enough protein in the diet can leave the liver without enough amino acids to make enough albumin. With significant liver disease, and therefore much fewer properly working liver cells to produce albumin, the serum albumin usually falls well below the normal range. Also, various diseases of the kidneys can cause too much albumin to leak out of the body through the urine and some diseases of the gastrointestinal tract can make the body lose too much protein through it as well.
Recall, that albumin is the main plasma protein responsible for providing the osmotic pressure which pulls water back into the circulation from the interstitial fluid after it has been pushed out by hydrostatic pressure. Therefore, if the serum albumin level drops significantly below the normal range (< 3.5 units), this means that the osmotic pull of water back into the circulation will be significantly reduced as well. The further below normal the serum albumin goes, the more water that tends to move out of the circulation and stay inside the interstitial fluid forming what is called edema of the tissues. And the more water that tends to stay in the tissues and not go back into the bloodstream, the lower the blood pressure and the blood flow. And the lower the blood pressure and the blood flow the more likely that there will be inadequate perfusion of the tissues. And the more inadequate the perfusion of the tissues the more likely for the body to suffer debility and even death. Now, although the body is often able to compensate for these drops in serum albumin for a while, if the level goes much below 2.0 units, then the body usually experiences severe fatigue and may even have problems standing up to gravity. In fact, a serum albumin of less than 1.0 unit is thought to be incompatible with life. So, as noted above, without albumin in the circulation there would be no circulation, and without it, no life.
Points to Ponder
It was the extremely high improbability of any one of the thousands of biologically significant molecules being formed by just chance and the laws of nature (never mind the need for the untold millions of each one of them to allow for life) that alerted scientists to there having to be an intelligent agent within the cells telling them how to make them. This is what first motivated scientists to search for and find the DNA molecule and everything else connected to it that has been, and continues to be, discovered. But, paradoxically, modern evolutionary biologists see all of the information packed into the DNA molecule and still conclude that it all came about by just chance and the laws of nature alone rather than “a mind at work” i.e. an intelligence. In other words, scientists, using their ability to detect intelligence, recognized that there had to be an intelligent agent inside the cell instructing it on how and when to produce these complex and vital molecules, but after finding it concluded that this intelligent agent itself had come about by chance and the laws of nature alone. Alternatively, many people now believe and teach that it was nature itself, as the intelligent agent, that through evolution, brought about DNA and all of the innovations needed for life because that was what was needed. They seem to forget that, by definition, evolution is a blind process which has no goals.
Human albumin, with its 585 amino acids bonded together in a specific order, and its absolute necessity for maintaining the effectiveness of the circulation so that the cells in the tissues can get what they need to live, is a good example of how much faith one must have in Neo-Darwinism to believe what evolutionary biologists claim about how life came into being. The cardiovascular system of vertebrates required the simultaneous development of several different innovative parts, each of which were needed to work properly. Not only, (1) the heart and the different blood vessels, such as (2) the arteries and (3) the arterioles, (4) the capillaries, (5) the venules and (6) the great veins but as noted above, the (7) blood and all of its different blood cells including the plasma protein, especially (8) albumin. Dr. Michael Behe has called a system where the absence of any one part renders it useless as being irreducibly complex. The system our body uses to maintain the effectiveness of the circulation so that there is enough blood flow to the tissues to provide our cells with what they need to live, grow and work properly is irreducibly complex.
But if a system is irreducibly complex does that automatically make it capable of supporting life? If you think about it youíll realize that thereís one more piece of the puzzle thatís needed, a piece that goes beyond irreducible complexity, to enable the circulatory system to keep us alive within the laws of nature. As noted above, when dealing with the forces of nature, real numbers have real consequences. The same applies to the body and how it survives in a world consisting of physical and chemical laws.
When it comes to having an effective circulation there must be enough blood in it and the heart must pump the blood with enough pressure, the blood vessels must be able to maintain that pressure and provide a clear path for the blood to flow through and the capillaries must be able to allow the exchange of enough water and other chemicals between the blood and the cells. But this article has shown that this, in and of itself, is still not enough. For, without having the innovation of enough plasma protein, especially albumin, the laws of nature, like hydrostatic pressure, can quickly force most of the water out of the blood and into the interstitial fluid. Clinical experience shows that when the body has extremely low blood levels of albumin this severely compromises the blood volume, lowers the blood pressure to critical levels and severely diminishes blood flow to the tissues resulting in inadequate perfusion of the cells and death.
When it comes to the serum level of albumin, not just any number will do. It has to be the right number (3.5-5.5 units) so that there is enough osmotic pressure pulling enough water across the capillary wall from the interstitial fluid back into the circulation. And depending on how far below the normal range the serum level of albumin goes, the more water will tend to stay inside the interstitial fluid and the less blood pressure and effective blood flow there will be in the body. In fact, a serum albumin below 2.0 units usually makes the body very weak and tired and not even able to stand up to gravity. And a level below 1.0 unit is considered to be incompatible with life.
Now, remember, medical science does not really understand how the body controls its production of albumin from the liver. However, if each liver cell produces the same amount of albumin, it is logical to assume that the total amount of albumin in the body is directly related to how many properly working liver cells there are: i.e. the size of the liver. This would explain why when someone has liver disease, and less properly working liver cells, their albumin level usually drops below the normal range. But what if our prehistoric hominid ancestors had had smaller livers or ones that were programmed to produce a lot less albumin so that their serum level was under 1.0 unit. Then, all clinical experience tells us that they could never have survived or reproduced.
Real numbers have real consequences when it comes to dealing with the laws of nature. Not just any amount of albumin will do. It has to be the right amount. Just because a system is irreducibly complex does not automatically mean that it will be able to function well enough to allow for life. Besides being irreducibly complex, systems that allow for life must also have a “natural survival capacity”. By this I mean that each system must give the organism the capacity to survive by taking into account the laws of nature. This usually involves having a knowledge of what is needed to keep the organism alive within the laws of nature and then being able to do what needs to be done through some sort of innovation. The system in a healthy well-fed body that uses the innovation of producing enough albumin to ensure the effectiveness of the circulation so that each of our cells can get what they need to live, grow and work properly seems to know what the serum albumin level should be and keeps it there naturally. The same can be said for the many other control systems in the body, each of which is necessary for survival.
Given what we know about how life actually works and how easily it dies when it doesnít have enough albumin in the plasma, it is evident that for an effective circulation to have been present within living organisms that could reproduce would have required the development of several other simultaneous and interrelated innovations. What those innovations were and exactly how these intermediate organisms were able to control their blood volume in these intermediate phases may never be known. This is because further changes which may have come about have since gone by the wayside of evolution and we can only see what is present now. This is one way to explain how having enough albumin in the blood may have evolved without having to seriously consider the cardiovascular physiology of the now extinct intermediate organisms. But this is not Science, where every aspect of the reverse engineering needed to come up with a plausible explanation for life should be explored before a theory is proclaimed to the public. No, this is just faux science and wishful thinking. Itís also how evolutionary biologists have been able to convince themselves, and others, of the supposed irrelevance or even impossibility of irreducible complexity. Some scientists have argued that the positions of intelligent design and irreducible complexity are arguments from ignorance which lack enough imagination. I would submit that the concerns put forth above are based, not on ignorance, but on what we actually do know about how life actually works and how easily it dies. But I wholeheartedly agree that based on current evolutionary theory in the face of the incredible complexity of life that the scientists involved do indeed have very good imaginations. Alas, we who believe that the design seen in nature is real, and not an illusion, are forced to limit our imaginings to what is already known about what it takes for life to survive within the laws of nature. Case in point is the innovation of having enough albumin in the blood to provide enough osmotic pressure to counter the filtering effects of hydrostatic pressure within the capillaries to maintain an effective circulation.
The laws of nature have put up many obstacles to prevent life from existing. Just as a car can die from not having enough gas for energy, or oil for seizing parts, or anti-freeze for engine overheating, so too, all physicians know that there are many different pathways to death. And each of these pathways shows that when the laws of nature are not resisted well enough by some sort of innovation, they bring death, not life. So, if you really want to begin to understand how life came into existence, you first have to understand how easily it can become non-existent. Did life really come about solely by random chemicals coming together by chance and the laws of nature to form cells, then simple organisms, and then complex ones like us? In other words, without “a mind at work” to make it happen? Do you think that the ability for the human liver to be able to make the right amount of albumin just happened by chance and the laws of nature alone? No, when it comes to the origin of life it seems to me that Science still has a lot of explaining to do. Meanwhile, as we wait for evolutionary biologists to admit the deficiencies within their theories our children and the whole world continue to be misled!
Be sure to catch all of the articles in Dr. Glicksman's series, "Beyond Irreducible Complexity."
Howard Glicksman M. D. graduated from the University of Toronto in 1978. He practiced primary care medicine for almost 25 yrs in Oakville, Ontario and Spring Hill, Florida. He now practices palliative medicine for a Hospice organization in his community. He has a special interest in how the ethos of our culture has been influenced by modern science’s understanding and promotion of what it means to be a human being.
Comments and questions about this article or any of the previous ones are welcome.
Email Dr. Howard Glicksman
Copyright 2014 Dr. Howard Glicksman. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.