The Composition of Blood
Have you ever wondered what blood is made up of?
With the average adult possessing five to six liters of blood in the body, this fluid is vital to our lives, circulating oxygen through the body and serving many different functions.
Despite its simple, deep-red appearance, blood is comprised of many tiny chemical components. This infographic visualizes the composition of blood and the microscopic contents in it.
What is Blood Made Up Of?
There are two main components that comprise blood:
- Plasma – 55%
Plasma is the fluid or aqueous part of blood, making up more than half of blood content.
- Formed elements – 45%
Formed elements refer to the cells, platelets, and cell fragments that are suspended in the plasma.
Plasma is primarily made up of water (91%), salts, and enzymes, but it also carries important proteins and components that serve many bodily functions.
Plasma proteins make up 7% of plasma contents and are created in the liver. These include:
These proteins keep fluids from leaking out of blood vessels into other parts of the body. They also transport important molecules like calcium and help neutralize toxins.
These play an important role in clotting blood and fighting infections and are also transporters of hormones, minerals, and fats.
- Fibrinogen and Prothrombin
Both of these proteins help stop bleeding by facilitating the creation of blood clots during wound-healing.
Water and proteins make up 98% of plasma in blood. The other 2% is made up of small traces of chemical byproducts and cellular waste, including electrolytes, glucose, and other nutrients.
There are three categories of formed elements in blood: platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Red blood cells make up 99% of formed elements, with the other 1% comprised of platelets and white blood cells.
- Platelets (Thrombocytes)
Platelets are cells from the immune system with the primary function of forming clots to reduce bleeding from wounds. This makes them critical not only for small wounds like cuts but also for surgeries and traumatic injuries.
- White blood cells (Leukocytes)
White blood cells protect our bodies from infection. There are five types of white blood cells with different roles in fighting infections: some attack foreign cells and viruses, some produce antibodies, some clean up dead cells, and some respond to allergens.
- Red blood cells (Erythrocytes)
Red blood cells deliver fresh oxygen and nutrients all over the body. They contain a special protein called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen and gives blood its bright red color.
The lifespan of a typical red blood cell is around 120 days, after which it dies and is replaced by a new cell. Our bodies are constantly producing red blood cells in the bone marrow, at a rate of millions of cells per second.
Abnormal Red Blood Cells
Normal red blood cells are round, flattened disks that are thinner in the middle. However, certain diseases and medical therapies can change the shape of red blood cells in different ways.
Here are the types of abnormal red blood cells and their associated diseases:
Sickle cell anemia is a well-known disease that affects the shape of red blood cells. Unlike normal, round red blood cells, cells associated with sickle cell disease are crescent- or sickle-shaped, which can slow and block blood flow.
Other common causes of abnormally shaped red blood cells are thalassemia, hereditary blood disorders, iron deficiency anemia, and liver disease. Identifying abnormal blood cells plays an important role in diagnosing the underlying causes and in finding treatments.
The Functions of Blood
We know that blood is vital, but what does it actually do in the body?
For starters, here are some of the functions of blood:
- Blood transports oxygen to different parts of the body, providing an energy source. It also delivers carbon dioxide to the lungs for exhalation.
- The platelets, white blood cells, and plasma proteins in blood play an important role in fighting infections and clotting.
- Blood transports the body’s waste products to the kidneys and liver, which filter it and recirculate clean blood.
- Blood helps regulate the body’s internal temperature by absorbing and distributing heat throughout the body.
While we all know that we can’t live without blood, it serves many different functions in the body that we often don’t notice. For humans and many other organisms alike, blood is an integral component that keeps us alive and going.
Visualized: What Lives in Your Gut Microbiome?
The human gut microbiome contains a world of microbes. We look at the the bacteria that deeply affect our health and well-being.
Visualized: What Lives in Your Gut Microbiome
Inside all of us lies a complex ecosystem of microbes. It includes bacteria, fungi, and even viruses that live in virtually every part of our bodies.
Researchers are continuing to discover how deeply connected our overall gastrointestinal health—gut health—is to these microbes.
Because bacteria outnumber all other microbes, we take a look at which ones live inside of us and what they do.
The Bacteria of the Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome is composed of six main types of microbes. Each of these types of microbes has a unique function and role within the human body:
- Firmicutes: Firmicutes break down complex carbohydrates and produce short-chain fatty acids for energy. They help maintain the functioning of the gut barrier, which obstructs bacteria, harmful microorganisms, and toxins from entering the bloodstream through the intestinal tracks. Firmicutes are also linked to obesity and metabolic disorders when imbalanced.
- Actinomycetota: Actinomycetota break down complex carbs and produce vitamins B12 and K2, which are crucial for calcium absorption and energy generation in the body. They also protect the gut from harmful pathogens.
- Pseudomonadota: Pseudomonadota lowers the gut’s redox potential, a measure of the balance between oxidants and antioxidants in the gastrointestinal tract. This is important for breaking down, storing, and using energy. They do this by producing short-chain fatty acids and breaking down complex molecules, promoting the growth of other beneficial gut microbes.
- Fusobacteriota: Fusobacteriota can activate inflammatory responses to fight pathogens. But when imbalanced, they can contribute to inflammation and disease, such as periodontal disease.
- Bacteroides: Bacteroides break down complex carbohydrates, regulate the immune system, and produce vitamins and metabolites important for overall health in the human gut microbiome.
- Other: The “other” category includes a diverse range of microbes that contribute to various functions within the gut. These include various types of bacteria including TM7 (oral bacteria), cyanobacteria, acidobacteria, and verrucomicrobiota.
Dynamic Composition of the Microbiome
Interestingly, the proportions of these six microbe populations vary throughout the gastrointestinal tract.
|Section of Gut Microbiome
|Exponential Microbial Population (CFU/ml)
|Duodenum (Small Intestine)
|Jejunum (Small Intestine)
|Ileum (Small Intestine)
The presence, absence, and dominance of each of these microbes is based on their functionality. For example, in the mouth and esophagus, the microbial populations are relatively low. But the dominant microbe found here, Firmicutes, helps begin the process of breaking down sugars and carbohydrates from ingested food.
Meanwhile, the stomach is a harsh environment, with low pH levels that limit microbial growth. A small population of microbes is still present here.
The microbial population becomes more diverse in the small intestine. Here, Firmicutes and Actinomycetota are the dominant species, but Bacteroides and other microbes begin to make up a more substantial portion of the population.
The microbial population further diversifies in the large intestine, with Bacteroides and other microbes making up the majority of the population.
These proportions of bacteria in the gut microbiome represent the typical ratios for the average human body. But they can be influenced by factors including medical history, diet, age, and even geographical location.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The six microbe populations have effects way outside the gastrointestinal tract too.
The Gut-Brain Axis is a two-way link between the gut and the brain. This connection involves physical pathways and various forms of communication, including hormones, metabolism, and immunity.
Through these connections, the gut sends the brain signals when troubled. A distressed stomach or intestine is linked to anxiety, stress, depression, and other mental health issues. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is another example of a disease influenced by the gut microbiome.
At the same time, the brain also signals the gut when distressed. Scientists believe that emotions like anger, anxiety, sadness, and happiness trigger gut issues.
Towards a Healthy Gut
The gut is known as our body’s “second brain” and more and more people are now paying close attention to their gut health.
Over the last two decades, we’ve gained a better understanding of how the microbiome affects human health. One example of this is the gut-brain axis. Changes in the microbiome have also been connected to various diseases.
Understanding this microbiome has opened up new opportunities in medicine and healthcare, as the knowledge of the role of every microbe could also uncover new treatments for illnesses linked to it.
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