Homeostasis is maintained by the respiratory system in two ways: gas exchange and regulation of blood pH. Gas exchange is performed by the lungs by eliminating carbon dioxide, a waste product given off by cellular respiration. As carbon dioxide exits the body, oxygen needed for cellular respiration enters the body through the lungs. ATP, produced by cellular respiration, provides the energy for the body to perform many functions, including nerve conduction and muscle contraction. Lack of oxygen affects brain function, sense of judgment, and a host of other problems.
Gas Exchange Gas exchange in the lungs and in the alveoli is between the alveolar air and the blood in the pulmonary capillaries. This exchange is a result of increased concentration of oxygen, and a decrease of C02
External respiration is the exchange of gas between the air in the alveoli and the blood within the pulmonary capillaries. A normal rate of respiration is 12-25 breaths per minute. In external respiration, gases diffuse in either direction across the walls of the alveoli. Oxygen diffuses from the air into the blood and carbon dioxide diffuses out of the blood into the air. Most of the carbon dioxide is carried to the lungs in plasma as bicarbonate ions (HCO3-).
When blood enters the pulmonary capillaries, the bicarbonate ions and hydrogen ions are converted to carbonic acid ( H2CO3) and then back into carbon dioxide (CO2) and water. This chemical reaction also uses up hydrogen ions. The removal of these ions gives the blood a more neutral pH, allowing hemoglobin to bind up more oxygen.
De-oxygenated blood “blue blood” coming from the pulmonary arteries, generaly has an oxygen partial pressure (pp) of 40 mmHg and CO pp of 45 mmHg.
Oxygenated blood leaving the lungs via the pulmonary veins has a O2 pp of 100 mmHg and CO pp of 40 mmHg. It should be noted that alveolar O2 pp is 105 mmHg, and not 100 mmHg. The reason why pulmonary venous return blood has a lower than expected O2 pp can be explained by “Ventilation Perfusion Mismatch”.
Internal respiration is the exchanging of gases at the cellular level. The Passage Way From the Trachea to the Bronchioles There is a point at the inferior portion of the trachea where it branches into two directions that form the right and left primary bronchus. This point is called the Carina which is the keel-like cartilage plate at the division point. We are now at the Bronchial Tree. It is named so because it has a series of respiratory tubes that branch off into smaller and smaller tubes as they run throughout the lungs.
First the oxygen must diffuse from the alveolus into the capillaries. It is able to do this because the capillaries are permeable to oxygen. After it is in the capillary, about 5% will be dissolved in the blood plasma. The other oxygen will bind to red blood cells. The red blood cells contain hemoglobin that carries oxygen.
Blood with hemoglobin is able to transport 26 times more oxygen than plasma without hemoglobin. Our bodies would have to work much harder pumping more blood to supply our cells with oxygen without the help of hemoglobin. Once it diffuses by osmosis it combines with the hemoglobin to form oxyhemoglobin.
Now the blood carrying oxygen is pumped through the heart to the rest of the body. Oxygen will travel in the blood into arteries, arterioles, and eventually capillaries where it will be very close to body cells. Now with different conditions in temperature and pH (warmer and more acidic than in the lungs), and with pressure being exerted on the cells, the hemoglobin will give up the oxygen where it will diffuse to the cells to be used for cellular respiration, also called aerobic respiration.
Cellular respiration is the process of moving energy from one chemical form (glucose) into another (ATP), since all cells use ATP for all metabolic reactions.
It is in the mitochondria of the cells where oxygen is actually consumed and carbon dioxide produced. Oxygen is produced as it combines with hydrogen ions to form water at the end of the electron transport chain. As cells take apart the carbon molecules from glucose, these get released as carbon dioxide.
Each body cell releases carbon dioxide into nearby capillaries by diffusion, because the level of carbon dioxide is higher in the body cells than in the blood. In the capillaries, some of the carbon dioxide is dissolved in plasma and some is taken by the hemoglobin, but most enters the red blood cells where it binds with water to form carbonic acid. It travels to the capillaries surrounding the lung where a water molecule leaves, causing it to turn back into carbon dioxide. It then enters the lungs where it is exhaled into the atmosphere
Many of us are not aware of the importance of maintaining the acid/base balance of our blood. It is vital to our survival. Normal blood pH is set at 7.4, which is slightly alkaline or “basic”. If the pH of our blood drops below 7.2 or rises above 7.6 then very soon our brains would cease functioning normally and we would be in big trouble.
Blood pH levels below 6.9 or above 7.9 are usually fatal if they last for more than a short time. Another wonder of our amazing bodies is the ability to cope with every pH change – large or small. There are three factors in this process: the lungs, the kidneys and buffers.
So what exactly is pH? pH is the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+). Buffers are molecules which take in or release ions in order to maintain the H+ ion concentration at a certain level. When blood pH is too low and the blood becomes too acidic (acidosis), the presence of too many H+ ions is to blame. Buffers help to soak up those extra H+ ions.
On the other hand, the lack of H+ ions causes the blood to be too basic (alkalosis). In this situation, buffers release H+ ions. Buffers function to maintain the pH of our blood by either donating or grabbing H+ ions as necessary to keep the number of H+ ions floating around the blood at just the right amount.
The most important buffer we have in our bodies is a mixture of carbon dioxide (CO2) and bicarbonate ion (HCO3). CO2 forms carbonic acid (H2CO3) when it dissolves in water and acts as an acid giving up hydrogen ions (H+) when needed. HCO3 is a base and soaks up hydrogen ions (H+) when there are too many of them. In a nutshell, blood pH is determined by a balance between bicarbonate and carbon dioxide.
With this important system our bodies maintain homeostasis. (Note that H2CO3 is Carbonic Acid and HCO3 is Bicarbonate) CO2 + H2O <—> H2CO3 <—> (H+) + HCO 3
• If pH is too high, carbonic acid will donate hydrogen ions (H+) and pH will drop.
• If pH is too low, bicarbonate will bond with hydrogen ions (H+) and pH will rise. Too much CO2 or too little HCO3 in the blood will cause acidosis. The CO2 level is increased when hypoventilation or slow breathing occurs, such as if you have emphysema or pneumonia. Bicarbonate will be lowered by ketoacidosis, a condition caused by excess fat metabolism (diabetes mellitus).
Too much HCO3 or too little CO2 in the blood will cause alkalosis. This condition is less common than acidosis. CO2 can be lowered by hyperventilation.
So, in summary, if you are going into respiratory acidosis the above equation will move to the right. The body’s H+ and CO2 levels will rise and the pH will drop. To counteract this the body will breathe more and release H+. In contrast, if you are going into respiratory alkalosis the equation will move to the left. The body’s H+ and CO2 levels will fall and the pH will rise. So the body will try to breathe less to release HCO3. You can think of it like a leak in a pipe: where ever there is a leak, the body will “fill the hole”.