Elements and Buffer Systems Term Paper

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Buffer Systems in the Body

Understanding Buffer Systems in the Body

The body of an adult human consists approximately 60% water. Water within the body is divided into that which is contained within cellular walls and that which is located outside of the cellular walls. Water located inside of the cellular walls is referred to as intercellular fluid (ICF) and extracellular fluid (ECF). It is vital that this fluid maintain the proper pH in order to function properly. The body has a buffer system designed to make certain that the pH remains in the appropriate range for proper cellular function. This research will explore the buffer systems and their role in maintaining proper body pH.

The normal pH of body fluids ranges from 7.35-7.45. When the pH lies outside of this range it can produce a condition of either acidosis or alkalosis, depending on the direction of the change. A pH below 6.8 or above 7.8 is fatal. Carbonic acid is the most important factor influencing the pH of the ECF. CO2 reacts with water to form carbonic acid. This process releases hydrogen ions. Whether the solution is an acid or a base depends on the number of hydrogen ions.

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Buffers are dissolved compounds that can provide or remove hydrogen ions in order to stabilize a solution. Buffers within the body are typically weak acids or weak bases. There are three major buffer systems within the body. There are protein buffer systems in both the ECF and ICF. The carbonic acid-bicarbonate system is the most important in the ECG. The phosphate buffer system is the most important buffer system in the ICF. In the protein buffer system, amino acids respond to changes in hydrogen ion concentrations. Blood plasma proteins and hemoglobin in red blood cells help to prevent drastic changes in pH. The carbonic acid-bicarbonate system helps to prevent pH changed due to organic acids in the ECF. The Phosphate buffer system is important in preventing pH changes in the intracellular fluid.

Changes in pH

Term Paper on Elements and Buffer Systems Assignment

When changes occur to shift the balance of acid-base systems to a range that is out of the norm it has an effect on several bodily systems. For instance, when changes occur in the respiratory tract, the system may be unable to eliminate all of the CO2 generated by the peripheral tissues. Metabolic acidosis occurs when the body produces an overabundance of metabolic acids, such as lactic acid or ketones. This reaction is the result of kidney damage that impairs the ability of the kidneys to excrete ions. The opposite condition occurs when the pH becomes too alkaline. Metabolic alkalosis occurs when bicarbonate ion concentrations become elevated. Bicarbonate ions interact with hydrogen ion to form carbonic acid. Alkalosis is occurs when H+ ions are reduced drastically.


Sodium is the most abundant cation in the ECF. It is one of the main components to maintaining proper water balance. Sodium effects serum ocmosis, nerve impulse transmission, and regulation of the acid-base balance. Sodium is a component in numerous chemical reactions in many systems in the body. Sodium is regulated by dietary intake and the production of aldersterone.

An excess of sodium, caused by water loss or sodium excess causes a state called hypermatremia. In this condition, plasma sodium levels exceed 145 mcg. There are a number of conditions that can cause excess sodium levels including excess salt intake, hypertonic solutions, excess aldersterone, diabetes insipidus, and water loss. Hyponatremia occurs when sodium levels fall below 135 mcg. This can occur with loss of sodium or net water excess. This can be the result of kidney disease with salt wasting, adrenal insufficiency, GI losses, increased sweating, or the use of diuretics.


Potassium is another important cation in the ECF. It regulates metabolic action necessary for glycogen deposits in liver and skeletal muscle. It also plays an important role in the transmission and conduction of nerve impulses. It is essential for normal cardiac conduction and the contraction of skeletal and smooth muscles. It is regulated by dietary intake and renal excretion. The body conserves potassium poorly. Any condition that increases urine output will have the effect of decreasing serum potassium.

An excess of potassium in the body is generally considered anything above 5.3 mcg in the blood plasma. Cardiac irregularity is the most common symptom, includign bradycardia and other cardiac irregularities. The primary cause of high potassium levels is renal failure. However, this can stem from a number of sources including a bodily fluid volume… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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