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Definition: human body from Philip's Encyclopedia

Physical structure of a human. It consists of water, protein and other organic compounds, and some minerals. The skeleton consists of more than 200 bones, sheathed in voluntary muscle to enable movement. A skull surrounds the large brain. The body is fuelled by nutrients absorbed from the digestive system and oxygen from the lungs, which the circulatory system pumps around the body by Metabolic wastes are eliminated mainly by excretion. Sexual reproduction enables continuation of the species. The nervous system, working closely with the endocrine system, exerts overall control. A protective layer of skin covers the body's surface.

Summary Article: human body
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Physical structure of the human being. It develops from the single cell of the fertilized ovum, is born at 40 weeks, and usually reaches sexual maturity between 11 and 18 years of age. The bony framework (skeleton) consists of more than 200 bones, over half of which are in the hands and feet. Bones are held together by joints, some of which allow movement. The circulatory system supplies muscles and organs with blood, which provides oxygen and food and removes carbon dioxide and other waste products. Body functions are controlled by the nervous system and hormones. In the upper part of the trunk is the thorax, which contains the lungs and heart. Below this is the abdomen, containing the digestive system (stomach and intestines); the liver, spleen, and pancreas; the urinary system (kidneys, ureters, and bladder); and, in women, the reproductive organs (ovaries, uterus, and vagina). In men, the prostate gland and seminal vesicles only of the reproductive system are situated in the abdomen, the testes being in the scrotum, which, with the penis, is suspended in front of and below the abdomen. The bladder empties through a small channel (urethra); in the female this opens in the upper end of the vulval cleft, which also contains the opening of the vagina, or birth canal; in the male, the urethra is continued into the penis. In both sexes, the lower bowel terminates in the anus, a ring of strong muscle situated between the buttocks.

Skeleton The skull is mounted on the spinal column, or spine, a chain of 24 vertebrae. The ribs, 12 on each side, are articulated to the spinal column behind, and the upper seven meet the breastbone (sternum) in front. The lower end of the spine rests on the pelvic girdle, composed of the triangular sacrum, to which are attached the hipbones (ilia), which are fused in front. Below the sacrum is the tailbone (coccyx). The shoulder blades (scapulae) are held in place behind the upper ribs by muscles, and connected in front to the breastbone by the two collarbones (clavicles).

Each shoulder blade carries a cup (glenoid cavity) into which fits the upper end of the armbone (humerus). This articulates below with the two forearm bones (radius and ulna). These are articulated at the wrist (carpals) to the bones of the hand (metacarpals and phalanges). The upper end of each thighbone (femur) fits into a depression (acetabulum) in the hipbone; its lower end is articulated at the knee to the shinbone (tibia) and calf bone (fibula), which are articulated at the ankle (tarsals) to the bones of the foot (metatarsals and phalanges). At a moving joint, the end of each bone is formed of tough, smooth cartilage, lubricated by synovial fluid. Points of special stress are reinforced by bands of fibrous tissue (ligaments).

Muscles are bundles of fibres wrapped in thin, tough layers of connective tissue (fascia); these are usually prolonged at the ends into strong, white cords (tendons, sinews) or sheets (aponeuroses), which connect the muscles to bones and organs, and by way of which the muscles do their work. Membranes of connective tissue also enfold the organs and line the interior cavities of the body. The thorax has a stout muscular floor, the diaphragm, which expands and contracts the lungs in the act of breathing.

The blood vessels of the circulatory system, branching into multitudes of very fine tubes (capillaries), supply all parts of the muscles and organs with blood, which carries oxygen and food necessary for life. The food passes out of the blood to the cells in a clear fluid (lymph); this is returned with waste matter through a system of lymphatic vessels that converge into collecting ducts that drain into large veins in the region of the lower neck. Capillaries join together to form veins which return blood, depleted of oxygen, to the heart.

A finely branching nervous system regulates the function of the muscles and organs, and makes their needs known to the controlling centres in the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord. The inner spaces of the brain and the cord contain cerebrospinal fluid. The body processes are regulated both by the nervous system and by hormones secreted by the endocrine glands. Cavities of the body that open onto the surface are coated with mucous membranes, which secrete a lubricating fluid (mucus).

The exterior surface of the body is covered with skin. Within the skin are the sebaceous glands, which secrete sebum, an oily fluid that makes the skin soft and pliable, and the sweat glands, which secrete water and various salts. From the skin grow hairs, chiefly on the head, in the armpits, and around the sexual organs; and nails shielding the tips of the fingers and toes; both hair and nails are modifications of skin tissue. The skin also contains nerve receptors for sensations of touch, pain, heat, and cold.

The human digestive system is nonspecialized and can break down a wide variety of foodstuffs. Food is mixed with saliva in the mouth by chewing and is swallowed. It enters the stomach, where it is gently churned for some time and mixed with acidic gastric juice. It then passes into the small intestine. In the first part of this, the duodenum, it is broken down further by the juice of the pancreas and duodenal glands, and mixed with bile from the liver, which splits up the fat. The jejunum and ileum continue the work of digestion and absorb most of the nutritive substances from the food. The large intestine completes the process, reabsorbing water into the body, and ejecting the useless residue as faeces.

The body, to be healthy, must maintain water and various salts in the right proportions; the process is called osmoregulation. The blood is filtered in the two kidneys, which remove excess water, salts, and metabolic wastes. Together these form urine, which has a yellow pigment derived from bile, and passes down through two fine tubes (ureters) into the bladder, a reservoir from which the urine is emptied at intervals (micturition) through the urethra. Heat is constantly generated by the combustion of food in the muscles and glands, and by the activity of nerve cells and fibres. It is dissipated through the skin by conduction and evaporation of sweat, through the lungs in the expired air, and in other excreted substances. Average body temperature is about 38°C/100°F (37°C/98.4°F in the mouth).


Bones of the Body

Brainpop – Health

Contortion Home Page

Human Anatomy Online

Human Body

List of Muscles

Major Joints


human body: organs

human body: skeleton


how digestion works

how joints work

how muscles work

how reflexes work

how the ear works

how the eye works

how the kidney works

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