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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain the importance of water in the body
  • Contrast the composition of the intracellular fluid with that of the extracellular fluid
  • Explain the importance of protein channels in the movement of solutes
  • Identify the causes and symptoms of edema

The chemical reactions of life take place in aqueous solutions. The dissolved substances in a solution are called solutes. In the human body, solutes vary in different parts of the body, but may include proteins—including those that transport lipids, carbohydrates, and, very importantly, electrolytes. Often in medicine, a mineral dissociated from a salt that carries an electrical charge (an ion) is called and electrolyte. For instance, sodium ions (Na + ) and chloride ions (Cl - ) are often referred to as electrolytes.

In the body, water moves through semi-permeable membranes of cells and from one compartment of the body to another by a process called osmosis. Osmosis is basically the diffusion of water from regions of higher concentration to regions of lower concentration, along an osmotic gradient across a semi-permeable membrane. As a result, water will move into and out of cells and tissues, depending on the relative concentrations of the water and solutes found there. An appropriate balance of solutes inside and outside of cells must be maintained to ensure normal function.

Body water content

Human beings are mostly water, ranging from about 75 percent of body mass in infants to about 50–60 percent in adult men and women, to as low as 45 percent in old age. The percent of body water changes with development, because the proportions of the body given over to each organ and to muscles, fat, bone, and other tissues change from infancy to adulthood ( [link] ). Your brain and kidneys have the highest proportions of water, which composes 80–85 percent of their masses. In contrast, teeth have the lowest proportion of water, at 8–10 percent.

Water content of the body’s organs and tissues

This illustration shows a silhouette of a human body  with various organs highlighted. The percent of water contained in each organ is given. The brain typically contains 80% to 85% water, teeth contain 8% to 10% water, a single lung contains 75% to 80% water, the heart contains 75% to 80% water, the bones contain 20% to 25% water, the liver contains 70% to 75% water, the kidneys contain 80% to 85% water, the skin contains 70% to 75% water and the muscles also contain 70% to 75% water.
Water content varies in different body organs and tissues, from as little as 8 percent in the teeth to as much as 85 percent in the brain.

Fluid compartments

Body fluids can be discussed in terms of their specific fluid compartment    , a location that is largely separate from another compartment by some form of a physical barrier. The intracellular fluid (ICF)    compartment is the system that includes all fluid enclosed in cells by their plasma membranes. Extracellular fluid (ECF) surrounds all cells in the body. Extracellular fluid has two primary constituents: the fluid component of the blood (called plasma) and the interstitial fluid (IF)    that surrounds all cells not in the blood ( [link] ).

Fluid compartments in the human body

This diagram shows a small blood vessel surrounded by several body cells. The fluid between the body cells is the interstitial fluid (IF), which is a type of extracellular fluid (ECF). The fluid in the blood vessel is also an example of extracellular fluid. The fluid in the cytoplasm of each body cell is intracellular fluid, or ICF.
The intracellular fluid (ICF) is the fluid within cells. The interstitial fluid (IF) is part of the extracellular fluid (ECF) between the cells. Blood plasma is the second part of the ECF. Materials travel between cells and the plasma in capillaries through the IF.

Intracellular fluid

The ICF lies within cells and is the principal component of the cytosol/cytoplasm. The ICF makes up about 60 percent of the total water in the human body, and in an average-size adult male, the ICF accounts for about 25 liters (seven gallons) of fluid ( [link] ). This fluid volume tends to be very stable, because the amount of water in living cells is closely regulated. If the amount of water inside a cell falls to a value that is too low, the cytosol becomes too concentrated with solutes to carry on normal cellular activities; if too much water enters a cell, the cell may burst and be destroyed.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology: energy, maintenance and environmental exchange. OpenStax CNX. Aug 21, 2014 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11701/1.1
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