Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

Sponsored by the American Physiological Society

Historical perspectives on homeostasis

In a new article published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, Dr. David S. Goldstein (National Institutes of Health) presents an elegant historical perspective on homeostasis. Walter B. Cannon (1871-1945) was a physiologist at Harvard Medical School who is credited with coining the term “homeostasis” to describe how the body attempts to regulate itself to stay healthy. The ability for the body to regulate the internal environment was described earlier by Claude Bernard (1813-1878).

In this article, Dr. Goldstein argues that the field of integrative physiology concerns itself with theories that can be tested or observed whereas systems physiology concerns itself with big data sets (i.e. -omics research) that can be used to build models of how various systems in the body interact to regulate pathways.

The author does an excellent job explaining the evolutionary and historical perspectives of homeostatic mechanisms, which according to Irwin J. Kopin, consist of three main mechanisms:

  1. Negative feedback (ex: body temperature decreases and processes are turned on to increase body temperature such as shivering to generate heat). This process relies on the body’s ability to detect errors and respond to them. Other examples include how our bodies regulate pH, glucose concentrations, etc.
  2. Feedforward regulation – anticipating changes and responding to them (releasing digestive enzymes in response to seeing foods to prepare the stomach for a meal). This type of regulatory mechanism can be driven by instinct, although it could also be learned or imprinted.

    Is your stomach growling yet?

  3. Buffering – this term refers to reducing the severity of a disturbance to homeostasis. For example, hair can be one way to help prevent heat loss from the body. Behavioral responses can also buffer drops in environmental temperatures by encouraging animals to find shelter, hibernate, migrate or put on extra layers of clothing.

Penguin colony huddling for warmth. Image from Mtpaley via Wikipedia. –


Goldstein DS. How does homeostasis happen? Integrative physiological, systems biological, and evolutionary perspectives. American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. 316(4): 301-317, 2019.

Categories: Comparative Physiology, Nature's Solutions, Stress

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s