Bone Marrow Is Vital for Our Well-Being
When it stops working properly, it can lead to a few calamitous illnesses.
Inside some bones in the body are cavities called medullary. These cavities house the soft and gelatinous substance bone marrow. There are two types: Myeloid tissue is commonly known as red bone marrow. Yellow bone marrow is a fatty tissue that is yellow and hence the name. Both types contain capillaries and blood vessels. Bone marrow performs several functions including the storing of iron.
Bone marrow begins to first form in the clavicle during the fetus stage of development. Because of a continuing need for new blood formation, it is the only type of marrow in the body up to about the age of seven. Yellow marrow gradually replaces some of red marrow. In an adult body, there are approximately six pounds of marrow with, half of it red and the other half yellow.
The highest density of red marrow is in the skull, vertebrae, hips, breastbone, ribs, and at the ends of the humerus (arm), femur (leg), and tibia (leg) bones. Yellow marrow is found where red marrow is depleted, such as in the central cavities of long and spongy (cancellous) bone.
Red Bone Marrow
A critical function of red marrow is the production of red blood cells. Red blood cells are iron-rich and deliver oxygen to all parts of the body. Importantly, the red blood cells in red marrow contain undifferentiated stem cells.
These stem cells produce new blood cells that can mature into any cell type in the body. They can self-renew as well as produce offspring that can differentiate into different types of blood cells. Once they mature, they pass into the circulatory system going where needed.
Typically, hemocytes' (blood cells) lifespan is measured in days to several weeks, meaning they are continuously replaced. Self-renewing stem cells are vital for a healthy immune response. The ability to regenerate is crucial for processes like wound healing. These two jobs are what makes stem cell production the most critical function of red marrow.
Additionally, the use of stem cells to treat some forms of leukemia and possibly treat other diseases has made red blood cells from bone marrow one of the most intensively scientifically researched topics and breakthroughs in modern medicine.
Yellow Bone Marrow
Not to be outranked or outdone by red bone marrow, yellow marrow also plays an essential role in the body. It produces cartilage, bone, fat, and has some white blood cells. Its significant feat is its role in emergencies: Yellow marrow generates energy, especially in extreme hunger situations. Because of its ability to convert to red bone marrow, it also acts as a blood reserve for when there is severe blood loss.
When Bone Marrow Stops Functioning
Several dangerous medical conditions arise when marrow stops producing blood cells or there is an abnormality. The three main conditions are aplastic anemia, leukemia, and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). While these conditions are different, they share some of the same symptoms, such as:
- Anemia. Signs of anemia are extreme fatigue, bruising, bleeding, and pale skin.
- Swelling of Internal Organs. The kidneys, spleen, testicles, and kidneys may enlarge in some people.
- Bone Pain. Headaches and joint pain can also accompany bone pain.
- Recurrent Infections. Lymph glands may also become swollen.
Maintaining Healthy Bone Marrow
Like the rest of the body, marrow needs a variety of nutrients to keep it functioning healthily. A few essential ones are:
- Iron is required to manufacture new red blood cells. Iron-rich foods are tofu, quinoa, spinach, broccoli, legumes (chickpeas, peas, lentils, beans), pumpkin seeds, shellfish, red meat, and turkey.
- Vitamin A is necessary for the formation and maturity of stem cells. Cod liver oil, eggs, cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes are foods that contain carotene, a precursor to vitamin A.
- Vitamin B 12 and folic acid work in tandem to stimulate enzymes to produce bone marrow cells. Folic acid (a type of vitamin B also known as folate) also assists in dividing and reproducing bone marrow cells. Some foods like bread are fortified with folic acid. Folate is naturally occurring in dark green leafy vegetables, orange juice, legumes, peanuts, wheat germ, rice, eggs, shellfish, and others.
Bone marrow health is often overlooked; it gets the most attention for its role in stem cell research and promise for healing many diseases. However, to stay healthy, especially as we age, it's vital to "feed" marrow nutrients that keep it functioning.
Grigorian, Melina and Hartenstein, Volker. Hematopoiesis and Hematopoietic Organs in Arthropods (March 2013). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3873168/.
Haris, Nadia. Foods That Strengthen Bone Marrow. Retrieved from https://www.livestrong.com/article/480567-foods-that-strengthen-bone-marrow/.
Roth, Erica. Signs and Symptoms of Bone Marrow Disease. Retrieved from https://www.livestrong.com/article/22162-signs-symptoms-bone-marrow/.
Spritzler, Franziska, RD. CDE. 11 Healthy Foods That Are Very High in Iron (July 18, 2018). Retrieved fromhttps://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-healthy-iron-rich-foods
Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia. Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/adult/hematology_and_blood_disorders/vitamin_b12_deficiency_anemia_85,P00080.
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