Plasma Membrane

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Until the advent of the electron microscope, scientists could not fully appreciate the complexity of cytoplasmic organization. Electron microscopy showed that a plasma membrane surrounds every cell. We now know that the plasma membrane of the cell is a highly differentiated structure containing specific proteins that help control the intercellular functional environment and interact with specific molecules to influence the cell’s behavior.

The Plasma Membrane

Pathology Prevention’s infusions depend on the understanding of this intercellular functionality to cause effects within the cell, tissues, and organs to produce pathology prevention actions. Most of the events of cell life take place outside the nucleus – in the cytosol or within the many subcellular compartments, such as organelles and small vesicles.

Each of these subcellular compartments as well as the cell itself is surrounded by a phospholipid bilayer membrane. Embedded in the membrane and attached to its surfaces are proteins, which catalyze reactions, control the passage of certain substances into and out of the cell and its compartments, anchor the cytoskeleton, and bind the cell to other cells or to the many fibers in the extracellular matrix. Because the plasma (or cell surface) membrane is so important to the structure and function of a cell, and the cell’s response to herbal treatment, the membrane is the first topic of our discussion of cellular physiology in context of herbal pathology prevention efforts.

Membrane-bound enzymes catalyze herbal and cellular reactions that would occur with difficulty in an aqueous environment. Other proteins in the plasma membrane provide anchors for cytoskeletal fibers or for compounds of the extracellular matrix that give the cell its shape. Still other proteins bind signaling molecules, provide a passageway across the membrane for certain molecules, or regulate the fusion of the membrane with others in the cell.

In addition, a multitude of internal membrane structures in each eukaryotic cell enclose separate compartments that perform specialized tasks: photosynthesis in chloroplast, oxidative phosphorylation in the mitochondrion, degradation of macromolecules in the lysosome, and so on. Prokaryotes generally lack internal membranes; however, membrane vesicles do catalyze light absorption and other initial steps of photosynthesis in photosynthetic bacteria. Far from being a mere bag of soluble components, we now comprehend the cell as a highly organized entity with many functional and responsive sub-compartments.

All membranes, regardless of their source, contain proteins as well as lipids. The protein-lipid ratio varies enormously: the inner mitochondrial membrane is 76% protein; the myelin membrane only 18%. The protein content of myelin is low because it electrically insulates the nerve cell from its environment. The Health Guardian manipulates this environmental ratio using herbal infusions which increase or decrease proteins and/or lipids in the environment, thus strengthening or weakening electric insulation of the nerve.

Many membranes contain cholesterol; it is especially abundant in the plasma membrane of mammalian cells but is absent from most prokaryotic cells. As much as 30%-50% of lipids in plant plasma membranes are steroids (cholesterol and other steroids unique to plants). These steroids can be utilized in herbal infusions to accomplish various types of medical actions such as anti-inflammation, growth restriction, and increased metabolism.

Carbohydrates are an important constituent of many membranes. They are bound either to proteins as constituents of glycoproteins or to lipids as constituents of glycolipids. Both glycoproteins and glycolipids are especially abundant in the plasma membranes of eukaryotic cells but are absent from inner mitochondrial membrane, the chloroplast lamellae, and several other intracellular membranes. Bound carbohydrates increase the hydrophilic character of lipids and proteins and help to stabilize many membrane protein structures. In mammals, certain glycolipids form blood-group antigens.

This understanding of cell membranes illustrates that the fundamental physical nature of herbal medicine is chemical, as is the fundamental physical nature of the human body. We often read about constituents of plants as “active ingredients.” However, we contend at Pathology Prevention, the effects of a plant can rarely be attributed to a single constituent. More often, effects are due to the various ways in which a whole plant complex interacts with the human body.

All organisms possess similar metabolic pathways for synthesis and use of certain essential chemicals: sugars, amino acids, common fatty acids, nucleotides, and the polymers derived from them (including polysaccharides, proteins, lipids, RNA, and DNA). This is primary metabolism, and these compounds, which are essential for survival and well-being of the organism, are primary metabolites.

The primary metabolites are, of course, essential for health, as they form the basis of the human diet. However, there are times when no clear division exists between primary and secondary metabolites. This is the case with the fundamentally important primary metabolites known as carbohydrates and lipids.

An understanding of other phytochemicals should focus on the three main secondary groups of secondary metabolites: terpenes, polyphenols, and alkaloids. These are pivotal to any chemistry-based understanding of herbal activity. Bear in mind, however, that it is not always possible to identify the chemical mechanisms that explain the actions of herbs. This should not be interpreted to mean that the herbs in question do not work, but rather implies a lack of research. In turn, lack of research on a plant usually implies that no one has received a research grant.


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