The Four Elements that Make Your Body: Air and Fire



Within the body, air (oxygen) is the basis for all energy transfer reactions. As we breathe air, our bodies use oxygen from the air to create energy, build cells, and maintain healthy body functions.

In human physiology, respiration is the transport of oxygen from clean air to tissue cells, and the transport of carbon dioxide, in the opposite direction. Carbon dioxide can prevent hemoglobin from carrying oxygen around the body, leading to hypoxia, which can lead to organ failure, brain damage, and death.

We breathe with the help of our diaphragm and other muscles in our chest and abdomen; these muscles literally change the space and pressure inside our body cavity to accommodate breathing. When the diaphragm pulls down, it makes room for the lungs to expand; the lungs thus get bigger with air, pushing the diaphragm down, which lowers the internal air pressure. When the diaphragm relaxes, it moves up and the cavity inside the body gets smaller; muscles then squeeze the rib cage and the lungs begin to collapse as the air is pushed up and outside the body while exhaling.


Within our bodies, fire (energy) is most manifested in the process of nourishment, in which foods are transformed into the energy needed by the body; in turn, this energy enables the body and mind to function properly. Fire, or energy, binds the atoms together; it converts food to fat (stored energy) and muscle.

Fire transforms food into energy through a process known as digestion, which allows the body to gain nutrients and energy it needs from the food you eat. Even before you eat, once you smell a tasty food or see it, digestion begins. Saliva begins to form, so when you eat, this enzyme starts the digestion of starch in the food into small particles, making the food soft and easy to swallow. The food then travels down the esophagus and into the stomach.

The stomach is your body’s mechanical and chemical food processor; it is a pouch composed of sheets of muscles that encircle the stomach in different directions. When they contract, the stomach mixes the soft food. The lining of the stomach secretes gastric juices; including hydrochloric acid, which dissolves the food; a protein-splitting enzyme known as pepsin; and a fat-digesting enzyme known as lipase.

For comfortable digestion, the stomach lining should secrete just the right amount of acid at the right time; no more or less. If the lining pours out acid when the stomach is empty, the acid irritates the stomach lining leading to uncomfortable sensations, or indigestion.

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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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