How Much Blood Is in the Human Body?

iStock
iStock

Blood. The very word can prompt syncope (fainting) in hemophobics, or those affected with an irrational fear of the sight of the stuff. Then again, it might be perfectly rational: Blood carries nutrients in our bodies, supports us with oxygen, and protects against infection. Keeping it inside our veins and arteries is ideal, and losing it would understandably provoke some anxiety.

So how much blood does an average adult carry around? And how much can they afford to lose?

For a helpful visual on the former, try heading to the dairy aisle of the grocery store and picking up a gallon of milk. That’s roughly how much blood you’re harboring at any given moment.

Specifically, it’s more like 1.2 to 1.5 gallons, according to Dr. Daniel Landau, a hematologist and oncologist who spoke with LiveScience in 2016. For some adults, that equates to about eight to 10 percent of their body weight; that total blood volume remains stable from roughly the age of 6 on. Babies carry far less blood—about a cup, or the same as your average cat.

Lose some of that and your body begins to notice the absence. That 1.2 to 1.5 gallons is equivalent to 4.5 to 5.5 liters: Blood donors typically give about one pint, or a half-liter, at a time without any serious effects. But if an injury or other calamity prompts you to lose three to four pints, you’re at a Class 3 hemorrhage and a blood transfusion is in order. More than that and your heart can’t maintain blood pressure. (The reason we turn pale when losing blood is because the body is attempting to use vasoconstriction to divert what’s left to critical organs.)

A 200-pound individual will carry far more blood than a 100-pound person and could conceivably lose more of it without coming closer to death. However, researchers have cautioned that blood volume is not totally related to body weight and can also be influenced by body composition. If a person has more fat than lean tissue, or vice versa, it will affect the vascular system.

Using an online blood volume calculator, it’s possible that André the Giant, who weighed about 525 pounds, toted around 21 liters of blood—or four times the amount a normal person would have, not accounting for varying body fat percentages. That's impressive, but André was not among the largest of mammals, no matter what his promoters may have claimed. Consider instead that a blue whale’s 400-pound heart pumps 220 liters through its massive frame, or roughly 58 gallons.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

What's the Difference Between Straw and Hay?

iStock.com/dusipuffi
iStock.com/dusipuffi

The words straw and hay are often used interchangeably, and it's easy to see why: They're both dry, grassy, and easy to find on farms in the fall. But the two terms actual describe different materials, and once you know what to look for, it's easy to tell the difference between them.

Hay refers to grasses and some legumes such as alfalfa that are grown for use as animal feed. The full plant is harvested—including the heads, leaves, and stems—dried, and typically stored in bales. Hay is what livestock like cattle eat when there isn't enough pasture to go around, or when the weather gets too cold for them to graze. The baled hay most non-farmers are familiar with is dry and yellow, but high-quality hay has more of a greenish hue.

The biggest difference between straw and hay is that straw is the byproduct of crops, not the crop itself. When a plant, such as wheat or barley, has been stripped of its seeds or grains, the stalk is sometimes saved and dried to make straw. This part of the plant is lacking in nutrients, which means it doesn't make great animal fodder. But farmers have found other uses for the material throughout history: It what's used to weave baskets, thatch roofs, and stuff mattresses.

Today, straw is commonly used to decorate pumpkin-picking farms. It's easy to identify (if it's being used in a way that would be wasteful if it were food, chances are it's straw), but even the farms themselves can confuse the two terms. Every hayride you've ever taken, for example, was most likely a straw-ride.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

How and Why Did Silent Letters Emerge in English?

iStock/Bychykhin_Olexandr
iStock/Bychykhin_Olexandr

Kory Stamper:

The easy answer is “"because English can’t leave well enough alone."

When we first started speaking English around 600 AD, it was totally phonetic: every letter had a sound, and we sounded every letter in a word. But English—and England itself—were influenced quite a bit by the French, who conquered the island in 1066 and held it for a long time. And then later by Dutch and Flemish printers, who were basically the main publishers in England for a solid two centuries, and then by further trading contact with just about every continent on the planet. And while we’re shaking hands and stealing language from every single people-group we meet, different parts of the language started changing at uneven rates.

By the 1400s, English started to lose its phonetic-ness: the way we articulated vowels in words like “loud” changed slowly but dramatically, and that had an effect on the rest of the word. (This is called “The Great Vowel Shift,” and it took place over a few hundred years.) Somewhere in the middle of the GVS, though, English spelling became fixed primarily because of the printing press and the easy distribution/availability of printed materials. In short: we have silent letters because the spelling of words stopped changing to match their pronunciations.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER