Blood carries oxygen from the lungs to all the other tissues in the body and, in turn, carries waste products, predominantly carbon dioxide, back to the lungs where they are released into the air. When oxygen transport fails, a person dies within a few minutes. Food that has been processed by the digestive system into smaller components such as proteins, fats, and carbohydrates is also delivered to the tissues by the blood. These nutrients provide the materials and energy needed by individual cells for metabolism, or the performance of cellular function. Waste products produced during metabolism, such as urea and uric acid, are carried by the blood to the kidneys, where they are transferred from the blood into urine and eliminated from the body. In addition to oxygen and nutrients, blood also transports special chemicals, called hormones, that regulate certain body functions. The movement of these chemicals enables one organ to control the function of another even though the two organs may be located far apart. In this way, the blood acts not just as a means of transportation but also as a communications system.
The blood is more than a pipeline for nutrients and information; it is also responsible for the activities of the immune system, helping fend off infection and fight disease. In addition, blood carries the means for stopping itself from leaking out of the body after an injury. The blood does this by carrying special cells and proteins, known as the coagulation system, that start to form clots within a matter of seconds after injury.
Blood is vital to maintaining a stable body temperature; in humans, body temperature normally fluctuates within a degree of 37.0° C (98.6° F). Heat production and heat loss in various parts of the body are balanced out by heat transfer via the bloodstream. This is accomplished by varying the diameter of blood vessels in the skin. When a person becomes overheated, the vessels dilate and an increased volume of blood flows through the skin. Heat dissipates through the skin, effectively lowering the body temperature. The increased flow of blood in the skin makes the skin appear pink or flushed. When a person is cold, the skin may become pale as the vessels narrow, diverting blood from the skin and reducing heat loss.