The camel is a mighty animal and was historically used for transportation in desert lands; thus, it earned the name “the ship of the desert.” Interestingly, a camel’s gait also resembles the rolling motion of a ship. A camel moves both its legs at the same time on one side of its body. They can travel great distances without needing food or water – from anywhere between a week to a month. . A number of unique properties allow them such endurance. They store their water and energy sources in their humps. Some camels have one (Dromedary) hump and others have two (Bactrian camels). Baby camels are actually born without a hump.
Humps store fat and also protect camels’ other tissues from heating due to sun light. It has also been reported that camels’ coats insulate them from heat by reflecting sunlight. This extra fat tissue (about 10-15 kg) provides not only energy in long desert journeys but also water through a biochemical process which leads to the production water molecules (1,111 g of water per 1,000 g of fat converted). It is also noteworthy that sparing a specific part of the body for storing fat and refraining from storage in other tissues provides decreased fat density, thus lessening heat retention due to fat.
Water is scarce in the desert and needs to be stored in large amounts when available. Amazingly, camels can drink up to 150-200 liters of water at once, and yet, after three days, there is no sign of water in their stomachs. Drinking so much water in such a short time could be a problem; this would be like a human drinking 20-40 liters of water in 10 minutes, which would induce water intoxication. The oval shape of camel’s red blood cells, and their ability to swell until double in volume provides plasticity in this situation.
Camels can lose up to 25% of their bodily fluids without showing signs of dehydration. This provides an extra durability against long-term water shortage. For comparison, most mammals can only withstand about 3-4% dehydration; further water loss might lead to cardiac failure due to thickened blood. Another protective property given to camels that allows decreased water loss is that they drop feces that are so dry they can be used as a fuel. For comparison, a dromedary camel loses 2.5 liters of water daily through feces (about just 40-60% water) while cattle lose 20-40 liters.
Camels also regulate sweating in a unique way. Their body temperature does not need to be constant; it can move between 34 and 41 degrees centigrade. They don’t sweat until it is over 40 degrees. These regulations allow them to preserve approximately 5 liters of water per day. A camel’s kidney function is also tightly regulated according to the availability of water. If they don’t drink water for days, urine production is limited to approximately 500g. On the other hand, if water is abundant it could go up to 7 liters. This urine is unusually thick, too – it resembles syrup. Remarkably, camels never run, which would increase transpiration; instead they just amble quickly.
However, dehydration can be still an issue, which will negatively affect the flow of red blood cells. Remarkably, camels have oval red blood cells, which better resist clumping when compared to round, human red blood cells. There are no other mammals with oval red blood cells.
Food is another problem for animals living in the desert, especially for big ones like camels. Interestingly, camels have split lips, which allow them to graze easily. They can eat thorny twigs without any injury. Eating green plants also provide the moisture that they need.
Sand is often a problem, especially during sand storms. Remarkably, camels are equipped with systems that allow them to close theirs nostrils to get protection against wind and sand. In addition, camels have two layers of thick eyelashes, which provide additional protection from the dust. The specific shape of their nostrils allows them to preserve vapor and allows returning it to the body.
Traveling over sand is difficult. Camels are created in a way that allows their four legs to kick in all directions. Remarkably, Camels are equipped with paddy hoofs and two toes to protect them from sinking in the sand and burning of the hot sand. In addition, they have long legs, which keep them further from the hot ground.
Though the modern world seems to have replaced them as a major mode of transportation, they are still widely used in areas such as North Africa.
It seems likely many more remarkable discoveries about camels are on the horizon. Medical researchers are studying how camels function – because these amazing animals might contain a secret which could save human lives.
Link between excess body fat and cancer
It is obvious that camels undergo a rapid cycle of fat storage and destruction. They store large amounts of fat – up to 15 kg. The correlation between excess body fat and various cancers in humans has long been known. For instance, a WCRF report recommended maintaining a BMI of 20-25%, and claimed it as one of the key factors can prevent cancer. However, a connection between obesity and cancer at the molecular level remains largely unknown. Intriguingly, a recent study performed at UT Southwestern Medical Center by Dr. Scherer and his colleagues shows how fat cells induce cancer cells to thrive in the breast, or fatty livers.
They showed that fat cells allow the growth of tumors via the secretion of a variety of extracellular factors. One of the fat cells derived extracellular factor, which is found abundantly in unhealthy fat tissue, is endotrophin. What endotrophin does is cause induction of blood vessels, which feeds tumors; as we gain weight, this increases the chance of getting cancer. The inhibition of endotrophin by antibodies in mice with breast cancer had a remarkable reduction on tumor growth and prevented metastasis to other tissues.
Well, if fat is bad and could increase the chance of cancer, and camels store and destroy fat as a survival mechanism, then how do camels manage the increased risk of cancer? Do they also have another remarkable property that lies on the horizon to be discovered? It’s probable there is a mechanism in camels that protects them from such adverse effects of excess fat. If so, how can we benefit from it to solve one of the biggest hurdles to human health? Some researchers might be close to answering these questions.
An interesting study, started back in 1967 by Dr. Burzynski and colleagues, examined the peptides in the urine samples of healthy and cancerous patients. They have found that cancer patients lacked a significant content of peptides in their urine. This finding led to the hypothesis that there might be a protective mechanism against the formation of cancer in the body through peptides. They identified a specific group of peptides found in the urine, later named Antineoplastons that show anti-cancer properties. A treatment scheme was developed through balancing the antineoplaston deficiency in cancer patients to control the abnormal cellular growth. They have tested both in laboratory and on the various cancer patients, and demonstrated some degree of response, albeit with excessive criticism from the scientific community. The mechanism of action of antineoplaston is proposed as functioning as a molecular switch; this activates tumor suppressors and inactivates oncogenes (drivers of cancer formation). Dr. Burzynski, in his clinic at Houston, TX, is still providing treatments to cancer patients with late stages of cancer using Antineoplastons, and claiming that there are survivals with his approach.
The use of compounds identified in the urine could be considered as a kind of urine therapy, which is used as an alternative treatment to cancer that has been historically practiced for different purposes. This reminds me of the prescription of some Bedouins, who got sick when they came to city. They suggested drinking the milk and urine of freely grazing camels at the city’s outskirts. It has been said that they drank this concoction and grew healthy again. This incidence and historical use of urine therapy suggests that camel’s milk and urine could have unique substances that might be effective in the treatment of diseases, maybe even of cancer. An interesting point here is that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, specifically ordered to drink from animals that are freely gazing, which is also mentioned in the Qur’an, such as in the miracle of the Prophet Salih with the she-camel about which his community was tried: “[S]o leave her to feed in God’s earth” (11:64). This points to not only the consumption of products from freely grazing animals, which is known to affect their nutrition levels and taste, but also to their increased therapeutic potential.
The Holy Qur’an calls for reflection on the camel specifically. I am little bit disappointed that the Houston Zoo does not have such a monumental animal. Contemplation on the camel provides various lessons on the understanding the Maker and Owner of the worlds and living beings, and the superior techniques used in the makeup of animals that live in the harsh conditions of deserts.
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• Jiyoung Park and Philipp E. Scherer. Adipocyte-derived endotrophin promotes malignant tumor progression. J Clin Invest. 2012;122(11):4243–4256. doi:10.1172/JCI63930.
• Stanislaw R. Burzynski. The present state of antineoplaston research. Integr Cancer Ther. 2004 Mar;3(1):47-58.
• Urine Therapy. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urine_therapy on April 22, 2013.
• Ravi: Enes. Tirmizi, Tibb 6, (2043)