Homeostasis from a Time-Series Perspective: An Intuitive Interpretation of the Variability of Physiological Variables

  • Ruben FossionEmail author
  • Jean Pierre J. Fossion
  • Ana Leonor Rivera
  • Octavio A. Lecona
  • Juan C. Toledo-Roy
  • Karla P. García-Pelagio
  • Lorena García-Iglesias
  • Bruno Estañol


Homeostasis implies the approximate constancy of specific regulated variables, where the independence of the internal from the external environment is ensured by adaptive physiological responses carried out by other so-called effector variables. The loss of homeostasis is the basis to understand chronic-degenerative disease and age-associated frailty. Technological advances presently allow to monitor a large variety of physiological variables in a non-invasive and continuous way and the statistics of the resulting physiological time series is thought to reflect the dynamics of the underlying control mechanisms. Recent years have seen an increased interest in the variability and/or complexity analysis of physiological time series with possible applications in pathophysiology. However, a general understanding is lacking for which variables variability is an indicator of good health (e.g., heart rate variability) and when on the contrary variability implies a risk factor (e.g., blood pressure variability). In the present contribution, we argue that in optimal conditions of youth and health regulated variables and effector variables necessarily exhibit very different statistics, with small and large variances, respectively, and that under adverse circumstances such as ageing and/or chronic-degenerative disease these statistics degenerate in opposite directions, i.e. towards an increased variability in the case of regulated variables and towards a decreased variability for effector variables. We demonstrate this hypothesis for a simple mathematical model of a thermostat, and for blood pressure and body temperature homeostasis for healthy controls and patients with metabolic disease, and suggest that this scheme may explain the general phenomenology of physiological variables of homeostatic regulatory mechanisms.


Homeostasis Physiological regulation Control theory Control systems Continuous monitoring Time series Early-warning signals Complexity Fractal physiology Variability Heart rate variability HRV Blood pressure variability BPV Body temperature 



We acknowledge the financial support from the Dirección General de Asuntos del Personal Académico (DGAPA) of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) grants IN106215, IV100116 and IA105017, from the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT) grants Fronteras 2015-2-1093, Fronteras 2016-01-2277 and CB-2011-01-167441, and the Newton Advanced Fellowship awarded to R.F. by the Academy of Medical Sciences through the UK Government’s Newton Fund programme. We are grateful to Alejandro Frank and Christopher Stephens for fruitful discussions.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ruben Fossion
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jean Pierre J. Fossion
    • 3
  • Ana Leonor Rivera
    • 1
    • 2
  • Octavio A. Lecona
    • 2
    • 4
  • Juan C. Toledo-Roy
    • 2
  • Karla P. García-Pelagio
    • 5
  • Lorena García-Iglesias
    • 6
  • Bruno Estañol
    • 2
    • 7
  1. 1.Instituto de Ciencias NuclearesUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMexico CityMexico
  2. 2.Centro de Ciencias de la Complejidad (C3)Universidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMexico CityMexico
  3. 3.Belgian Association of Medical Acupuncture (ABMA-BVGA)BrusselsBelgium
  4. 4.Maestría en Dinámica No Lineal y Sistemas ComplejosUniversidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de MéxicoMexico CityMexico
  5. 5.Facultad de CienciasUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMexico CityMexico
  6. 6.Posgrado en Ciencias FísicasUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoMexico CityMexico
  7. 7.Laboratorio de Neurofisiología Clínica, Departamento de Neurología y PsiquiatríaInstituto Nacional de Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición “Salvador Zubirán”Mexico CityMexico

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