Elements of the Human Body

Oxygen is one of the important elements that require greater attention, the whole site is otherwise dedicated to this element.

Oxygen is a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas, forming a large part of the atmospheric air, of water, of the earth's crust and of our foods. It is absolutely essential to life, for without oxygen there can be no combustion in the human body tissues, and without combustion there can be no life.

The union of oxygen with fats, carbohydrates and proteins in the human body results in slow combustion, which produces heat and energy. Our chief supply of oxygen comes directly from the air, but this is supplemented by the intake in food and water.

Carbon is a solid: diamonds are nearly pure carbon; "lead" of lead pencils, anthracite coal and coke are impure forms of carbon. Carbon combined with other elements in the human body makes about one-fifth of the whole weight.

Carbon with oxygen will burn. In this way the carbon taken into the body as food, when combined with the oxygen of the inhaled air, yields heat to keep the body warm, and force—muscular strength—for work.

The carbonic acid (or carbon dioxide) is given out through the lungs and skin. In the further study of carbonaceous foods, their relation to the body as fuel will be more clearly understood, as carbon is the most important fuel element.

It is the chief producer of energy within the body, being the principal constituent of starches, sugars and fats. It is what we rely on for internal heat, as well as for heating our dwellings, for the essential part of coal is carbon.

The carbonaceous substances are needed in greater quantity than any other, but if they are taken pure, they cause starvation more quickly than if no food was eaten. This has been proved through experiments in feeding nothing but refined sugar, which is practically pure carbon. Salts and nitrogenous foods are essential to life.

Hydrogen is a very light gas, without odor, taste or color. Hydrogen and oxygen combined form water, hence we find from the above calculation that about three-fifths of the human body is composed of water.

Hydrogen unites with the oxygen of the inhaled air in the body, thus serving as fuel. The water produced is given off in the respiration through the lungs and as perspiration through the skin.

It is a necessary constituent of all growing, living things. It is plentifully supplied in water. All acids contain hydrogen and so does the protoplasm of the human body.

Nitrogen is also a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas. It is an essential constituent of the human body, being present in all compounds of protein. It is abundant in the atmospheric air, from which it is taken by plants. We get our supply either directly from vegetable foods or from animal products, such as milk, eggs and meat.

Phosphorus is a solid. According to the table, about one pound two ounces would be found in a human body weighing 148 pounds. United with oxygen, phosphorus forms what is known as phosphoric acid; this, with lime, makes phosphate of lime, in which form it is found in the bones and teeth; it is found also in the brain and nerves, flesh and blood.

It is one of the elements that in some forms is a poison whether taken in solid compounds or inhaled in fumes, producing phossy jaw. In other forms it is indispensable for bodily development.

The compounds of phosphorus are present in fats, bones and protein. In natural foods they are abundantly present, but when these foods are unduly refined, or are soaked in water which is thrown away, much of the phosphorus is lost.

We get phosphorus from milk, eggs, cereals, legumes and other foods. Of course, there is phosphorus in fish, but those who eat sea food to make themselves brainy will probably be disappointed.

Phosphates are necessary for brain development, but those who eat natural foods never need to go to the trouble of taking special foods for the brain. If the rest of the body is well nourished, the brain will have sufficient food, and if the body is poorly nourished the brain will suffer.

Sulfur is present in protein and we get a sufficient supply from milk, meat and legumes. The element sulfur is quite inert and harmless, but some of its acids and salts are very poisonous.

Sulfur dioxide is freely used in the process of drying fruits, as a bleacher. In this form it is poisonous, and for that reason it would be well to avoid bleached dried fruits. We need some sulfur, but not in the form of sulfur dioxide or concentrated sulfurous acid, both of which are used in the manufacture of food.

Chlorine is ordinarily combined in our foods with sodium or potash, forming the chlorides. It is essential to life. He who gets enough sodium also gets enough chlorine. In its elementary form it is an irritating gas, used for bleaching purposes.

Sodium in its elementary state, which is not found in nature, is a white, silvery metal. It is found in great abundance in the succulent vegetables, and is present in practically all foods. As sodium chloride, or common table salt, it is taken in great quantities by most people.

Those who have no salt get along well without it, which shows that it is not needed in large amounts. If but a little is added to the food, it does no perceptible harm, but when sprinkled on everything that is eaten, from watermelons to meat, it is without doubt harmful. By soaking foods, they are deprived of much of their soda: The two sodium salts that are very abundant are sodium chloride, or common salt, and sodium carbonate, generally called soda.

Cobalt is a central component of the vitamin cobalamin, or vitamin B12.

Although cobalt proteins are less common than proteins containing metals like manganese, iron, or zinc, several proteins are known. Most of the cobalt proteins use a cofactor based on the corrin cobalt, derived from vitamin B12, but there are also a few proteins know in which cobalt is directly coordinated by the protein structure, Methionine aminopeptidase 2 and Nitrile hydratase are two examples of these proteins.

Iodine it is one of the elements, the heaviest known to be needed by living organisms. Its main role in animal biology is as constituents of the thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).

Natural sources of iodine include sea life, such as kelp and certain seafood, as well as plants grown on iodine-rich soil. Iodized salt is fortified with iodine.

Iodide can function as an antioxidant as it is a reducing species that can detoxify reactive oxygen species such as hydrogen peroxide.


In areas where there is little iodine in the diet, typically remote inland areas and semi-arid equatorial climates where no marine foods are eaten, iodine deficiency gives rise to hypothyroidism, symptoms of which are extreme fatigue, goitre, mental slowing, depression, weight gain, and low basal body temperatures.

Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of preventable mental retardation, a result which occurs primarily when babies or small children are rendered hypothyroidic by a lack of the element.

The addition of iodine to table salt has largely eliminated this problem in the wealthier nations, but as of March 2006, iodine deficiency remained a serious public health problem in the developing world. Iodine deficiency is also a problem in certain areas of Europe. In Germany it has been estimated to cause a billion dollars in health care costs per year.


Excess iodine has symptoms similar to those of iodine deficiency. Commonly encountered symptoms are abnormal growth of the thyroid gland and disorders in functioning and growth of the organism as a whole. Elemental iodine, I2, is a deadly poison if taken in larger amounts; if 2–3 grams of it are consumed, it is fatal to humans. Iodides are similar in toxicity to bromides.

Fluorine is present in small quantities in the human body, appearing as fluorides in the bones and teeth. It is supplied by the various foods. In its elementary form it is a poisonous gas.Additionally, fluoride might have a natural role in preventing tooth decay.

While F2 is too reactive to have any natural biological role, the fluorine atom is incorporated into compounds with biological roles. However, organofluorine compounds are rare in nature.

Silicon is found in traces in the human body. It is supplied in small quantities in nearly all of our foods, and therefore we must take it for granted that it is necessary, although we are in the dark as to its uses.

It is very abundant in various rocks. The cereals are especially rich in silicon. In wheat it is found in the bran and is removed from the white flour.

The description for the elements: Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Sulphur, Chlorine, Sodium, Fluorine and Silicon are fragments from the book Maintaining Health (Formerly Health And Efficiency)

By R. L. Alsaker, M. D.

Author of "Eating for Health and Efficiency"

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