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The Elemental Composition of the Human Body

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Elements that make up the human body infographic

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The Elemental Composition of a Human Body

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The human body is a miraculous, well-oiled, and exceptionally complex machine. It requires a multitude of functioning parts to come together for a person to live a healthy life—and every biological detail in our bodies, from the mundane to the most magical, is driven by just 21 chemical elements.

Of the 118 elements on Earth, just 21 of them are found in the human body. Together, they make up the medley of divergent molecules that combine to form our DNA, cells, tissues, and organs.

Based on data presented by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), in the above infographic, we have broken down a human body to its elemental composition and the percentages in which they exist.

These 21 elements can be categorized into three major blocks depending on the amount found in a human body, the main building block (4 elements), essential minerals (8 elements), and trace elements (9 elements).

The Elemental Four: Ingredients for Life

Four elements, namely, oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen, are considered the most essential elements found in our body.

Oxygen is the most abundant element in the human body, accounting for approximately 61% of a person’s mass. Given that around 60-70% of the body is water, it is no surprise that oxygen and hydrogen are two of the body’s most abundantly found chemical elements. Along with carbon and nitrogen, these elements combine for 96% of the body’s mass.

Here is a look at the composition of the four elements of life:

ElementWeight of Body Mass (kg)Percentage of Body Mass (%)
Oxygen43 kg61.4%
Carbon16 kg22.9%
Hydrogen7.0 kg10.0%
Nitrogen1.8 kg2.6%

Values are for an average human body weighing 70 kg.

Let’s take a look at how each of these four chemical elements contributes to the thriving functionality of our body:

Oxygen

Oxygen plays a critical role in the body’s metabolism, respiration, and cellular oxygenation. Oxygen is also found in every significant organic molecule in the body, including proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and nucleic acids. It is a substantial component of everything from our cells and blood to our cerebral and spinal fluid.

Carbon

Carbon is the most crucial structural element and the reason we are known as carbon-based life forms. It is the basic building block required to form proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Breaking carbon bonds in carbohydrates and proteins is our primary energy source.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen, the most abundantly found chemical element in the universe, is present in all bodily fluids, allowing the toxins and waste to be transported and eliminated. With the help of hydrogen, joints in our body remain lubricated and able to perform their functions. Hydrogen is also said to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, helping improve muscle function.

Nitrogen

An essential component of amino acids used to build peptides and proteins is nitrogen. It is also an integral component of the nucleic acids DNA and RNA, the chemical backbone of our genetic information and genealogy.

Essential and Supplemental Minerals

Essential minerals are important for your body to stay healthy. Your body uses minerals for several processes, including keeping your bones, muscles, heart, and brain working properly. Minerals also control beneficial enzyme and hormone production.

Minerals like calcium are a significant component of our bones and are required for bone growth and development, along with muscle contractions. Phosphorus contributes to bone and tooth strength and is vital to metabolizing energy.

Here is a look at the elemental composition of essential minerals:

ElementWeight of Body Mass (g)Percentage of Body Mass (%)
Calcium1000 g1.43%
Phosphorus780 g 1.11%
Potassium140 g0.20%
Sulphur140 g0.20%
Chlorine100 g0.14%
Sodium95 g0.14%
Magnesium19 g0.03%
Iron4.2 g0.01%

Values are for an average human body weighing 70 kg.

Other macro-minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron, and sodium are essential for cell-to-cell communications, like electric transmissions that generate nerve impulses or heart rhythms, and are necessary for maintaining thyroid and bone health.

Excessive deficiency of any of these minerals can cause various disorders in your body. Most humans receive these minerals as a part of their daily diet, including vegetables, meat, legumes, and fruits. In case of deficiencies, though, these minerals are also prescribed as supplements.

Biological Composition of Trace Elements

Trace elements or trace metals are small amounts of minerals found in living tissues. Some of them are known to be nutritionally essential, while others may be considered to be nonessential. They are usually in minimal quantities in our body and make up only 1% of our mass.

Paramount among these are trace elements such as zinc, copper, manganese, and fluorine. Zinc works as a first responder against infections and thereby improves infection resistance, while balancing the immune response.

Here is the distribution of trace elements in our body:

ElementWeight of Body Mass (mg)Percentage of Body Mass (%)
Fluorine2600 mg0.00371%
Zinc2300 mg0.00328%
Copper72 mg0.00010%
Iodine13 mg0.00002%
Manganese12 mg0.00002%
Molybdenum9.5 mg0.00001%
Selenium8 mg0.00001%
Chromium6.6 mg0.00001%
Cobalt1.5 mg0.000002%

Values are for an average human body weighing 70 kg.

Even though only it’s found in trace quantities, copper is instrumental in forming red blood cells and keeping nerve cells healthy. It also helps form collagen, a crucial part of bones and connective tissue.

Even with constant research and studies performed to thoroughly understand these trace elements’ uses and benefits, scientists and researchers are constantly making new discoveries.

For example, recent research shows that some of these trace elements could be used to cure and fight chronic and debilitating diseases ranging from ischemia to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.

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Ranked: Top 10 Deadliest Animals for Humans

Dogs may be our best friends, but as a carrier of the rabies virus, they end up fourth on the list of top 10 deadliest animals.

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A cropped chart ranking the top 10 deadliest animals by the number of people killed per year.

Ranked: Top 10 Deadliest Animals for Humans

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

While running into wild animals in a forest can seem like the worst situation for humans, there are plenty of other animals that are far deadlier than large predators.

We rank the top 10 deadliest animals by the number of people killed per year. Data for this visualization and article is sourced from BBC Science Focus.

Spreaders of Diseases are Deadliest for Humans

Mosquitoes, of course, are the reigning champions on the toll they take on humans. Every year they kill more than 700,000 people through a multitude of deadly diseases—dengue, yellow fever, and malaria.

By some estimates, mosquitoes are responsible for the deaths of half of all the humans that have ever lived.

RankAnimalHumans Killed Annually
1🦟 Mosquitoes*725,000
2👫 Humans**400,000
3🐍 Snakes138,000
4🐕 Dogs*59,000
5🐜 Assassin Bugs*10,000
6🦂 Scorpions3,300
7🐊 Crocodiles1,000
8🐘 Elephants600
9🦛 Hippos500
10🦁 Lions200

Note: *Spreads diseases. **Homicides only.

Meanwhile, humans are (almost) their own worst enemies. Every year, nearly 400,000 homicides take place, making humans the second-deadliest animal for other human beings. And this doesn’t account for all the human-caused accidents that result in fatalities.

At fourth place, dogs may be our best friends, but as a carrier of the deadly rabies virus, they end up fourth on the list of top 10 deadliest animals.

Rounding out the top five are assassin bugs, which spread the parasite that causes Chagas disease, a condition that can go untreated for years and can result in serious complications that make it life-threatening.

Large mammals, including lions, hippos, and elephants round out the top 10. Interestingly, bears kill around one person a year on average and wouldn’t be anywhere close to making this list of the deadliest animals.

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