Comparing Elements on Earth to Those in the Human Body

Instructor: Allyn Torres

Allyn has taught high school chemistry, and has a master's degree in curriculum and instruction.

In this lesson, you will learn how the abundance of elements on Earth compares to the abundance of elements inside the human body. A brief discussion of where the elements can be found in the body and on Earth will also be included.

Comparing Elements in Earth to Those in the Human Body

When we die, there are traditionally two options: cremation or burial. In the past few years, a third option has come onto the scene: have your remains turned into diamonds. That's right, when you pass on, your loved ones can wear you forever on their necks and fingers in the form of beautiful diamonds. While this thought may or may not be comforting, you may also be wondering how this is even possible. Due to the fact that the human body contains a large amount of the element carbon (what diamonds are made of), you can absolutely be turned into a diamond when you die.

You might now be wondering what other elements are inside your body. Keep reading to find out, and to find out how the elements in the body compare to the elements found on Earth.

Note: This lesson is limited to the elements that are major contributors. Both the human body and the Earth contain very small amounts of elements not mentioned. However, these elements are not major contributors to the composition of the Earth nor the human body.

Elements Found in the Body

Let's look at the top elements found in the body:

  1. Oxygen contributes to 65% of the weight of the human body. Most of the oxygen in the body is found in water. Water accounts for 60% of the body. Oxygen can be found in various places in the body, including in proteins, the lungs, and the blood.
  2. Carbon accounts for 18% of the weight of the human body. There are many organic compounds in the body, and they all contain carbon. Carbon is essential for the functioning of the body's metabolism.
  3. Hydrogen is responsible for 10% of the body's weight. The majority of hydrogen is found in the water in the body. Hydrogen is in every organic compound in the body.
  4. Nitrogen enters the body through the food we eat. It accounts for 3% of the body's weight. Nitrogen is another crucial element in amino acids. Nitrogen is also an important part of DNA and RNA.
  5. Calcium accounts for 1.4% of the weight of the human body. It can mostly be found in bones and teeth. The body also uses calcium to contract its muscles.
  6. Phosphorus accounts for 1% of the weight of the body. Like calcium, it's found in bones and teeth. ATP and other molecules that are energy sources contain phosphorus.
  7. Potassium is a key component to the function of the nerves in the body. It also helps keep the heartbeat regular. It accounts for 0.25% of the body's weight.
  8. Sulfur also makes up 0.25% of the body's weight and can be found in amino acids (the building blocks of proteins). While 0.25% may not seem like a significant percentage, could you imagine if the body didn't have the sulfur needed for amino acids? The body would be unable to produce the proteins essential for life.
  9. Sodium accounts for 0.15% of the body's weight. You've probably heard that too much sodium is bad for you. However, too little sodium is also harmful. Sodium is essential for the functioning of the nerves and muscles in the body.
  10. Chlorine is responsible for 0.15% of the body's weight. It helps transport enzymes for essential processes in the body. It also reacts with hydrogen to form hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid digests food in the stomach.
  11. Magnesium makes up 0.005% of the body's weight. Magnesium helps build teeth and bones.

Elements Found on the Earth

Many of the elements that are abundant on the Earth are also found in the human body. However, there are a few elements that are major contributors to the mass of the Earth that are not significant contributors to the human body.

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