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Geomedicine

Geology
Health
& Disease
Countries with Universal Health Care
Objectives
Understand the basic principles of
geomedicine
Understand the connections between
trace elements, geology, and health
Understand cases in which connections
are less clear
Understand further complicating factors

Trace Elements
Definition: A chemical element required in
minute quantities by an organism to
maintain proper physical functioning.

Earths crust is composed of only a few
major elements; so, too, are organisms.

More than 99% of the human body is
made of six elements.
Oxygen 61
Carbon 23
Hydrogen 10
Nitrogen 2.6
Calcium 1.4
Phosphorus 1.1
Total 99.1
Principal Chemical Constituents
of the Human Body*

Element Percentage of Body Weight

Source: R.M. Parr, .Trace Elements in Human Milk,. International Atomic Energy Agency Bulletin 25, 2 (1983): 8.
*All other elements.led by sulfur, potassium, sodium, and chlorine.make up the other 0.9 percent of the body.
~85% of the human brain is water
~70% of babies are water
~60% of adult men are water
~55% of adult women are water
Essential Trace Elements
Dose-Response Curves
positive or negative effects of a trace
element are plotted as a function of
dosage


Dose-Reponse (cont.)
Some elements have no effect in low
concentrations, but can be toxic or fatal at high
concentrations (i.e. lead, mercury)

Other elements may be needed to avoid
deficiency, but benefits only increase up to a
point (i.e. calcium hard to OD on!)

Perhaps the most common scenario is when
small amounts of an element are necessary for
optimal health, but large amounts are toxic or
fatal (i.e. copper, molybdenum)
Geology, Trace Elements & Health
The ultimate source of the bodys
trace elements is the earth
rocks & minerals

Concentrations vary by rock
type and rock location

Concentrations are modified
by natural processes as well as
deliberate and accidental human
activities

Trace Element Pathways to the
Human Body
Iodine
Necessary for proper functioning of the thyroid glad
All cells in the body need iodine for proper functioning
All glands (thyroid, adrenal, etc.) especially need iodine for the
production of hormones
Lack of iodine leads to goiter


Fluorine
Makes apatite (mineral in teeth) harder
Added to many municipal water supplies
Without Fluorine With Fluorine
Zinc
Heavy metal
A critical trace element nutrient
Without zinc dwarfism, dermatitis, loss
of taste sensitivity, delay in the rate of
wounds healing
Dermatitis
Selenium
Rare metal
Lack of selenium causes abnormalities in
many plants and animals
In humans cancers, malformation of
nails and hair, depression, nervousness
Radon
Odorless

Invisible

2
nd
leading cause
of lung cancer in
U.S.

Radon test kits
cost as low as
$8.99

Cases in Which Connections Are
Less Clear
Radioactivity and Tobacco

Regional Variations in Heart Disease

Cardiovascular Disease in Georgia

Other intriguing patterns
Regional Rates of Heart Disease in Europe
Further Complicating Factors
Cause and Effect or Coincidence?

Trace Element Interactions

Distinguishing Risk From Risk Perceptions

Impacts of Human Activities
Summary
Geology bears on Human Health
Geology bears on health of animals and plants
Many effects are independent of human
activities
Geographic variation is often how some
diseases are recognized
Better understanding of the medical importance
of naturally occurring trace elements could lead
to the elimination of many instances of regionally
chronic diseases