Basic elements and their roles
Elements are basic ingredients of the animate and inanimate world. Nitrogen (N), sulphur (S), oxygen (O), hydrogen (H), and carbon (C) form organic compounds, i.e. proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins.
App. 1/3 of 104 known elements are components important for organisms, i.e. structural elements of skeleton and soft tissues, and factors regulating many physiological functions, e.g. blood coagulation, oxygen transport, and enzyme activation.
Groups of elements
These elements can be divided into three groups:
- elements necessary for life, i.e. bioelements
- neutral elements without which metabolic processes can proceed normally
- toxic elements with adverse effects on organisms
Macro- and microelements
Elements necessary for the correct functioning of the body are classified as macro- or microelements.
The levels of macroelements in bodily fluids and tissues exceed 1 μg/g of wet tissue (μg – one millionth part of a gram – 10-6 g)
- chlorine (Cl)
- phosphorus (P)
- magnesium (Mg)
- potassium (K)
- sodium (Na)
- and calcium (Ca)
The levels of microelements (trace elements) in the organism are below 1 μg/g of wet tissue.
- germanium (Ge)
- boron (B)
- chromium (Cr)
- tin (Sn)
- zinc (Zn)
- fluorine (F)
- iodine (I)
- cobalt (Co)
- silicon (Si)
- lithium (Li)
- manganese (Mn)
- copper (Cu)
- molybdenum (Mo)
- nickel (Ni)
- selenium (Se)
- vanadium (V)
- iron (Fe)
Toxic elements include:
- aluminium (Al)
- thallium (Tl)
- mercury (Hg)
- cadmium (Cd)
- and lead (Pb)
Toxicity of chemical elements depends on many factors; the most important of them are the levels of an element in the body and the time of exposure. A significant role is played by the ability of the body to eliminate harmful elements; such functions are performed by kidneys, the liver, and the digestive system. Harmful influence of toxic elements depends on the abilities of the organism to repair their adverse effects.
Toxic elements tend to accumulate in parenchymatous organs, in particular in the liver, kidneys, and the pancreas.
During a prolonged exposure, toxic elements can also accumulate in other tissues, e.g. lead and aluminium in bones, lead mercury, and aluminium in brain tissues, and cadmium in hair roots.
Determination of elements in the body
As a result of developments in science and technology, methods of determining elements are more and more precise and accurate. Atomic absorption spectrometry (AAS), inductively coupled plasma – atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES), or neutron activation analysis (NAA) are able to provide highly-sensitive test results.
Modern analytical equipment enables the analysis of element levels with one specimen only. This makes it possible to measure many values of element levels in short time based on little material what, in case of biological tests, is of a great importance.
Biomol-Med Laboratory uses ICP to determine elements.
Physiological life processes depend not only on the composition and concentration of separate elements but also on their proportions in the body. For separate areas of the body, there is a precisely specified ion balance, which is maintained stable. Based on proportions between certain elements, metabolic activity may be assessed as well as the correctness of physiological processes. There are synergistic and antagonistic relationships between trace elements which directly influence metabolism in the body.
In many cases, maintaining correct relationships between separate elements is more important than their correct concentration.