The essential elements (2023)

As our knowledge of the chemistry of living systems (biochemistry) increases, we learn more about essential elements. Mammals like ourselves are thought to use only 25 of the 116 known elements.

Apart from oxygen, these elements are not found as ‘pure’ elements. Instead, they are found either dissolved in water in an ionic form, such as sodium ions and chloride ions, or as parts of large molecules, such as haemoglobin.

What elements are present in the human body?

Scientists believe that about 25 of the known elements are essential to life. Just four of these – carbon (C), oxygen (O), hydrogen (H) and nitrogen (N) – make up about 96% of the human body.

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These four elements are found in the basic structure of all biochemical molecules. For example, glucose is a carbohydrate and its molecular formula is C6H12O6 – each molecule of glucose is made up of 6 carbon atoms, 12 hydrogen atoms and 6 oxygen atoms.

The other elements found can be divided into two main groups – major elements and trace elements.

The human body functions as a result of a large number of chemical reactions involving compounds of all of these elements.

Trace elements are important

Although many of the elements are required in only very small amounts, they do play a very important role in keeping the body working effectively:

  • Much of the 3–4 grams of iron in the body is found in haemoglobin, the substance responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.
  • The body has about 75 mg of copper, about one-third of which is found in the muscles. Copper combines with certain proteins to produce enzymes that act as catalysts to help a number of body functions. Some are involved in the transformation of melanin for pigmentation of the skin, and others help to form cross-links in collagen and elastin and thereby maintain and repair connective tissues. This is especially important for the heart and arteries. Research suggests that copper deficiency is one factor leading to an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease.
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A well balanced diet will provide the working body with all of its essential trace elements.

Too much or too little?

Large amounts of essential elements can prove toxic:

  • Too much copper in the diet can result in damage to the liver, discolouration of the skin and hair, and can cause hyperactivity in children.
  • Too much iron in the diet can result in damage to the heart and liver.

Too little of any given essential element can result in ill health and, if left untreated, could result in death:

  • Zinc is a component of certain digestive enzymes and other proteins. Not enough in the diet can result in growth failure, scaly skin inflammation, reproductive failure and impaired immunity.
  • People who suffer from iron deficiency show symptoms such as lack of energy, getting tired easily and being short of breath.

Nature of science

Scientific knowledge is never absolute or certain. As scientists discover more about essential elements needed in the diet, old beliefs may have to change in light of new evidence.

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Related content

Elements are essential to so many things – check out the role of micronutrients for human health. Zinc and magnesium are also crucial to health

Carbon is more than just another element – as explained in the article Carbon – life’s framework element.

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The article Periodic table of elements provides a short introduction to elements.

If you are on the lookout for activities, The Science Learning Hub team has curated a collection of resources related to the periodic table of elements. Login to make this collection part of your private collection, just click on the copy icon. You can then add additional content, notes and make other changes. Registering an account for the Science Learning Hubs is easy and free – sign up with your email address or Google account. Look for the Sign in button at the top of each page.

Useful link

The comprehensive article All About Oxygen explores oxygen characteristics, biological roles and processes, uses in industry and medicine, and even a brief account of its history.

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Read this informative article about carbon and its biological significance to living organisms from Biology Online.


What are the 7 elements essential to all life? ›

The new catalog includes all of the so-called “CHNOPS elements” – carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulfur – known to be the building blocks of all life on Earth.

What are the 4 essential elements? ›

Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen are four elements essential to life. They form the building blocks that make life possible and account for 96% of all atoms in living things.

What are 17 essential elements? ›

The 17 Essential Plant Elements include nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, chlorine, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, molybdenum, and nickel. The non-mineral essential plant elements include hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. These are either taken up as a gas or water.

What are the 11 essential elements? ›

The human body is approximately 99% comprised of just six elements: Oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon, calcium, and phosphorus. Another five elements make up about 0.85% of the remaining mass: sulfur, potassium, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. All of these 11 elements are essential elements.

What are the 13 elements in the human body? ›

As we have already discussed, the human body is almost entirely composed of 13 elements. Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen make up 96% of our body's mass. The other 4% of body weight is composed almost entirely of sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, sulphur, chlorine and Iodine .

What are the 5 main elements of life? ›

1. Note that most living matter consists primarily of the so-called bulk elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and sulfur—the building blocks of the compounds that constitute our organs and muscles. These five elements also constitute the bulk of our diet; tens of grams per day are required for humans.

What are the 5 elements alchemy? ›

In its most simple form, this theory says that all living things are made of five elements. In astrology and alchemy they are called fire, water, air, earth and ether. In oriental medicine, they are referred to as fire, water, metal, earth and wood.

What are the four elements spirituality? ›

Think of a time when you felt the most grounded and centered (earth), the most mentally clear (air), the most openhearted (water), and the most creative (fire). That was most likely a time in your life where you were most generous, open, and willing to contribute to the well-being of other people.

What are the 4 elements of human nature? ›

The Top Four Elements Found in the Human Body

Of the elements found in the human body, four of them make up the largest percentage of our body weight (96.2%). The four elements are oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen.

What are the 21 elements essential for life? ›

Calcium, carbon, chlorine, cobalt, copper, fluorine, hydrogen, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, sulfur, and zinc are regarded as the 21 elements essential for life.

What are the 25 elements? ›

The Elements, sorted by Atomic Number
Atomic NumberSymbolName
76 more rows

What are the 20 essential elements? ›

Lithium, Beryllium, Sodium, Magnesium, Aluminium, Potassium, and Calcium are metals in the first twenty elements. Hydrogen, Helium, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, Fluorine, Neon, Phosphorous, Sulphur, Chlorine, and Argon are the non-metals in the first twenty elements.

What are the 28 elements in the human body? ›

ElementSymbolpercent mass
8 more rows

What is the 16 essential elements? ›

Sixteen elements are considered essential nutrients for plants. These are carbon (C), oxygen (O), hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), boron (B), molybdenum (Mo) and chlorine (Cl).

What is the 43 elements? ›

Technetium : The Element of Atomic Number 43 | Nature.

What is the 92 elements? ›

Therefore, Uranium is 92 on the periodic table.

What element is 96 of the body? ›

By mass, about 96 percent of our bodies are made of four key elements: oxygen (65 percent), carbon (18.5 percent), hydrogen (9.5 percent) and nitrogen (3.3 percent).

What elements make up 90% of the body? ›

The four most abundant elements in the human body – hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen – account for more than 99 per cent of the atoms inside you. They are found throughout your body, mostly as water but also as components of biomolecules such as proteins, fats, DNA and carbohydrates.

What are the 5 elements spiritual meaning? ›

Everything in nature is made up of five basic elements: earth, water, fire, air, and space. Knowledge of the five elements allows the yogi to understand the laws of nature and to use yoga to attain greater health, power, knowledge, wisdom and happiness. This arises out of deep intuition of how the universe operates.

What are the 3 most common elements of life? ›

The elements that are present in the highest quantities in living organisms are oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorus. These elements make up about 99% of their living mass.

What are the 4 cosmic elements? ›

The Four Elements in Greek Cosmology

Greek philosophy supposed the Universe to comprise four elements: Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. Air was originally supposed to be a component of the Æther [ether, not to be confused with the gas], the element that filled the Universe in the absence of the other three.

What are the 12 Elementals? ›

The twelve elements of nature are Earth, Water, Wind, Fire, Thunder, Ice, Force, Time, Flower, Shadow, Light and Moon. Each of these elements are simplified terms for higher and complex substances.

What are the 8 Elementals? ›

Each of these elements - air, fire, water, earth, darkness, light, metal and nature - stands for specific attributes, individual strands of reality and its own philosophical ideas.

What are the 4 elements of God? ›

Though modern scientists might dismiss these elements of air, water, fire and earth as ancient, pseudo-science dogma, the character of these elements seem to be that of the very ones used by modern science as the four key dimensions, space, time, energy and mass.

How do I know what element I am? ›

To find out which element represents you the most, you need to look at your complete natal chart and see which element is in the majority.
  1. Water sign: ♋Cancer, ♏Scorpio, ♓Pisces.
  2. Air sign: ♊Gemini, ♎Libra, ♒Aquarius.
  3. Fire Signs: ♈Aries, ♌Leo, ♐Sagittarius.
  4. Earth sign: ♉Taurus, ♍Virgo, ♑Capricorn.
Apr 5, 2022

What are the element of life? ›

The four basic elements of life are: Oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and phosphorus. These four elements are found in abundance in both the human body and in animals. There are other elements that compose the human body, but the four we've highlighted participate in all life processes.

What is the 5th element of nature? ›

According to ancient and medieval science, aether (/ˈiːθər/, alternative spellings include æther, aither, and ether), also known as the fifth element or quintessence, is the material that fills the region of the universe beyond the terrestrial sphere.

What is the strongest element of nature? ›

With a tensile strength of 1,510 megapascals, we now know tungsten as the strongest naturally occurring metal on Earth. Today's infographic is from Almonty Industries, a tungsten producer, and it reveals the history of tungsten.

What are the 5 components of nature? ›

All matter is composed of five basic elements — panchamahabhutas — which inhere the properties of earth (pritvi), water (jala), fire (tejas), wind (vayu) and space (akasha). The subtlest is space and grossest is earth with every perceptive sense.

What are the 42 elements? ›

Molybdenum is a chemical element with the symbol Mo and atomic number 42 which is located in period 5 and group 6.

What are earth's essential elements? ›

Nonetheless, all organisms are built from the same six essential elemental ingredients: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur (CHNOPS). Why those elements?

What are the 10 elements used in our daily life? ›

You, and every living thing on Earth, are a mix of mostly carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, with smaller amounts of things like sulfur, chlorine, calcium, iron, phosphorous, nitrogen, sodium, and potassium.

What is the 111 elements? ›

Roentgenium is a chemical element with symbol Rg and atomic number 111. Classified as a transition metal, Roentgenium is a expected to be a solid at room temperature.

What are the 88 elements? ›

Radium is a chemical element with the symbol Ra and atomic number 88.

What are the 86 elements? ›

Radon is element 86 in the periodic table and is one of the noble gases along with helium, neon, argon, krypton and xenon. Radon exists in a number of isotopic forms and its most stable form is radon-222. Radon is colourless, odourless and inert which means that it does not react with materials or other gases.

What are the 7 are elements? ›

​ The 7 Elements In Practice. In addition to what we might think of as the classical elements: earth, water, fire, air, and gas (space), in many ancient eastern concepts of self there are an additional two: consciousness (or thought itself) and the element of spirit.

What is the most essential element to life? ›

Air is the most essential element of life as it contains oxygen which is responsible for life-sustaining on the earth.

What 6 elements make up 99 of the human body? ›

Almost 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Download the PDF of the Chemical Abundances: Human Body infographic.

Are all 92 elements found in the human body? ›

There are 92 elements that are found on Earth, of which 12 are naturally found in the human body.

What are the 60 elements in the human body? ›

The human body consists of 60 different elements, including oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, magnesium and 49 other elements in trace quantities.

What is the mnemonic for essential elements? ›

Just a handful of elements are considered macronutrients—carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur. (A mnemonic for remembering these elements is the acronym CHONPS.)

What is the 67 element? ›

Holmium - Element information, properties and uses | Periodic Table.

What is the 57 element? ›

Lanthanum - Element information, properties and uses | Periodic Table.

What are the 103 elements? ›

Eric Scerri. Element 103 in the periodic table is called lawrencium. It was first synthesised in 1961 at what was then called the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, situated close to San Francisco. The synthesis was carried out by a team of scientists led by Albert Ghiorso.

What are the 7 elements of nature? ›

The seven element theory included all elements on earth: plants, warm energy, soil, mineral, water, cold energy, and air. This theory introduced each element's material, property, characteristics, function, relationship to each other, and relationship with life and organs.

What are the 8 elements of nature? ›

Twelve elements of nature:
  • Nitrogen.
  • Water.
  • Wind.
  • Fire.
  • Thunder.
  • Oxygen.
  • Ice.
  • Time.

What are the first 7 elements? ›

  • H. Hydrogen. 1.0079.
  • He. Helium. 4.0026.
  • Li. Lithium. 6.941.
  • Be. Beryllium. 9.0122.
  • B. Boron. 10.811.
  • C. Carbon. 12.0107.
  • N. Nitrogen. 14.0067.
  • O. Oxygen. 15.9994.

What are the 27 elements? ›

The Elements, sorted by Atomic Number
Atomic NumberSymbolName
76 more rows

What are the 14 elements of nature? ›

The group 14 elements are the second group in the p-block of the periodic table. It is also called the carbon group.
The members of this group are:
  • Carbon (C)
  • Silicon (Si)
  • Germanium (Ge)
  • Tin (Sn)
  • Lead (Pb)
  • Flerovium (Fl)
Dec 31, 2019

What are the 12 element powers? ›

They are, in order: Sun, Moon, Earth, Water, Fire, Sky, Wind, Flower, Lightning, Darkness, Sea and Mirror.

What are the 6 main types of elements? ›

Only a few elements are abundant in cells. In fact, the vast majority of biological matter, about 99%, is made of just six atoms: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and phosphorous. Most biological molecules, such as proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleic acids are exclusively composed of these elements.

What are the sixth elements? ›

CHNOPS. The six common elements in all living things are carbon (C), hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N), oxygen (O), phosphorus (P), and sulfur (S), often abbreviated as CHNOPS.

What are the 35 elements? ›

List of elements by symbol
Atomic NumberNameSymbol
49 more rows


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