2

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Lead, cadmium and arsenic as essential ultratrace elements

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created October 09, 2011 at 2:09 AM

Is the following quote true?

From the October 2011 Acres magazine, page 22-23, "Modern Micronutrient Malnutrition" by Lawrence Mayhew

"Ultratrace elements are defined in the scientific literature as essential elements that are required in the daily human diet at a rate of less than 1 ppm, typically less than 50 micrograms per day (ug/day). A microgram is 1,000,000th of a gram.

So, the scientific definitions of trace and ultratrace elements are described in terms of benefits to livestock and humans, taking the definition away from the restricted monarchy of fertilizers, placing them into the realm of human health. Trace element essetiality should be defined in terms of metabolism and performance of any organism that utilizes them, whether they are plants, microbes, or mammals.

By that criteria, at least 18 elements can be considered as essential ultratrace elements: aluminum, arsenic, boron, bromine, cadmium, chromium, fluorine, germanium, iodine, lead, lithium, molybdenum, nickel, rubidium, selenium, silicon, tin, and vanadium.

Yes, there is a need for ultratrace amounts of aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, and lead in the diets of livestock and humans. A diet deprived of these elements results in poor growth, problems with reproduction, immune disorders, and many other abnormalities."

5ef574d7893bc816ec52e04139e9bc09

(6097)

on December 27, 2011
at 12:35 AM

Good job not caving into the hivemind around here.

4e03e785acc06e63a0e75411889c183a

on December 26, 2011
at 11:37 PM

Iron poisoning maybe a better comparison. Everyone has heard of anemia -- not enough iron. And quite few parents have heard of iron poisoning. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_poisoning Note: Normal people can get mild iron poisoning from eating a couple cans of spinach in one day - or less depending on body weight. Severe life threatening iron poison requires just 1 average adult supplement tablet per kilogram of body weight. 100 tablets is a lot of tablets in one sense but its less than the volume of the typical meal. Also not much of the tablet is iron.

4e03e785acc06e63a0e75411889c183a

on December 26, 2011
at 10:55 PM

Drink 20 liters of water in a day and you will poison yourself. The diluted electrolytes might give you that heart attack or it might be the dissolving and breakdown of cell walls as your internal organs liquify. Of course cigarettes are a real problem due to the additive aspect that encourages prolonged and larger and larger doses. To my knowledge arsenic compounds have none of those insidious issues.

4e03e785acc06e63a0e75411889c183a

on December 26, 2011
at 10:48 PM

maybe you should look at the history of arsenic used as a beauty aid and medicine. Thousands of test cases. Although many died of excess dosages it was far less than a majority. Many more like Cleopatra lived for decades, some to very ripe old ages. As a beauty aid, mild use of arsenic give nice glossy strong hair and smooth skin. But boy did you need to trust the education of your physician-beautician on what dose was OK.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on October 09, 2011
at 04:28 AM

Yep, don't know how I overlooked those... As for other organisms requiring them, I'm sure there's some microbes out there that can utilize them or need them, but those microbe's necessity for human health is likely questionable at best.

E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c

(12857)

on October 09, 2011
at 03:02 AM

selenium, chromium and molybdenum are essential too

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9 Answers

3
C2450eb7fa11b37473599caf93b461ef

on October 09, 2011
at 12:07 PM

As the mother of a child who had severe lead poisoning (enough to be hospitalized), this concept makes me nervous.

2
4e03e785acc06e63a0e75411889c183a

on December 26, 2011
at 10:14 PM

Most essential nutrients are very much like the story of Goldilocks and the beds of the three bears, there is too much, too little and a range that is just right. And quite often a number of the symptoms are similar for too much or too little.

Consider the idea of toxic as drowning in that element or compound.

Everyone knows water is essential for human life -- yet acute doses (less than 24 hours) in the 12-20 liter range have negative effects on health. If forced to drink more water or in a shorter time the average adult literally drowns.

Similarly murder mystery fans know too much potassium is a relatively small handful and will cause a heart attack in most cases. Yet we are also familiar with heat related problems when someone sweats out too much potassium.

And Olivia is quite right -- normal high school and sophomore college biochemistry doesn't cover much about trace minerals. In truth they only cover the major and most obvious biochemical processes.

Processes with major (high volume) outputs throughout a cell's life tend to be easier to study. Trace minerals are often only known to be essential via circumstantial evidence and not by their exact roles and chemical use. The cells of a rat are pretty much the same as humans. What kills or harms rats almost always kills or harms humans the same way. And I doubt many scientists would claim a complete understanding of every interaction for even more common nutrients -- but they would know its role in a few reaction chains due to the high volume in which it interacts.

5ef574d7893bc816ec52e04139e9bc09

(6097)

on December 27, 2011
at 12:35 AM

Good job not caving into the hivemind around here.

2
7d0c3ea9bf8be00b93e6433d8f125ac3

(7540)

on October 09, 2011
at 04:21 PM

Most of those elements (except the ones Matt and Cliff already mentioned) are toxic to humans. I realise the author is talking about "ultratrace" amounts but even so, I'm not aware of any biochemical role an element like cadmium could possibly play in humans or other animals. Sounds extremely dubious to me. Do you have the source for that article, and what were the author's sources for his claims?

1
4e03e785acc06e63a0e75411889c183a

on December 26, 2011
at 10:42 PM

As to why anything can be essential but not required in large obvious amounts...trace minerals are probably necessary only as catalysts. That is they enable some normally difficult chemical change to the input materials - but the trace elements are probably NOT included in the final output product.

Quite often catalysts themselves get recycled in the overall complex chain of chemical reactions...with the normal Murphy's Law exceptions that very slowly drains away the necessary amount. Occasionally the catalysts are not visibly changed during any of the chemical reactions but merely serve as chemical "keys" to unlock some tightly bound atoms from a given molecule or to force atoms into a locked position.

As to how too much of a catalyst can be bad...well I suspect that is probably a separate story for biochemists to study someday. Among possible answers, maybe its unlocking more input molecules than there is of a second input molecule that is supposed to combine with it -- meaning now you got all these excess "unlocked" molecules floating around looking for something to combine with. Of maybe excess catalysts can find totally different molecules to unlock. Or maybe too much invokes the general chemistry principle that most chemical reactions are reversible under the right conditions -- that is excess catalyst starts breaking down the normal output of the process and returning it to nutrient inputs.

1
32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on October 09, 2011
at 02:55 AM

Iodine, yes, it's essential. I've heard of no human need for any of the others. Most are inherently toxic, no good in any amount.

Edit: As cliff points out below, I overlooked a few on that list! There certainly are some listed that are inherently toxic and completely unnecessary in human nutrition as well as for agriculture.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46

(41747)

on October 09, 2011
at 04:28 AM

Yep, don't know how I overlooked those... As for other organisms requiring them, I'm sure there's some microbes out there that can utilize them or need them, but those microbe's necessity for human health is likely questionable at best.

E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c

(12857)

on October 09, 2011
at 03:02 AM

selenium, chromium and molybdenum are essential too

0
C606e6c101c828d8762ed55ca62097e7

(0)

on May 25, 2012
at 04:26 AM

Yes, it's true. It's been accepted since at least 70s.

0
9bb7c0d411b5d77725f7f63bf0a5ddcf

on February 29, 2012
at 06:48 PM

I dont think lead would be a essential ultratrace element at all due to lead poisoning but think selenium, and silicon are essential

0
C4f1a0c70c4e0dea507c2e346c036bbd

on December 26, 2011
at 10:32 PM

They make good paints. Cadmium red comes to mind. Arsenic is great for rats. ;-)

0
9dd4d453f7ebd7fd2a82814d08fc8f17

on October 09, 2011
at 04:11 PM

1) cigarettes were prescribed once

2) what's the best way to tell people they are not being poisoned? to make them doubt they are being poisoned. hello JRM :)

4e03e785acc06e63a0e75411889c183a

on December 26, 2011
at 10:55 PM

Drink 20 liters of water in a day and you will poison yourself. The diluted electrolytes might give you that heart attack or it might be the dissolving and breakdown of cell walls as your internal organs liquify. Of course cigarettes are a real problem due to the additive aspect that encourages prolonged and larger and larger doses. To my knowledge arsenic compounds have none of those insidious issues.

4e03e785acc06e63a0e75411889c183a

on December 26, 2011
at 10:48 PM

maybe you should look at the history of arsenic used as a beauty aid and medicine. Thousands of test cases. Although many died of excess dosages it was far less than a majority. Many more like Cleopatra lived for decades, some to very ripe old ages. As a beauty aid, mild use of arsenic give nice glossy strong hair and smooth skin. But boy did you need to trust the education of your physician-beautician on what dose was OK.

4e03e785acc06e63a0e75411889c183a

on December 26, 2011
at 11:37 PM

Iron poisoning maybe a better comparison. Everyone has heard of anemia -- not enough iron. And quite few parents have heard of iron poisoning. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_poisoning Note: Normal people can get mild iron poisoning from eating a couple cans of spinach in one day - or less depending on body weight. Severe life threatening iron poison requires just 1 average adult supplement tablet per kilogram of body weight. 100 tablets is a lot of tablets in one sense but its less than the volume of the typical meal. Also not much of the tablet is iron.

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