Composition of the human body

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Body composition may be analyzed in various ways. This can be done in terms of the chemical elements present, or by molecular type e.g., water, protein, fats (or lipids), hydroxylapatite (in bones), carbohydrates (such as glycogen and glucose) and DNA. In terms of tissue type, the body may be analyzed into water, fat, connective tissue, muscle, bone, etc. In terms of cell type, the body contains hundreds of different types of cells, but notably, the largest number of cells contained in a human body (though not the largest mass of cells) are not human cells, but bacteria residing in the normal human gastrointestinal tract.


The main elements that compose the human body are shown from most abundant (by mass, not by fraction of atoms) to least abundant.
201 Elements of the Human Body.02.svg Element Symbol % in body
Oxygen O 65.0
Carbon C 18.5
Hydrogen H 9.5
Nitrogen N 3.2
Calcium Ca 1.5
Phosphorus P 1.0
Potassium K 0.4
Sulfur S 0.3
Sodium Na 0.2
Chlorine Cl 0.2
Magnesium Mg 0.2
Others < 1.0
Pie charts of typical human body composition by percent of mass, and by percent of atomic composition (atomic percent).

Almost 99% of the mass of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Only about 0.85% is composed of another five elements: potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. All 11 are necessary for life. The remaining elements are trace elements, of which more than a dozen are thought on the basis of good evidence to be necessary for life [1]. All of the mass of the trace elements put together (less than 10 grams for a human body) do not add up to the body mass of magnesium, the least common of the 11 non-trace elements.

Other elements[edit]

Not all elements which are found in the human body in trace quantities play a role in life. Some of these elements are thought to be simple bystander contaminants without function (examples: caesium, titanium), while many others are thought to be active toxics, depending on amount (cadmium, mercury, radioactives). The possible utility and toxicity of a few elements at levels normally found in the body (aluminium) is debated. Functions have been proposed for trace amounts of cadmium and lead, although these are almost certainly toxic in amounts very much larger than normally found in the body. There is evidence that arsenic, an element normally considered a toxin in higher amounts, is essential in ultratrace quantities, in mammals such as rats, hamsters, and goats.[2]

Some elements (silicon, boron, nickel, vanadium) are probably needed by mammals also, but in far smaller doses. Bromine is used abundantly by some (though not all) lower organisms, and opportunistically in eosinophils in humans. One study has found bromine to be necessary to collagen IV synthesis in humans.[3] Fluorine is used by a number of plants to manufacture toxins (see that element) but in humans only functions as a local (topical) hardening agent in tooth enamel, and not in an essential biological role.[4]

Elemental composition list[edit]

The average 70 kg (150 lb) adult human body contains approximately 7×1027 atoms and contains at least detectable traces of 60 chemical elements.[5] About 29 of these elements are thought to play an active positive role in life and health in humans.[6]

The relative amounts of each element vary by individual, mainly due to differences in the proportion of fat, muscle and bone in their body. Persons with more fat will have a higher proportion of carbon and a lower proportion of most other elements (the proportion of hydrogen will be about the same). The numbers in the table are averages of different numbers reported by different references.

The adult human body averages ~53% water.[7] This varies substantially by age, sex, and adiposity. In a large sample of adults of all ages and both sexes, the figure for water fraction by weight was found to be 48 ±6% for females and 58 ±8% water for males.[8] Water is ~11% hydrogen by mass but ~67% hydrogen by atomic percent, and these numbers along with the complementary % numbers for oxygen in water, are the largest contributors to overall mass and atomic composition figures. Because of water content, the human body contains more oxygen by mass than any other element, but more hydrogen by atom-fraction than any element.

The elements listed below as "Essential in humans" are those listed by the (US) Food and Drug Administration as essential nutrients,[9] as well as six additional elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen (the fundamental building blocks of life on Earth), sulfur (essential to all cells) and cobalt (a necessary component of vitamin B12). Elements listed as "Possibly" or "Probably" essential are those cited by the National Research Council (United States) as beneficial to human health and possibly or probably essential.[10]

Atomic number Element Fraction of mass[11][12][13][14][15][16] Mass (kg)[17] Atomic percent Essential in humans[18] Negative effects of excess Group
8 Oxygen 0.65 43 24 Yes (e.g. water, electron acceptor)[19] Reactive oxygen species 16
6 Carbon 0.18 16 12 Yes[19] (organic compounds) 14
1 Hydrogen 0.10 7 62 Yes[19] (e.g. water) 1
7 Nitrogen 0.03 1.8 1.1 Yes[19] (e.g. DNA and amino acids) 15
20 Calcium 0.014 1.0 0.22 Yes[19][20][21] (e.g. Calmodulin and Hydroxylapatite in bones) 2
15 Phosphorus 0.011 0.78 0.22 Yes[19][20][21] (e.g. DNA and phosphorylation) white allotrope highly toxic 15
19 Potassium 2.0×10−3 0.14 0.033 Yes[19][20] (e.g. Na+/K+-ATPase) 1
16 Sulfur 2.5×10−3 0.14 0.038 Yes[19] (e.g. Cysteine, Methionine, Biotin, Thiamine) 16
11 Sodium 1.5×10−3 0.10 0.037 Yes[20] (e.g. Na+/K+-ATPase) 1
17 Chlorine 1.5×10−3 0.095 0.024 Yes[20][21] (e.g. Cl-transporting ATPase) 17
12 Magnesium 500×10−6 0.019 0.0070 Yes[20][21] (e.g. binding to ATP and other nucleotides) 2
26 Iron* 60×10−6 0.0042 0.00067 Yes[20][21] (e.g. Hemoglobin, Cytochromes) 8
9 Fluorine 37×10−6 0.0026 0.0012 Yes (AUS, NZ),[22] No (US, EU),[23][24] Maybe (WHO)[25] toxic in high amounts 17
30 Zinc 32×10−6 0.0023 0.00031 Yes[20][21] (e.g. Zinc finger proteins) 12
14 Silicon 20×10−6 0.0010 0.0058 Possibly[10] 14
37 Rubidium 4.6×10−6 0.00068 0.000033 No 1
38 Strontium 4.6×10−6 0.00032 0.000033 —— 2
35 Bromine 2.9×10−6 0.00026 0.000030 —— 17
82 Lead 1.7×10−6 0.00012 0.0000045 No toxic 14
29 Copper 1×10−6 0.000072 0.0000104 Yes[20][21] (e.g. copper proteins) 11
13 Aluminium 870×10−9 0.000060 0.000015 No 13
48 Cadmium 720×10−9 0.000050 0.0000045 No toxic 12
58 Cerium 570×10−9 0.000040 No
56 Barium 310×10−9 0.000022 0.0000012 No toxic in higher amounts 2
50 Tin 240×10−9 0.000020 6.0×10−7 No 14
53 Iodine 160×10−9 0.000020 7.5×10−7 Yes[20][21] (e.g. thyroxine, triiodothyronine) 17
22 Titanium 130×10−9 0.000020 No 4
5 Boron 690×10−9 0.000018 0.0000030 Probably[10][26] 13
34 Selenium 190×10−9 0.000015 4.5×10−8 Yes[20][21] toxic in higher amounts 16
28 Nickel 140×10−9 0.000015 0.0000015 Probably[10][26] toxic in higher amounts 10
24 Chromium 24×10−9 0.000014 8.9×10−8 Yes[20][21] 6
25 Manganese 170×10−9 0.000012 0.0000015 Yes[20][21] (e.g. Mn-SOD) 7
33 Arsenic 260×10−9 0.000007 8.9×10−8 Possibly[2][10] toxic in higher amounts 15
3 Lithium 31×10−9 0.000007 0.0000015 Yes (intercorrelated with the functions of several enzymes, hormones and vitamins) toxic in higher amounts 1
80 Mercury 190×10−9 0.000006 8.9×10−8 No toxic 12
55 Caesium 21×10−9 0.000006 1.0×10−7 No 1
42 Molybdenum 130×10−9 0.000005 4.5×10−8 Yes[20][21] (e.g. the molybdenum oxotransferases, Xanthine oxidase and Sulfite oxidase) 6
32 Germanium 5×10−6 No 14
27 Cobalt 21×10−9 0.000003 3.0×10−7 Yes (cobalamin, B12)[27][28] 9
51 Antimony 110×10−9 0.000002 No toxic 15
47 Silver 10×10−9 0.000002 No 11
41 Niobium 1600×10−9 0.0000015 No 5
40 Zirconium 6×10−6 0.000001 3.0×10−7 No 4
57 Lanthanum 1370×10−9 8×10−7 No
52 Tellurium 120×10−9 7×10−7 No 16
31 Gallium 7×10−7 No 13
39 Yttrium 6×10−7 No 3
83 Bismuth 5×10−7 No 15
81 Thallium 5×10−7 No highly toxic 13
49 Indium 4×10−7 No 13
79 Gold 3×10−9 2×10−7 3.0×10−7 No uncoated nanoparticles possibly genotoxic[29][30][31] 11
21 Scandium 2×10−7 No 3
73 Tantalum 2×10−7 No 5
23 Vanadium 260×10−9 1.1×10−7 1.2×10−8 Possibly[10] (suggested osteo-metabolism (bone) growth factor) 5
90 Thorium 1×10−7 No toxic, radioactive
92 Uranium 1×10−7 3.0×10−9 No toxic, radioactive
62 Samarium 5.0×10−8 No
74 Tungsten 2.0×10−8 No 6
4 Beryllium 3.6×10−8 4.5×10−8 No toxic in higher amounts 2
88 Radium 3×10−14 1×10−17 No toxic, radioactive 2

*Iron = ~3 g in men, ~2.3 g in women

Of the 94 naturally occurring chemical elements, 60 are listed in the table above. Of the remaining 34, it is not known how many occur in the human body.

Most of the elements needed for life are relatively common in the Earth's crust. Aluminium, the third most common element in the Earth's crust (after oxygen and silicon), serves no function in living cells, but is harmful in large amounts.[32] Transferrins can bind aluminium.[33]

Periodic table[edit]

Nutritional elements in the periodic table
H   He
Li Be   B C N O F Ne
Na Mg   Al Si P S Cl Ar
K Ca Sc   Ti V Cr Mn Fe Co Ni Cu Zn Ga Ge As Se Br Kr
Rb Sr Y   Zr Nb Mo Tc Ru Rh Pd Ag Cd In Sn Sb Te I Xe
Cs Ba La * Hf Ta W Re Os Ir Pt Au Hg Tl Pb Bi Po At Rn
Fr Ra Ac ** Rf Db Sg Bh Hs Mt Ds Rg Cn Nh Fl Mc Lv Ts Og
  * Ce Pr Nd Pm Sm Eu Gd Tb Dy Ho Er Tm Yb Lu
  ** Th Pa U Np Pu Am Cm Bk Cf Es Fm Md No Lr
  Quantity elements
  Essential trace elements
  Deemed essential trace element by U.S., not by European Union
  Suggested function from deprivation effects or active metabolic handling, but no clearly-identified biochemical function in humans
  Limited circumstantial evidence for trace benefits or biological action in mammals
  No evidence for biological action in mammals, but essential in some lower organisms.
(In the case of lanthanum, the definition of an essential nutrient as being indispensable and irreplaceable is not completely applicable due to the extreme similarity of the lanthanides. The early lanthanides up to Sm are known to stimulate the growth of various lanthanide-using organisms.)[34]


The composition of the human body is expressed in terms of chemicals:

The composition of the human body can be viewed on an atomic and molecular scale as shown in this article.

The estimated gross molecular contents of a typical 20-micrometre human cell is as follows:[36]

Molecule Percent of Mass Mol.Weight (daltons) Molecules Percent of Molecules
Water 65 18 1.74×1014 98.73
Other Inorganics 1.5 N/A 1.31×1012 0.74
Lipids 12 N/A 8.4×1011 0.475
Other Organics 0.4 N/A 7.7×1010 0.044
Protein 20 N/A 1.9×1010 0.011
RNA 1.0 N/A 5×107 3×10−5
DNA 0.1 1×1011 46* 3×10−11


Body composition can also be expressed in terms of various types of material, such as:

Composition by cell type[edit]

There are many species of bacteria and other microorganisms that live on or inside the healthy human body. In fact, 90% of the cells in (or on) a human body are microbes, by number[37][38] (much less by mass or volume). Some of these symbionts are necessary for our health. Those that neither help nor harm humans are called commensal organisms.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ M.A. Zoroddu; J. Aashet; G. Crisponi; S. Medici; M. Peana; V.M. Nurchi (June 2019). "The essential metals for humans: a brief overview". Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry. 195: 120–129. doi:10.1016/j.jinorgbio.2019.03.013. PMID 30939379.
  2. ^ a b Anke M. "Arsenic". In: Mertz W. ed., Trace elements in human and Animal Nutrition, 5th ed. Orlando, FL: Academic Press, 1986, 347-372; Uthus E. O., "Evidency for arsenical essentiality", Environmental Geochemistry and Health, 1992, 14:54-56; Uthus E.O., Arsenic essentiality and factors affecting its importance. In: Chappell W. R., Abernathy C. O., Cothern C. R. eds., Arsenic Exposure and Health. Northwood, UK: Science and Technology Letters, 1994, 199-208.
  3. ^ McCall AS, Cummings CF, Bhave G, Vanacore R, Page-McCaw A, Hudson BG (2014). "Bromine Is an Essential Trace Element for Assembly of Collagen IV Scaffolds in Tissue Development and Architecture". Cell. 157 (6): 1380–92. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.05.009. PMC 4144415. PMID 24906154.
  4. ^ Nelson, Lehninger, Cox (2008). Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry (5th ed.). Macmillan.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ How many atoms are in the human body?
  6. ^ "Ultratrace minerals". Authors: Nielsen, Forrest H. USDA, ARS Source: Modern nutrition in health and disease / editors, Maurice E. Shils ... et al.. Baltimore : Williams & Wilkins, c. 1999, p. 283-303. Issue Date: 1999 URI: [1]
  7. ^ Use WP:CALC for the mean of means for males and females, since the two groups are of about equal size
  8. ^ See table 1. here
  9. ^ "Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide 14. Appendix F"
  10. ^ a b c d e f Institute of Medicine (29 September 2006). Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements. National Academies Press. pp. 313–19, 415–22. ISBN 978-0-309-15742-1. Retrieved 21 June 2016.
  11. ^ Thomas J. Glover, comp., Pocket Ref, 3rd ed. (Littleton: Sequoia, 2003), p. 324 (LCCN 2002-91021), which in
  12. ^ turn cites Geigy Scientific Tables, Ciba-Geigy Limited, Basel, Switzerland, 1984.
  13. ^ Chang, Raymond (2007). Chemistry, Ninth Edition. McGraw-Hill. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-07-110595-8.
  14. ^ "Elemental Composition of the Human Body" by Ed Uthman, MD Retrieved 17 June 2016
  15. ^ Frausto Da Silva, J. J. R; Williams, R. J. P (2001-08-16). The Biological Chemistry of the Elements: The Inorganic Chemistry of Life. ISBN 9780198508489.
  16. ^ Zumdahl, Steven S. and Susan A. (2000). Chemistry, Fifth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 894. ISBN 978-0-395-98581-6.)
  17. ^ Emsley, John (25 August 2011). Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements. OUP Oxford. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-19-960563-7. Retrieved 17 June 2016.
  18. ^ Neilsen, cited
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h Salm, Sarah; Allen, Deborah; Nester, Eugene; Anderson, Denise (9 January 2015). Nester's Microbiology: A Human Perspective. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-07-773093-2. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Subcommittee on the Tenth Edition of the Recommended Dietary Allowances, Food and Nutrition Board; Commission on Life Sciences, National Research Council (1 February 1989). "9-10". Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition. National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0-309-04633-6. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21: Food and Drugs, Ch 1, subchapter B, Part 101, Subpart A, §101.9(c)(8)(iv)
  22. ^ Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and New Zealand Ministry of Health (MoH)
  23. ^ "Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Review of Fluoridation and Regulation Issues"
  24. ^ "Scientific Opinion on Dietary Reference Values for fluoride". EFSA Journal. 11 (8): 3332. 2013. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2013.3332. ISSN 1831-4732.
  25. ^ WHO/SDE/WSH/03.04/96 "Fluoride in Drinking-water"
  26. ^ a b Safe Upper Levels for Vitamins and Mineral (2003), boron p. 164-71, nickel p. 225-31, EVM, Food Standards Agency, UK ISBN 1-904026-11-7
  27. ^ Yamada, Kazuhiro (2013). Cobalt: Its Role in Health and Disease. Metal Ions in Life Sciences. 13. pp. 295–320. doi:10.1007/978-94-007-7500-8_9. ISBN 978-94-007-7499-5. ISSN 1559-0836. PMID 24470095.
  28. ^ Banci, Lucia (18 April 2013). Metallomics and the Cell. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 333–368. ISBN 978-94-007-5561-1. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  29. ^ Fratoddi, Ilaria; Venditti, Iole; Cametti, Cesare; Russo, Maria Vittoria (2015). "How toxic are gold nanoparticles? The state-of-the-art". Nano Research. 8 (6): 1771–1799. doi:10.1007/s12274-014-0697-3. ISSN 1998-0124.
  30. ^ "Scientific Opinion on the re-evaluation of gold (E 175) as a food additive". EFSA Journal. 14 (1): 4362. 2016. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2016.4362. ISSN 1831-4732.
  31. ^ Hillyer, Julián F.; Albrecht, Ralph M. (2001). "Gastrointestinal persorption and tissue distribution of differently sized colloidal gold nanoparticles". Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. 90 (12): 1927–1936. doi:10.1002/jps.1143. ISSN 0022-3549.
  32. ^ Aluminum Toxicity
  33. ^ Mizutani, K.; Mikami, B.; Aibara, S.; Hirose, M. (2005). "Structure of aluminium-bound ovotransferrin at 2.15 Å resolution". Acta Crystallographica Section D. 61 (12): 1636. doi:10.1107/S090744490503266X.
  34. ^ Daumann, Lena J. (25 April 2019). "Essential and Ubiquitous: The Emergence of Lanthanide Metallobiochemistry". Angewandte Chemie International Edition. doi:10.1002/anie.201904090. Retrieved 15 June 2019.
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  38. ^ Wenner, Melinda. "Humans Carry More Bacterial Cells than Human Ones". Retrieved 2010-10-09.