Arizona Geological Society

Alexander Schauss presents Minerals, Trace Elements and Human Health

  • 01 Nov 2016
  • 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM
  • Sheraton, 5151 E Grant Rd. (& Rosemont), Tucson AZ 85712


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Minerals, Trace Elements and Human Health

by Alexander G. Schauss

Abstract: Only until recently have the elements in the periodic table received more than passing attention in human nutrition and medical textbooks. Why did it take so long?

Iron (Fe) was recognized in the 18th century as a constituent of the human body, yet it took over 100 years before inorganic elements gained a modicum of acceptance in terms of playing a role in human physiology, health or behavior.

In 1789, the French chemist, Antoine Lavoisier, discussed 23 elements in his book, Traite elementaire de chimie (Elementary Treatise of Chemistry), which many consider the first textbook of modern chemistry. The book included a list of elements or substances that could not be broken down further, forming the foundation for which elements would eventually be organized into the periodic table. He was the first to predict the existence of silicon and established that sulfur was an element rather than a compound.

In the 19th century the list of elements grew to 61, owing to a sequence of discoveries made by such eminent chemists as the Swede, Jons Jacob Berzelius, who is credited with identifying the elements cerium, selenium, and thorium, along with the work of his students who identified lithium, vanadium, and several rare earth elements. Unfortunately, Berzelius erroneously believed that inorganic substances did not play a role in human health, as he persisted in arguing that only organic substances performed such functions.

This belief persisted for some years until the German chemist, Baron von Liebig, demonstrated that both inorganic and organic substances had the ability to nourish animals. Ultimately, this led to the logical conclusion that this might also hold true for humans. Unfortunately, von Liebig’s research focused too narrowly on the chemistry of proteins to the point that any metals in foods were seen as little more than a residue left over after being incinerated, which chemists call “ash”.

It wasn’t just chemists who delayed the recent golden age of research on minerals, trace elements and human health that emerged in the 20th century. One must also point a finger at many prominent biologists, the medical community, and dieticians, most of who disregarded growing evidence of their importance by arguing against their role, with the exception of a few elements, such as calcium, or those that were “toxic”, such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury.

Encouraged by the work of Linus Pauling (Pauling’s rules) and other scientists in the early 20th century, they sought to understand how the elements might influence our health and wellbeing.  As one element after another was experimentally demonstrated to be essential or semi-essential to health, the research focus eventually moved on to purportedly non-essential elements, sometimes referred to as “trace” and/or “ultra-trace” elements, found in our soil, food and water. In time, it became evident that many of these seemingly “non-essential” elements can play an important role in the prevention, mitigation, progression, and/or treatment of a wide range of diseases. For example, it is now becoming accepted that to build bone density as we age, more than calcium and hydroxyapatite is needed to build and maintain strong bones and reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis.

Today, as never before, multi-disciplinary fields have enriched our understanding of the importance of the elements found in the periodic table and the effect they have on our health. There is now growing evidence that the sufficiency or deficiency of numerous elements in our diet may have a multi-generational effect on the health of offspring for several generations.

We now know that metal ions regulate a vast array of physiological mechanisms important to our health, and our offspring. What is particularly puzzling is why it took so long to gain an appreciation of the role elements play on our health. Maybe if they were positioned as “drugs”, their vast array of functions would be better known.

Today, no one disputes that without minerals and trace elements, we would not exist; a major paradigm shift that Alex has personally witnessed during his over 40 years of research on the role that minerals play in human health and behavior.

Bio: Dr. Schauss is a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition (FACN), and a Certified Food Scientist (CFS), who earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in the “soft sciences” at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, while “poking around abandoned surface and underground mines in southern New Mexico and Arizona.” He earned his PhD in psychology at California Coast University in Santa Ana, California, where he studied the effect of zinc status on perceptual disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, as well as, neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.  A former Clinical Professor, and Associate Professor of Research, and lecturer in nutrition, biostatics and epidemiology, he has been a member of several committees at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), served as an advisor to foreign ministries of health, and appointed to represent the United States at the World Health Organization (WHO) Study Group on Health Promotion.

An Emeritus Member of the New York Academy of Sciences, Founding Honorary Member of the British Society of Nutritional Medicine, and a member of the American College of Toxicology, American Society for Nutrition, American Chemical Society, International Society of Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, Society of Toxicology, and Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, Dr. Schauss has been recognized for his research and work over several decades beginning in 1983 when he received the McCarrison Lecture Award from the Society for Nutrition and Health at Oxford, UK, and more recently, the Linus Pauling Lecture Award for “contributions in the medical sciences” by the American College for the Advancement of Medicine.

Currently, he is a Research Associate in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Arizona, and member of the UA Mineral Museum Advisory Board, as well as, the Science and Conservation Advisory Council of the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. He is a past-President of Friends of Mineralogy, Life Member of the Mineralogical Society of Arizona, Fellow of The Mineralogical Record, and member of the Arizona Geological Society (AGS), the Flagg Foundation, and the Mineralogical Society of America (MSA).

Among some 23 books, 37 chapters, and over 175 peer review papers authored in the fields of nutrition and botanical medicine, is the book, Minerals, Trace Elements and Human Health, which will be the subject of his presentation.



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