Science, Tech, Math › Science The Elemental Composition of the Human Body Share Flipboard Email Print Science Chemistry Biochemistry Basics Chemical Laws Molecules Periodic Table Projects & Experiments Scientific Method Physical Chemistry Medical Chemistry Chemistry In Everyday Life Famous Chemists Activities for Kids Abbreviations & Acronyms Biology Physics Geology Astronomy Weather & Climate By Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. Facebook Twitter Chemistry Expert Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences, University of Tennessee at Knoxville B.A., Physics and Mathematics, Hastings College Dr. Helmenstine holds a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and is a science writer, educator, and consultant. She has taught science courses at the high school, college, and graduate levels. Learn about our Editorial Process Updated on June 28, 2018 Here's a look at the chemical composition of the human body, including element abundance and how each element is used. Elements are listed in order of decreasing abundance, with the most common element (by mass) listed first. Approximately 96% of body weight consists of only four elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chlorine, and sulfur, are macronutrients or elements the body needs in a significant amount. 01 of 10 Oxygen Liquid oxygen is blue. Warwick Hillier, Australia National University, Canberra By mass, oxygen is the most abundant element in the human body. If you think about it, this makes sense, since most of the body consists of water or H2O. Oxygen accounts for 61-65% of the mass of the human body. Even though there are many more atoms of hydrogen in your body than oxygen, each oxygen atom is 16 times more massive than a hydrogen atom. Uses Oxygen is used for cellular respiration. 02 of 10 Carbon Graphite, one of the forms of elemental carbon. De Agostini Picture Library / Getty Images All living organisms contain carbon, which forms the basis for all of the organic molecules in the body. Carbon is the second most abundant element in the human body, accounting for 18% of body weight. Uses All organic molecules (fats, proteins, carbohydrates, nucleic acids) contain carbon. Carbon also is found as carbon dioxide or CO2. You inhale air that contains about 20% oxygen. The air you exhale contains much less oxygen, but is rich in carbon dioxide. 03 of 10 Hydrogen Hydrogen is a colorless gas that glows violet when ionized. Wikimedia Creative Commons Hydrogen accounts for 10% of the mass of the human body. Uses Since around 60% of your body weight is water, much of the hydrogen exists in water, which functions to transport nutrients, remove wastes, lubricate organs and joints, and regulate body temperature. Hydrogen is also important in energy production and use. The H+ ion can be used as a hydrogen ion or proton pump to produce ATP and regulate numerous chemical reactions. All organic molecules contain hydrogen in addition to carbon. 04 of 10 Nitrogen Cory Doctorow Approximately 3% of the mass of the human body is nitrogen. Uses Proteins, nucleic acids, and other organic molecules contain nitrogen. Nitrogen gas is found in the lungs since the primary gas in air is nitrogen. 05 of 10 Calcium Calcium is a metal and one-third of the mass of human body comes from calcium, after water has been removed. Tomihahndorf / Creative Commons Calcium accounts for 1.5% of human body weight. Uses Calcium is used to give the skeletal system its rigidity and strength. Calcium is found in bones and teeth. The Ca2+ ion is important for muscle function. 06 of 10 Phosphorus Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images About 1.2% to 1.5% of your body consists of phosphorus. Uses Phosphorus is important for bone structure and is part of the primary energy molecule in the body, ATP or adenosine triphosphate. Most of the phosphorus in the body is in the bones and teeth. 07 of 10 Potassium Potassium is a soft, silvery-white metal that quickly oxidizes. Dnn87 / Creative Commons Potassium makes up 0.2% to 0.35% of the adult human body. Uses Potassium is an important mineral in all cells. It functions as an electrolyte and is particularly important for conducting electrical impulses and for muscle contraction. 08 of 10 Sulfur Ben Mills Sulfur's abundance is 0.20% to 0.25% in the human body. Uses Sulfur is an important component of amino acids and proteins. It's present in keratin, which forms skin, hair, and nails. It's also needed for cellular respiration, allowing cells to use oxygen. 09 of 10 Sodium Sodium is a soft, silvery reactive metal. Dnn87 / Creative Commons Approximately 0.10% to 0.15% of your body mass is the element sodium. Uses Sodium is an important electrolyte in the body. It is an important component of cellular fluids and is needed for the transmission of nerve impulses. It helps regulate fluid volume, temperature, and blood pressure. 10 of 10 Magnesium Warut Roonguthai / Wikimedia Commons The metal magnesium comprises about 0.05% of human body weight. Uses About half of the body's magnesium is found in the bones. Magnesium is important for numerous biochemical reactions. It helps regulate heartbeat, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels. It is used in protein synthesis and metabolism. It is needed to support proper immune system, muscle, and nerve function. Cite this Article Format mla apa chicago Your Citation Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "The Elemental Composition of the Human Body." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/elemental-composition-of-human-body-603896. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2020, August 27). The Elemental Composition of the Human Body. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/elemental-composition-of-human-body-603896 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "The Elemental Composition of the Human Body." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/elemental-composition-of-human-body-603896 (accessed December 6, 2022). copy citation Watch Now: Why is Water So Crucial to Body Function?