Macro- and Secondary Elements and Their Role in Human Health

  • Rolf Nieder
  • Dinesh K. Benbi
  • Franz X. Reichl


Sixteen elements are known to be essential for plants and animals. Based on their concentration in various plant tissues required for adequate growth, nine elements are categorized as macronutrients (>0.1% of dry plant tissue) and the rest as micronutrients. The human body cannot biosynthesize these essential elements and acquire them from food. Except for carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O), which are obtained from air and water, plants take up other essential nutrients from soil. Nutrient input to soil occurs from minerals in the parent material, soil organic matter, fertilization and in some cases (e.g. nitrogen and sulphur) through atmospheric deposition. Soils are most often deficient in nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) and, therefore, require their regular input for optimum plant production. In recent times, deficiencies of sulphur (S) are increasing world-wide. The nutrients from soil are taken up in ionic form by the plant and abundance of ionic forms determines the nutrient availability, which besides depending on total quantity of a nutrient is governed by a number of physical, chemical and biological processes and transformations in soil. Nutrient availability and utilization by plant influences human health by providing food and nutritional security in terms of quantity and quality of food consumed to meet dietary requirements and food preferences of people. Essential nutrients play varied roles in the human body ranging from being constituent of structural components (e.g. bones, teeth, cell wall) and biomolecules (amino acids, proteins, enzymes, vitamins, hormones etc.) to performing a variety of physiological functions such as enzyme activation, protein synthesis, energy transfer, transport of sugars, secretion of insulin, creatinine phosphorylation, carbohydrate metabolism, electrical activity of heart, maintenance of acid-base balance etc. Excessive and inadequate nutrient intake and accumulation can disturb key body functions which may lead to severe human health problems. In this chapter, a brief description of sources and transformation of macronutrients in soil as a background to subsequent discussion on their functions in plants and humans and the impact of excessive or inadequate intake on human health are presented.


Macronutrients Secondary nutrients Sources of macroelements Biological nitrogen fixation Fertilizers Macroelement transformations Denitrification Nitrogen cycle Phosphorus cycle Macroelement functions Micronutrient deficiency Optimizing macronutrients Food sources of macronutrients 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rolf Nieder
    • 1
  • Dinesh K. Benbi
    • 2
  • Franz X. Reichl
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute of GeoecologyTechnische Universität BraunschweigBraunschweigGermany
  2. 2.Department of Soil SciencePunjab Agricultural University LudhianaLudhianaIndia
  3. 3.Walther-Straub Institute of Pharmacology and ToxicologyLMUMunichGermany

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