The Laboratory of Environmental Monitoring at the TSU Faculty of Chemistry studied the ash residue of plants, human hair, and animal hair to identify patterns of accumulation of chemical elements, including toxic ones, in biological objects. Knowing these patterns will help scientists understand the role of certain elements in the life of individual organisms and entire biosystems of local, regional, and planetary scale. The data are important for improving the quality of life of people, in particular, for developing recommendations on a balanced diet.
In 2017, scientists at the Laboratory of Environmental Monitoring developed and tested a fundamentally new hair research technology based on the atomic emission spectrometry method with a multi-channel emission spectrum analyzer. A bioactive substrate is burned in a special chamber at 400–450 °С and its ash residue is studied. The new method made it possible to obtain a large amount of information about a living organism, to reveal an increased content of toxic elements and an imbalance of vital elements.
- Earlier we analyzed the chemical composition of human hair. Tomsk doctors used the data to clarify a patient’s diagnosis, - explains Vladimir Otmakhov, one of the authors of the methodology, a scientist at the TSU Faculty of Chemistry. - Now we have expanded the composition of the objects studied, to obtain new fundamental data on the patterns of distribution of chemical elements in biological objects. Animal wool, aerial parts of plants, and fish were added to the list.
To find out the influence of environmental conditions and ecological features of the area on the content of macro- and microelements in the hair of residents, chemists studied the hair of people living in Tomsk, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kyzyl, and the village of Parabel, Tomsk Region. The study involved volunteers aged 18-55 years.
- Our studies have shown that periodic dependencies are generally of the same type, says Vladimir Otmakhov. However, each region has its own characteristics. For example, an imbalance was found in the population living in Ust-Kamenogorsk in seven elements - Ba, Ca, Al, and others. In Tomsk there is an imbalance in six elements: Al, Ba, P, and W have an increased content in the hair, and Ni and Cu are low. In Kyzyl, there is a large excess of Ag, Al, Ba, Ca, P, Mg, Mn, and Zn, and a lack of Cu and W. Residents of Parabel village had an excessive content of Ag, Al, Ba, Mn, P, and Zn. Elevated tungsten (W) was found only in Tomsk.
The lack and excess of certain elements are due to various factors, including the conditions in which a person works, the environment, and nutrition. At the same time, scientists have found that the composition and distribution of chemical elements in the hair are not the same for women and men, and also people of the same sex but of different ages and with different levels of body resistance to the negative effects of various environmental factors.
As the authors of the article note, in general, the concentration of chemical elements in people decreases with age. However, a number of elements are exceptions, which are apparently associated with the individual characteristics of the organism. The content of vital biological elements in women and men of different ages varies unequally. For example, the calcium content in women aged 20-30 is 6.7 times higher than in men and aged 50-60 7.9 times; at 80-90 the difference decreases and is 3.3 times. Does this partly explain the fact that women on average live longer than men?
The data obtained are important both from the point of view of fundamental science, and for taking measures to improve people’s quality of life, for example, recommendations on nutrition that will correct the balance of important elements in the body.
- When we studied the ash residue of medicinal plants, some features were established of their assimilation of a number of elements hazardous to human health, such as arsenic, tungsten, vanadium, cobalt, and others,- says Vladimir Otmakhov. - In biology, it is well known that all chemical elements are necessary for the normal functioning of living organisms. The determining factor is their concentration and the harmony of interaction with the main nutrients. The patterns established made it possible to put forward a proposal for agricultural workers on the appropriateness of sowing food crops that people need with medicinal herbs, such as meadowsweet, chamomile, and others, because they are able to quickly absorb “dangerous” elements. Thus, a product intended for human nutrition will be cleaner.