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Health Benefits of Geologic Materials and Geologic Processes (Returning to Mother Nature)

Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 20063(4), 338-342;


Article (Returning to Mother Nature)

Health Benefits of Geologic Materials and Geologic Processes
U.S. Geological Survey, Mail Stop 956, Reston, VA 20192 USA and Ulli G. Limpitlaw, Earth Sciences, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO 80639, USA
Received: 15 June 2005 / Accepted: 10 October 2006 / Published: 31 December 2006.
The reemerging field of Medical Geology is concerned with the impacts of geologic materials and geologic processes on animal and human health. Most medical geology research has been focused on health problems caused by excess or deficiency of trace elements, exposure to ambient dust, and on other geologically related health problems or health problems for which geoscience tools, techniques, or databases could be applied. Little, if any, attention has been focused on the beneficial health effects of rocks, minerals, and geologic processes. These beneficial effects may have been recognized as long as two million years ago and include emotional, mental, and physical health benefits. Some of the earliest known medicines were derived from rocks and minerals. For thousands of years various clays have been used as an antidote for poisons. “Terra sigillata,” still in use today, may have been the first patented medicine. Many trace elements, rocks, and minerals are used today in a wide variety of pharmaceuticals and health care products. There is also a segment of society that believes in the curative and preventative properties of crystals (talismans and amulets). Metals and trace elements are being used in some of today’s most sophisticated medical applications. Other recent examples of beneficial effects of geologic materials and processes include epidemiological studies in Japan that have identified a wide range of health problems (such as muscle and joint pain, hemorrhoids, burns, gout, etc.) that may be treated by one or more of nine chemically distinct types of hot springs, and a study in China indicating that residential coal combustion may be mobilizing sufficient iodine to prevent iodine deficiency disease.
Keywords:Health benefits; rocks; minerals; trace elements; coal combustion; hot springs.



Medical geology – the impacts of geologic materials and geologic processes on animal and human health – has been enjoying resurgence in recent years. Several books on this subject have been published within the past few years [13], numerous articles on medical geology have appeared in various journals [412] and a number of symposia [13] have been devoted to this topic. Nearly all of these books, articles and symposia have focused on the health problems caused by geologic materials such as exposure to elements such as arsenic, mercury, lead, fluorine, selenium, and uranium; minerals such as asbestos, quartz, pyrite; and geologic processes such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The list of geologic materials and geologic processes that adversely impact human health seems endless. However, there is a kinder, gentler side of nature.
Although relatively little acknowledgement has been given to the health benefits provided by geologic materials and processes [14], there is a long, rich and varied record of these benefits. This is not new knowledge; rather it is knowledge that has, to some degree been lost. It has been pushed aside for a more “modern” way of healing. As tribes and languages die out, knowledge of the ways minerals, fossils, and rocks were used to cure vanishes [15]. Awareness of the beneficial health effects of rocks and minerals may have occurred more than two million years ago. Abrahams [16] cites the discovery of powdered clays at a homo habilis site in Africa that is about two million years old. The most logical explanation is that these early humanoids used the powdered clays to aid in digestion or as an antidote for upset stomachs – the same uses that these clays are put to today! For eons primitive tribes throughout the world have used various types of clays for nutritional and therapeutic purposes [17]. As long as three to five thousand years ago, ancient civilizations (Mesopotamia, China, India, Egypt, etc.) used minerals for their therapeutic value. “Terra sigillata,” (earth that has been stamped with a seal) was described in the first century AD [16] and may have been the first patented medicine.
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