Historical aspects of medical geology

Iskhak Farkhutdinov, Leyla Farkhutdinova, Anastasiya Zlobina, Anvar Farkhutdinov, Iosif Volfson, Irina Matveenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The article examines the relationship between geology and human health from antiquity to today. The doctrine that man is a reflection of the universe was widespread in antiquity. In the Renaissance, the Swiss alchemist, physician and philosopher Paracelsus proclaimed the principle: “Everything is poison, everything is medicine; both depend on the dose”. Until the twentieth century, the role of microelements was identified in the development of only two diseases-hypoferric anemia and endemic goiter. The development of atomic-emission spectroscopy in the 1920s permitted the analysis of elements with exceedingly low concentrations in the environments being studied. Application of this analytical technique made it possible to measure the microelemental composition of soils, plants, animal tissues, and other matter, resulting in important scientific discoveries. Then information was collected on the vital necessity of microelements that previously had been considered as toxic to living organisms. The explanation of different diseases caused by deficiency or excess of different elements was made-'Bush disease' among New Zealand cattle by the low content of cobalt in rocks, ataxia of lambs in some regions of Western Australia caused by copper deficiency, osteomalacia in a region of Norway caused by phosphorus deficiency in rocks, 'white muscle disease'-cardiac muscle dystrophy caused by selenium deficiency, Keshan disease or endemic cardiomyopathy caused by selenium deficiency in soils and other. With the increasing interest in medico-geological research there was a need to unite scientists from different countries. In 2004 the International Medical Geology Association (IMGA) was established. Its aim is to promote awareness concerning this issue among geoscientists, medical specialists, and the public at large. Medical geology is a relatively new scientific field that studies the influence of geological factors on health. The obtained results testify to the prospects of scientific research at the junction of medicine, geology, ecology, and the expediency of further in-depth study of the biological role of geological factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)172-183
Number of pages12
JournalEarth Sciences History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Biogeochemistry
  • Geochemistry
  • Geoecology
  • Medical geology
  • Trace element status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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