Soils and geomedicine

Environ Geochem Health. 2009 Oct;31(5):523-35. doi: 10.1007/s10653-009-9257-2.


Geomedicine is the science dealing with the influence of natural factors on the geographical distribution of problems in human and veterinary medicine. Discussions on potential harmful impacts on human and animal health related to soil chemistry are frequently focused on soil pollution. However, problems related to natural excess or deficiency of chemical substances may be even more important in a global perspective. Particularly problems related to trace element deficiencies in soils have been frequently reported in agricultural crops as well as in livestock. Deficiencies in plants are often observed for boron, copper, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc. In animals deficiency problems related to cobalt, copper, iodine, manganese, and selenium are well known. Toxicity problems in animals exposed to excess intake have also been reported, e.g., for copper, fluorine, and selenium. Humans are similar to mammals in their relations to trace elements and thus likely to develop corresponding problems as observed in domestic animals if their supply of food is local and dependent on soils providing trace element imbalances in food crops. In large parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, people depend on locally grown food, and geomedical problems are common in these parts of the world. Well-known examples are Keshan disease in China associated with selenium deficiency, large-scale arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh and adjacent parts of India, and iodine deficiency disorders in many countries. Not all essential elements are derived only from the soil minerals. Some trace elements such as boron, iodine, and selenium are supplied in significant amounts to soils by atmospheric transport from the marine environment, and deficiency problems associated with these elements are therefore generally less common in coastal areas than farther inland. For example, iodine deficiency disorders in humans are most common in areas situated far from the ocean. There is still a great need for further research on geomedical problems.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Environmental Health*
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Soil / analysis
  • Soil / standards*
  • Soil Pollutants / toxicity
  • Trace Elements / analysis*
  • Trace Elements / deficiency
  • Trace Elements / toxicity


  • Soil
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Trace Elements