The five major minerals in the human body are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and magnesium. All of the remaining elements in a human body are called "trace elements". The trace elements that have a specific biochemical function in the human body are sulfur, iron, chlorine, cobalt, copper, zinc, manganese, molybdenum, iodine and selenium.
Most chemical elements that are ingested by organisms are in the form of simple compounds. Plants absorb dissolved elements in soils, which are subsequently ingested by the herbivores and omnivores that eat them, and the elements move up the food chain. Larger organisms may also consume soil (geophagia) or use mineral resources, such as salt licks, to obtain limited minerals unavailable through other dietary sources.
Bacteria and fungi play an essential role in the weathering of primary elements that results in the release of nutrients for their own nutrition and for the nutrition of other species in the ecological food chain. One element, cobalt, is available for use by animals only after having been processed into complex molecules (e.g., vitamin B12) by bacteria. Minerals are used by animals and microorganisms for the process of mineralizing structures, called "biomineralization", used to construct bones, seashells, eggshells, exoskeletons and mollusc shells.
At least twenty chemical elements are known to be required to support human biochemical processes by serving structural and functional roles as well as electrolytes. However, as many as twenty-nine elements in total (including hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen) are suggested to be used by mammals, as inferred by biochemical and uptake studies. Calcium makes up 920 to 1200 mg of adult body weight, with 99% of it contained in bones and teeth. Phosphorus makes up about 1% of a person's body weight. The other major minerals (potassium, sodium, chlorine, sulfur and magnesium) make up only about 0.85% of the weight of the body. Together these eleven chemical elements (H, C, N, O, Ca, P, K, Na, Cl, S, Mg) make up 99.85% of the body.
Most of the known and suggested mineral nutrients are of relatively low atomic weight, and are reasonably common on land, or, at least, common in the ocean (iodine, sodium).