Mining for our Health

May 4, 2020
Eva Dierkes

Eva Dierkes

The first product that most people think about when they hear about mining are either metal production for our high demand of high-tech products or coal to provide power and heat.

We are not particularly aware of the importance of mining products in the healthcare industry. As mining products have plenty of different uses in the health care industry, from the filler material in your medication, to healing baths with salts and the usage of metals in the implant and surgical instrument industry, we are going to have a look into some.

An example for a mining substance used as a filler in medication is clay, other non-mining fillers are lactose and starch. The important part about a filler is that it is an inactive substance. Different variations of clay like kaolin are added to make the medically relevant substance more stable. Most of the time the medical substance has a low dosage and a pill would be too small to package and produce and therefore a filler is added for convenience.

For anyone that ever had a relaxing bath with an additive, they might have put a mining product into their bathtub. For example, carbonic acid baths are sometimes made from a naturally occurring water, and sometimes from coke that has been produced from hard coal. The baths are supposed to help with high blood pressure and circulatory disorders. Similarly, some sulfur baths are also made from mined sulfur compounds and are helping with a variety of skin issues.

For surgical implants, from tooth implant to hip replacement metals and bioceramics are used. They must be biocompatible, which means they cannot decompose or corrode when being in contact with the insides of the human body. Titanium is one of the most used metals as it creates a protective oxide layer that protects it from any influence from the body. As it integrates well with other bone it is often used for tooth implants.

Surgical instruments should not lead to any allergies when used, as this would put a patient at risk. They also must be very hard and durable but do not need to be biocompatible like the implants. For scalpels, the shaft is made of simple stainless steel and the replaceable blade is made of chrome steel with a high chromium content, as this can be sharpened well. Similarly, a lot of other instruments like claps, wound hooks and tweezers are made from chrome steel but with a lower chrome content.

While searching for information about the nutritional supplements I could not find information about how for example the magnesium and iron are produced. This is a question for deeper research.

Eva Dierkes, M.Eng. 



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