Yes, your body does need other elements in the air, not because they do anything special in your body, like oxygen, but because they balance the level of oxygen in breathing air. If you were to breathe 100% oxygen, fluid would accumulate in your lungs, your alveoli would collapse, and following seizures/convulsions, you would die. This wouldn’t happen instantly, as fluid begins to accumulate in the lungs at 48 hours of breathing pure oxygen. Also, at lower pressure, one could survive longer breathing only oxygen.
An inert gas, like nitrogen, basically controlls the amount of oxygen present in breathing gas. For the most part, nitrogen doesn’t really do anything in respiration, but the percentage it makes up of breathing air is essential in balancing the amount of oxygen in the air; 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen is what humans are adapted to. Much more or less oxygen in the air we breathe would not be good (roughly + or – 5%).
Wrong. If you read your own howstuffworks source, it states that the astronauts breathed 100% oxygen for weeks with no problem.
The tenor of the question seems to be whether trace elements used by the human body can be absorbed through the lungs.
The difficulty answering is that most research focuses on nutrition that is eaten, or on artificial compounds that are inhaled (such as cigarette smoke).
There’s also the issues of topical chemicals. If you are an asthmatic, you absolutely need the chemicals dispersed by the inhaler in your lungs.
As the cited page from Clermont College points out, the chemicals absorbed through your lungs could be harmful or helpful.
But if the question is: Does a healthy body need to take nutrients from the air besides oxygen, then the answer is no. Although it’s worth mentioning that inhaling air with no water vapor will dehydrate you much more quickly.
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