Health Benefits of Indium

Toxic chemicalsTo quote UCSD: “Indium has no known biological function, and the scientific literature does not support the claims about indium’s benefits on health.” I could just end there, but it seems there is a need for information about this supposed panacea.

Yet another health supplement hits the streets, this time in the form of indium sulfate. Apparently, it “is a rare trace mineral that supports several hormonal systems in the body. Indium may strongly elevate immune activity and reduce the severity and duration of a myriad of human conditions.” That’s according to the website, which goes on to claim that the element will “normalize the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain.”

The site explains, that “As the conductor of various studies on indium, Dr. Schroeder (the scientist best known for inventing the means to take lead out of gasoline) found that possibly the most important function of Indium is to normalize the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain.”

Well, the late Henry A. Schroeder of Dartmouth Medical School, a leading toxicologist, spent years highlighting the problems of lead toxicity.*

Meanwhile, back to indium. Elemental discoveries are a boon to any marketeer, especially if you can convince consumers to buy, buy, buy. A document entitled: “Patented Indium Trace Element in Marketing Form Available for License” suggests how this can be so

There are 3 questions that a company should ask when considering the addition of a new product for its product line:

  • What is it that I can sell abundantly, at a high profit and worldwide, exclusively?

  • Why will my customers want to continue to use it, daily, for the rest of their lives?
  • How will my customers be able to afford to use it daily, all of their lives, continuously?

It then tells us how these pertain to indium (In, element 49) and how a clever marketer might exploit the patent on the health benefits of indium.

So, where do the supposed health benefits of indium come from or is it just a marketing scam? What about those claims that it affects the activity of glands in the brain. Well, indium is an element in the same group of the periodic table as boron, aluminium, and gallium, oh and thallium, so one would not expect it to be particularly beneficial or even essential to health. Indeed, aluminium is a neurotoxin.

However, Schroeder, towards the end of his life, wheelchair bound with muscular dystrophy, included indium in some of his last few experiments. He apparently, demonstrated that lab animals, on lifetime indium, had fewer cancers than controls. Other than references to the use of indium in imaging agents, I can find nothing in the medical literature regarding the positive health benefits of daily supplementation with indium, not then, not now.

Yet, the web is littered with so-called health food sites selling indium sulfate to unwitting consumers, presumably, exploiting that marketing guidance I found on at least one site. However, there is one site to which I shall refer you and that is the webelements site from Sheffield University’s Mark Winter. the entry for indium explains that depending on dose (by injection):

All indium compounds should be regarded as highly toxic. Indium compounds damage the heart, kidney and liver, and may be teratogenic

So, who do you trust most, a health website hoping to get repeat sales based on your fears of poor health as you get older, or a well-respected site from a leading research team at a top university? I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be ingesting an indium compound daily for the rest of my life in the vague hope that represents some undiscovered panacea, that would just be bad medicine

This item originally published July 25, 2005, was overhauled and updated on July 2, 2008.

*Schroeder did not, as far as I know, despite the wording of the above quote, develop a method for removing lead from gasoline. Why would you need to do that? The petrochemical companies used to add tetraethyl lead as an antiknocking agent, so the simplest method for its “removal” is just not to add it in the first place. You don’t need to develop a method to remove lead from petrol!

Incidentally, tetraethyllead was first added to gasoline in 1923 and it quickly became obvious that workers at the three manufacturing plants were becoming psychotic and dying from its toxic effects. The issue was essentially hushed up and “research” between 1926 and 1965 claimed a consensus that lead was only a problem at high exposure levels and atmospheric lead from vehicle exhausts was not a problem at all. We now know different, thanks partly to the efforts of Schroeder.