Can a human being lead a healthy life by consuming only mineral compounds?

Mineral compounds are minerals that can be mined or synthetically manufactured from mined materials, no organics.

For example, if the body needs Calcium, could a person obtain that calcium (Ca) by consuming Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3)?

My goal is to understand if humans can survive without eating organic food: plants or animals.


closed as off-topic by Mołot, sphennings, Frostfyre, Vincent, anon Nov 10 '17 at 15:45

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about worldbuilding, within the scope defined in the help center." – Mołot, sphennings, Frostfyre, Vincent, anon
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What chemicals you are talking about here? Natural food is as chemical as food produced in factory. Are you by any chance means "artificial food" or "manufactured food"? $\endgroup$ – Vylix Sep 14 '17 at 4:59
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Any substance is made of atoms, and chemistry is based on atoms, thus every substance is chemical. Please rephrase your question, now it is a tautology $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Sep 14 '17 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ If anyone wants me to give this as an answer, or they themselves: perhaps you can consider working the Gaia Hypothesis, or something similar, in your world. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Sep 14 '17 at 5:43
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ As the others have said: a ‘chemical’ is any substance which interacts in ways that preserve its nuclear structure. Well, that's not quite the IUPAC definition, but it works well enough. Pretty much everything you see around you at this very moment is a chemical object. The minerals in granite can undergo chemical reactions, so too can an apple or a sandwich. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Sep 14 '17 at 5:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @AmruthA The question is getting down-votes — and close-votes — because 1) this is not about world-building. 2) it lacks even basic research and/or context. 3) it begets a knee-jerk reaction of the sort "no of course we cannot sustain ourselves on rocks and minerals, that is obvious!", which in turn points back to point 2. The least bit of research on your part would have shown that minerals contain very little exergy, that is to say "usable energy", and that the human digestive tract is entirely dependent on carbohydrates, fats and proteins in order to get energy. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Sep 15 '17 at 7:01


Humans must consume complex organic chemicals, like proteins and amino acids. A more advanced technology might be able to synthesize them, but so far we need plants to provide them at all, and we need animals to provide them easily.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Vitamins, too. Hard to synthesize those, even from petrochemicals, which themselves were once living things. $\endgroup$ – jdunlop Sep 14 '17 at 6:14
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I'd like to add that our digestive system is not designed to directly extract specific elements from minerals. It is designed to break down organic material and use the broken down material in ways both simple and complex. $\endgroup$ – JBH Sep 14 '17 at 6:25


Humans need energy to survive. Minerals are in such a state it is very hard to get any energy from them. Coal would be the one glaring exception there but coal in indigestible by humans.

enter image description here

Anthracite coal is an excellent energy source. Just not for the human body...

We also need amino acids, and vitamins to survive. Minerals provide neither.

As it stands, humans are entirely dependent on consuming other living things — plants, fungi or animals — in order to survive.



I am interpreting this question not as an exercise in doofusness but as a thought experiment for a post-apocalyptic dead earth scenario. Factories and chemistry must take the place of farmland and range. Nuclear power must take the place of the sun. Yes, yes; a world to build. Now the practicalities:

If you define minerals as things that can be mined, humans can live on coal, nitrogen gas and synthetic vitamins. These things need chemical modification before they are suitable foodstuffs but it can be done. For example, during and after WWII the Germans successfully used Fischer-Tropsch reactors to produce margarine from coal.


Germany had the first technologically successful synthetic fuel industry producing eighteen million metric tons from coal and tar hydrogenation and another three million metric tons from the F-T synthesis. The Allies maintained that Germany's Nazi government had created the industry for strategic reasons under its policy of autarchy and that in postwar Germany there were, economically, better uses for its coal than synthetic fuel production. Three of the F-T plants continued operation after the war. Schwarzheide in the Soviet Zone, which had a labor force of 3,600, produced gasoline for Soviet civilian and military consumption. Gewerkschaft Victor in Castrop-Rauxel and Krupp Treibstoffwerk in Wanne- Eickel in the British zone, were producing oils and waxes from fatty acids and using them to make soaps and margarine.

Amino acids, which is why we need protein, can also be chemically synthesized from inorganic starting materials.

As regards minerals that is the easiest - of course calcium carbonate can provide calcium; you can buy it anywhere in tablets.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.