What about sodium as Na+, that seemingly forgotten marker for blood and extracellular fluids inTurin Shroud research?

Sodium is easily detected and measured by the yellow colour it imparts to a flame.

Please note: this is not my major “Shroudie” site. See also this one, more scientific, less argumentative…

I was reviewing some work of the sadly now deceased Dr. Alan D Adler recently, with a highly dubious take on some of his claims. The focus was on that explanation he devised for the “blood” on the Shroud still being bright red, after centuries, the one that has trauma-induced bilirubin forming a complex with trauma-induced methaemoglobin (an oxidised iron(III) form of normal iron(II) haemoglobin , the combination of which is …  right, bright red (or so he claimed, on the basis of some shift in the spectrum).  But right at the end of that, and other highly improbable scenario, he then said that segregation of serum from red  blood cells as consequence of clot retraction and exudation (still more involved theorising) could explain why there is no potassium residue on the linen as might be expected.

Well, that final throwaway comment has been at the back of my mind for days. How can one “lose” an alkali metal ion, unless the Shroud has been to the cleaners, but then one would lose most of the “blood” too. Next thought: why has there been so much attention given to the sophisticated biomolecules of blood – the haemoglobin, the serum albumin and other proteins, the blood group substances – the ones that are hardly likely to survive intact for centuries, providing solid nutrition for microorganisms like bacteria and fungi, and so little given to the markers that will still be there when all the carbon-containing molecules have been converted to CO2? Yup, alkali metal ions like potassium (K+) are non-biodegradable, indeed non-chemically degradable without an atom-smasher to hand.

All of a sudden, the penny dropped. Never mind the potassium for now. WHAT ABOUT THE SODIUM?  Blood is salty. It’s loaded with sodium chloride, NaCl, or Na+Cl-. Why have I never seen mentions of sodium in connection with the Shroud and those “blood stains”? Now here’s something curious. Enter…  shroud turin blood sodium… into your favourite search engine, and look at the returns. You will find at best a few passing mentions of sodium, but nothing to suggest that it has been systematically investigated as a stable marker for old blood or serum stains. How weird is that?

(ed: this post now tops the list returns!)

But on that first page of returns is a link to the “Silly Beliefs” site, one to which  I have contributed a few comments, stating that the “blood” on the Shroud cannot be real because, wait for it, the stains do not have the expected metal ions like potassium, sodium, magnesium etc.  Elsewhere I have read that the only metal that might be said to be present in any quantity on the Shroud is calcium – which if unaccompanied by the others could have numerous origins apart from blood. What’s more, those parts of a body that have made direct contact with a Shroud, should be enriched in ions that are prevalent in sweat, an extracellular fluid, notably sodium.

So what’s going on here, or rather NOT been going on? Why has the absence  – or at any rate near-absence of sodium – not been reported and commented upon by that group presently assembled in Valencia as we speak, the ones  who were given privileged access to the Shroud for a week in 1978, the ones who effectively now operate as an old boy network?

Here’s a few jottings (italics) I made earlier, which I’ll tidy up later, but note the large figure for blood or serum sodium, which dwarfs potassium. Millimoles (mmoles) of sodium can be converted to milligrams  of sodium if one wishes, simply by multiplying by 23, or,  if wishing to convert to sodium chloride (NaCl), by (23 + 35.5) ,  i.e. 58.5. The figures in brackets are the respective molar masses of sodium (23) and chlorine (35.5).


Start of jottings (most of it  unedited cut-and-paste)

A normal blood sodium level is 135 – 145 milliEquivalents/liter (mEq/L), or in international units, 135 – 145 millimoles/liter (mmol/L).

 The normal blood potassium level is 3.5 – 5.0 milliEquivalents/liter (mEq/L), or in international units, 3.5 – 5.0 millimoles/liter (mmol/L).


 Serum potassium values range from 3.5 to 5.0 mmol/L while the concentration inside the red blood cell is at least 15 to 20 times this amount. 


 Normal serum sodium levels are between 135 and 145 mEq/L ie 135 to 145 mmol/litre


That is the same as whole blood level. In other words there is little sodium inside red cells, OR the sodium in red cells is extruded in clotting.


 If the blood is real, or all the blood stains are real, there is a simple and straightforward prediction that needs to be confirmed, namely that sodium will be higher in the blood stains that in surrounding areas. That would be true no matter how degraded the blood stain – since sodium is non-volatile . It would only be compromised if the fabric had been washed in some way that removed the soluble sodium while, improbably, leaving visible traces of blood. Splashing with water would disperse sodium, but not remove it.

End of jottings


It’s unlikely that any of Shroudology’s big cheeses will be reading this today, or perhaps ever, given the secret garden they have created for themselves with their endless series of conferences ( I see the present one in Valencia is amazingly billed as the ” First International Congress on the Shroud” would you believe it?)

To those of us no longer look to those Valencia attendees for a truly objective far less sceptical take on the Shroud (most appearing to be in the business of further promoting “an aura of mystery”, then  here’s an idea for an experiment which, Vatican and Turin custodians willing, should have been done years ago. (ed: it should cause no visible damage to the Shroud if done carefully).

Get a long narrow strip of absorbent felt, or maybe a synthetic absorbent material, say one cm wide, and the width of the Shroud (approx 1metre), and crimp a three-sided section of aluminium around it to get something that then looks like a  car windscreen wiper (with felt instead of rubber). It will be used for dabbing and soaking up metal ions from the Shroud.

Choose a part of the Shroud that is supposed to be heavily blood stained, but not too important from a display point of view. (I would suggest the small of the back on the dorsal side where blood is said to have accumulated from the “spear wound”.

Select one or more  straight  line(s) across small of back, to include a mix of imaged/non-imaged regions, without and without supposed blood stains, for analysis of sodium and other important physiological cations and anions

Moisten the entire length of felt with deionised water, and leave a while for the water to distribute evenly. Then press the mounted strip down across the full width of the Shroud, passing across imaged/non-imaged areas. Apply equal pressure across the entire sampling strip.  Remove the strip after a minute or so, then detach from its Al holder and leave the felt to dry. Then chop up the felt into small tablet-like sections, say half a cm wide, then analyse each for metal ions, e.g. by emission or atomic absorption spectrophotometry. Then display the data for each metal ion as a profile.  Anything that looks like a blood or serum stain on the Shroud should show as a peak for the physiological metals, especially Na+, K+, Mg++, Ca++ etc.  Let’s not forget the important counter-ions also – notably chloride (Cl-).  As I said earlier, most of the sodium in blood is there as plain common salt (Na+Cl-), i.e. with chloride the major counteranion, although in fresh blood there are others (bicarbonate, carbonate,  organic acid anions like lactate etc, but most if not all of these will have probably long disappeared as CO2 etc).

So why is there so little if anything in the Shroud literature on sodium and the other physiological metal ions?  Does anyone know? I shall refrain from voicing my deep misgivings raised earlier about “objectivity”  while waiting for an answer. Suffice it to say I have had close experience with ‘defensive’ science,  know and recognize the mind set, and indeed spent a good many years resisting it, at some cost to promotion prospects, so will not be minded to back off any time soon. Defensive so-called science, combined with cherry picking of the right results, and playing down or holding back  the wrong ones,  is what presently undermines trust in both science and so-called “scientists”

Update: 15th March  2013: I have been looking back through my older postings to assist with assembling a “pseudoscience” dossier for the benefit of the Royal Society.

Look at my first response to Dr. Kelly Kearse.  I was far too polite. Previously I have commended that individual for his clear accounts of ABO blood grouping. But that oh-so- obnoxious put-down of his is a prime example of the very thing I wish to draw to the RS’s attention – scientists who engage in pseudoscience behind a smokescreen of scientific terminology.

Reminder to  Dr. Kearse: if needing to characterize something as real blood, its is not enough to confirm the presence of specific markers. One has to confirm the presence of non-specific markers too. Alan D.Adler noted the absence of potassium, which he tried to account for with his serum-exudate hypothesis. But the scanty literature re sodium, the major cation of blood, plasma and serum, suggests that too is largely absent. How can that be accounted for in terms of exudation. given the exudate is serum, or fibrinogen-depleted plasma?

Why have you dodged the question, Dr.Kearse? How do you explain the apparent deficit not just in potassium, one  that no one in Shroudology disputes (handy circumstantial evidence for  explaining how dried clots can mark linen)  but of sodium too?. Please convince me you do not deserve to go on my hit list of Shroudie authenticity-proselytising pseudoscientists, or in your case, ex-(research) scientist.


About Colin Berry

Retired science bod, previous research interests: phototherapy of neonatal jaundice, membrane influences on microsomal UDP-glucuronyltransferase, defective bilirubin and xenobiotic conjugation and hepatic excretion, dietary fibre and resistant starch.
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12 Responses to What about sodium as Na+, that seemingly forgotten marker for blood and extracellular fluids inTurin Shroud research?

  1. Pingback: Blood Question: Where’s the Salt? « Shroud of Turin Blog

  2. colinsberry says:

    Comment on The Other Site:

    Kelly Kearse
    May 1, 2012 at 6:40 am | #1
    Reply | Quote

    Is the presence of sodium chloride is a forensic test typically used in the characterization of dried bloodstains? Tests for the presence of specific blood components, such as hemoglobin, immunoglobulin, serum albumin, & ABO molecules are routine as they are more informative and definitive.

    Irrespective of the Shroud, type salt and bloodstains into your favorite search engine and you’ll get some hints on spot removal or descriptions of buffers used in solubilization, but come up pretty short on diagnostics.

    Pass the salt, please, appears to be a straw man

    Nope, it is not a forensic test as usually understood, but we are not dealing with forensics here but archaeology, attempting to see whether the degraded blood really is blood (on which the literature is highly confusing thanks to an astonishing lack of documentation and even scientific objectivity on some people’s part). I see you make no reference to the likelihood that the blood will be highly degraded after all these centuries, whether it be 6 or 20 centuries… There are some for example who say that the iron on the fabric is iron oxide – not intact haemoglobin or even oxidised methaemoglobin, or even haems, or even intact porphyrins etc etc…

    My approach is scientific (whether it is forensic or not I neither know nor care). One sets up a hypothesis and one tests it. If those stains really are ancient degraded blood, then they should carry a chemical signature – that of the metal ions that are in blood. Unlike haemoglobin etc, those metal ions are non-biodegradable, non- any kind of degradable. Sure, they might conceivably if improbably wash out, or have washed out (see following comment) but I believe in collecting the data first, then evaluating what one sees, instead of dreaming up scenarios that end with one saying “why bother?”. Those who approach a topic without preconceptions DO bother to collect the data first…

    If there is any straw man here, it is yourself, in imagining that there is undegraded haemoglobin on the fabric that is responsible for those “positive tests”. Any positive tests, unaccompanied by quantitative data, should have been captured on video and be accessible on YouTube. Nobody’s word should be taken on trust, given that most, indeed all Shroudologists are a self-selected group. I photograph and display ALL those observations that I consider important. Thus this series of postings here and on 2 other sites.

  3. colinsberry says:

    daveb of wellington nz
    May 1, 2012 at 7:00 am | #2
    Reply | Quote

    Colin would know better than any of us that NaCl is highly soluble in water, along with its ions. Surely only one dowsing would be enough to wash it all away. Or am I missing something here? Refer “The Shroud” Wison, 2010, Fig 1a & Fig 12 show two separate incidents of water damage, the first probably from some unknown storage condensation in an earthenware jar, the second from dowsing to extinguish the 1532 fire.

    Absence of NaCl may therefore be no kind of indicative argument; On the other hand any presence of NaCl could hardly be taken as corroborative of anything, I should think.

    Is there any way that NaCl could be retained on the cloth, particularly the blood stains, if it was dowsed? Only if that’s possible can Colin’s query then have significance!

    Yes, the common metal ions of blood are water-soluble, or the blood would have some difficulty in transporting them to all those cells and tissues that are totally dependent on blood for their supply of essential minerals…

    But to state, or even suggest that “one dousing would be enough to wash them away” is not science but Shroudology. I could add to that, and point to the water stains on the Shroud that are just that – stains- hardly indicative of the entire Shroud having gone through a full wash cycle in a washing machine with biological detergent, but I shan’t. I have done with the time-wasting “what if” kind of nitpicking that attempts to preempt experimentation. I am a retired PhD scientist who uses the internet to report progress, as distinct from a single issue dissembler using it to retard progress…

  4. colinsberry says:

    Jos Verhulst
    May 1, 2012 at 8:13 am | #3
    Reply | Quote
    Reminds me of a curious detail that I recently noted in Giulio Fanti’s “La Sindone. Una sfida alla scienza moderna” (2009, p.175): “Recentemente, l’autore è stato informato che una crosticina di sangue, prelevata dalle polveri aspirate da G.Riggi di Numana, risulta mescolata al sudore, in quanto è ricca di cloruro di sodio”

    (‘recently, the author has been informed that a blood crust, found in the powder collected through aspiration by G.Riggi di Numana, turned out to be apparently mixed up with sweat, that contains very much NaCl’). So, apparently salt has been recorded, but there was too much salt for the sample being pure blood, with the most natural explanation being that the blood was mixed up with sweat. Of course, this observation illustrates an important point: NaCl is a very common mineral, that can result from many sources. Besides, it is also very soluble.

    The sodium data can be interpreted in any number of ways. That is why one should collect data not just on sodium, but on the other physiological metal ions like potassium, magnesium, calcium etc which collectively serve as a “fingerprint” for blood and other sodium-rich, potassium-poor extracellular fluids. Any preclinical medical student (and I have taught them) could have told you that.

  5. colinsberry says:

    Dan Porter on his “ShroudofTurn.wordpress.com website quotes this, then asks “Is he thinking conspiracy theory?

    “So what’s going on here, or rather NOT been going on? Why has the absence – or at any rate near-absence of sodium – not been reported and commented upon by that group presently assembled in Valencia as we speak, the ones who were given privileged access to the Shroud for a week in 1978, the ones who effectively now operate as an old boy network?”

    A self-selected group of Shroudologists (I refuse to call them Sindologists while the C-14 dating says the cloth is medieval) do not need to conspire, Dan. They know what’s required of them, and will self-censor accordingly. Indeed they will carefully select in advance what to study, and what not, thus reducing the probability of having to self-censor.

    That’s why we have no systematic data on sodium and other physiological metal ion distribution across the fabric, preliminary data having no doubt shown that sodium is not there in the so-called blood stains – so why make a further rod for one’s own back…?

    See elsewhere in this thread the pat explanations for why the sodium is not there (“washed out”) thus obviating the need to bother with it further. We even have a scientist (an immunologist no less) resorting to internet flimflam, dismissing the sodium lacuna as a “straw man” argument.

  6. colinsberry says:

    Yannick Clément
    May 1, 2012 at 4:40 pm | #4
    Reply | Quote

    Here’s an extract from the above comment

    “…If you read this summary paper about the blood analysis from the Shroud, you’ll easily see that Heller and Alder did found Na and Cl as chemical element present in the blood samples. I think M. Berry should read again (or read for the first time) the papers published by Heller and Adler. There’s no question about the FACT that the blood on the Shroud is blood…”

    How about providing a link? I have of course encountered the work of both Heller and Adler previously, and apart from doing a critique on the blood studies of the latter (with the focus on that amazing red colour, that bilirubin theory etc) of these two, have seen only sporadic references to sodium and other ions. But what needs to be stressed is that I have not seen systematic studies that attempt to measure the levels of sodium etc in the regions with blood stains compared with neighbouring non-stained regions. Search engines have failed to uncover any major works. In fact, I have just googled … Adler sodium turin shroud… and find my own paper – the one you are reading right now – at the top of the listings! That has to be telling us something – like there’s a gap in the previous literature?

    I shall of course persevere, which will mean having to check out a lot of pdf files no doubt,from conference proceedings etc, the contents of which can sometimes escape the search engines…

  7. colinsberry says:

    Jos Verhulst
    May 2, 2012 at 1:12 am | #5
    Reply | Quote

    If I remember well (I did not look it up), in Adler’s “Orphaned Manuscript” there is a reference to McCrone, who found both Na and Cl, among many other elements. In any case, this salt thing is a non-issue, ordinary salt being such a common substance. Nobody would accept the presence of NaCl as a valid indication for the stains being real blood – and rightly so. One could say almost as well that the researchers had to look for the presence of water in the stains, because blood contains a lot of water.

    I was reading the “Orphaned manuscript” just the other day, again to check carefully what Adler said about blood and bilirubin, the subject of my recent posting (“It’s clever, it’s pretty, but is it science?”). Maybe I missed something important about sodium etc, or there again maybe not, I shall re-read. (It would help if folk were to do more than make vague references to names, though in this case the citing of a specific paper helps, even if the title says it all).

    I did not say that the presence of salt is a valid indication of the stains being blood. I said that if the stains really were blood, then they should contain markers for blood, one of which is sodium (to say nothing of calcium, magnesium, zinc, cobalt, phosphate etc etc). Yes, common salt is indeed a common substance, as the name implies, but one would expect to find more NaCl on an old bloodstain than on a neighbouring part of linen that was not stained. We are talking about comparative analysis now…

  8. colinsberry says:

    From Ron
    May 2, 2012 at 1:41 am | #5
    Reply | Quote

    I must say, I am 100% in agreement with something Yannick has said.
    McCrone’s analysis of the blood was simply mediocre in comparison to the multiple tests done by Heller and Adler…This is a fact usually and most deceitfully left out by Shroud opponents.

    I have just googled …heller sodium chloride blood shroud turin… and found nothing on the first page of returns to suggest any major investigation. So, again, it may be a case of some passing references that I have/had forgotten, which “Ron”, safe behind his pseudonym, cannot be bothered to specify, preferring instead to slip at the drop of a hat into his all-too-familiar mudslinging mode… Does he not appreciate the difference between a sceptical scientist, defending good science, and contemptuous of pseudo-science, and an ideological opponent? Oops, I forgot. this is the internet, where anything goes…

  9. colinsberry says:

    Re my previous (long range) reply to “Ron”, which he may not know about (with previous attempts to post links back to this site having been blocked) I would add this. I have just been back to “The Orphaned Manuscript” having googled … blood on the shroud of turin heller adler.. to obtain a return pointing to page 29, but on clicking was greeted with a blank page, but for the following message

    “You have either reached a page that is unavailable for viewing or reached your viewing limit for this book”

    At the bottom is a price tag for access, over €30 as I recall.

    Well, do occasionally pay access fees, usually for hot topics, but rarely for studies done over some 20 to 30 years ago. But some here, scientists especially, may understand why I’m keeping my credit card in my wallet, when scrolling through the parts my ration does allow, looking for anything on sodium, I come across this, tagged on the end of a discussion section, yes DISCUSSION, to read this (which I have had to copy manually, there being no C&P facility:

    “Using a Kevex ISI 100B Energy Dispersive Spectrometer we have examined 16 different globs and fibrils from blood images, body image and non-image tape samples The fibrils all show strong Ca and Fe signals. The globs all show Na,Mg, Al, Si, P, S, Cl, K, Ca and Fe. Some also show Cu and Zn.Most importantly there is no Co or Mn or Ni detected anywhere. . . these results and the conclusions to be drawn therefore are identical with those from the microchemistry.”

    .Oh dear, or dear oh dear. Scientific though it may seem, there is no serious science in somebody, as an afterthought in Discussion, reeling off a list of elements as if writing down a section of the Periodic table, with no indication as to how muchis in each of those three locations, not even a semi- quantitative indication using, say, +, or ++, or +++.
    Oh, and there’s one tiny detail there that is interesting. Why was no cobalt detected? Cobalt is component in Vitamin B12, cobalamin, which circulates in the bloodstream. Any blood spot that contains detectable Cu and Zn would also be expected to give a signal for Co one would think,

    Elsewhere in the paper I came across other brief references to ions of interest (Na, K etc) but again it was impossible to extract quantitative indications re differences between blood and non-blood images. I am not even convinced that the spots contained oxidised haemoglobin as the author asserts: his statement that he would not bother doing a test for peroxidase activity because the latter is “not sufficiently specific”, and then relying mainly on spot tests and spectral changes does not strike me as the right way of going about things. What if there were zero peroxidase activity, suggesting that the spot under test, while “red”, had no intact haem structure with the characteristic peroxidase activity? This retired science bod believes one should collect the data first, and then discuss (and not discuss, as in “Discussion” section, and then attach extra meaningless summaries of so-called “facts” onto the tail end).

  10. colinsberry says:

    Yannick Clément
    May 2, 2012 at 8:26 am | #6

    For once Ron ! He he ! And what people has to remember also is one important fact that was confirmed by Adler’s spectroscopic analysis that he did in the later 90s : The blood on the shroud is not complete blood but exudates from traumatic blood clots !!! That can explain the absence of potassium in the analysis. It’s not me who said that, it’s Adler.

    The absence of potassium is certainly an embarrassment, or should be. Once a red blood cell is removed from the blood circulation with its protected environment (right osmotic condition, right pH, right concentration of glucose etc) its sodium-potassium pump packs up, and potassium begins to leak out under a concentration gradient. Dreaming up clever scenarios about exudation is not an explanation at all, but an attempt to brush aside inconvenient data.

    Adler may have been fine as a porphyrin chemist, but he was no biochemist or physiologist. Even his bilirubin chemistry (bilirubin being a linear as distinct from a cyclic tetrapyrrole, porphyrin being the latter) was exceedingly dodgy. I see now that his test for bilirubin was based on a commercial assay kit based on Ehrlich’s reagent – basically “microspotting” and looking for the right colour change, backed up by reflection spectroscopy, looking and finding a peak at 450nm which he says indicated “biladiene”. Sure, bilirubin has a biladiene chromophore. In fact it has two per molecule, on on each side of the central CH2 that interrupts the conjugated diene system. But degradation products of bilirubin , the so-called propentdyopents, which are dipyrroles, also have the biladiene chromophore, which are yellow, with peaks in the region of 450nm, so finding a 450nm peak is NOT a diagnostic test for bilirubin, least of all bilirubin that has been exposed to light and to oxygen for centuries, .

    The more I read of Adler’s science, the more I realize that it was defensive, looking for explanations that support authenticity. That cannot be assumed to be objective science unless backed up with impeccable data. Adler’s data is/was anything but impeccable. Confronted with inconvenient facts, Adler invented whole new sequences of biochemical and physiological events, resting on the idea of “trauma” associated with flogging, crucifixion etc. Sorry, but that is what’s known as “begging the question” – in its original meaning of an argument that leads back to the question being posed, i.e. a non explanation, merely a restatement of the question.

  11. Pingback: A “Johnny Come Lately’s” eighteen stumbles in Shroud research, all in the space of four months | Let's take a closer look at those straws – the ones still clutched at by Turin Shroud investigators

  12. Pingback: Dear Royal Society. Time maybe to take a hard line on those who peddle Turin Shroud pseudoscience? | The Turin Shroud: medieval scorch? Separating the science from the pseudo-science…

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