Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Precious Pearl

When most people think of a pearl, they think of a piece of jewelry, whether it is a bracelet, necklace, or a pair of earrings. Pearls are one of nature's best gifts to mankind and woman feel proud to wear them and show them off. But what people don’t think about is where these beautiful pearls come from and the other potential benefits they contain.

Pinctada is a genus of saltwater clams of marine bivalve molluscs, also known as the pearl oysters. These oysters have a strong inner shell layer composed of nacre, also known as "mother of pearl," which is an organic-inorganic composite material; it is what makes up the outer coating of pearls. It is strong, resilient, and iridescent. Although it may be thought that all oysters produce pearls, this is not quite the case. Pearl oysters are not closely related to either the edible oysters of the family Ostreidae, or the freshwater pearl mussels of the families Unionidae and Margaritiferidae. The various species of Pinctada produce different sizes and colors of pearls, depending on the size of the species of the oyster as well as the natural color of the nacre inside the shell.

A natural pearl begins its life inside an oyster's shell when an intruder, such as a grain of sand or bit of floating food, slips in between one of the two shells of the oyster. In order to protect itself from irritation, the oyster will cover the invader with layers of nacre and will continue to do so, layer upon layer. Over time, the irritant will be completely encased by the silky crystalline coatings. As a result, we are able to have the lovely gem called a pearl. Check out the video below for a better look at nacre and how it works:

How something so wondrous emerges from an oyster's way of protecting itself is such an amazing ability of nature. In addition to natural pearls, cultured pearls share the same properties. Oysters form cultured pearls in a similar way, the only difference being that a person carefully implants the irritant in the oyster, rather than leaving it to chance.

Besides being a gorgeous piece of jewelry, though, pearls have been found to contain traces of several metals and minerals which are known to have major health benefits! Pearls rich in essential minerals can help treat killer diseases like cancer. Pearls have been used for their medicinal value since their earliest discovery by man. Even today, the pharmaceutical industry continues to use pearls in medicine. Pearls that are of inferior quality and cannot be used in jewelry are those that are ground into a fine powder and used to prepare high-quality pharmaceutical calcium.

Studies have also been performed on pearls to better understand where their benefits come from. In a series of experiments by Ajai Sonkar (a scientist at the Pearl Aquaculture Research Foundation), pearls produced through special culture techniques were  found to contain traces of metal and minerals such as zinc, copper, magnesium, iron, calcium, sodium and potassium. He stated that “these micro-nutrients are essential for various body functions such as metabolism, growth and immunity. Of them, zinc has been found to be playing a major role in preventing fatal diseases like cancer.”

There have actually been numerous other studies performed with similar results, such as one published recently in the British Journal of Cancer which established zinc's anti-tumor role that prevents the growth of cancer cells. Other studies have found that zinc deficiency in the body causes delayed healing of wounds. Presently, Sonkar wants to carry out a comprehensive clinical test to find out health benefits of specially cultured pearls.

In conclusion, that pair of pearl earrings you’re wearing isn’t just your average piece of jewelry. It was created by a marine organism and contains numerous benefits besides being a sight to look at.  It’s amazing to think that in almost every culture, pearls could simply be worn as jewelry, or they could be ground up and made into potions and balms used to treat a wide variety of ailments and conditions. One legend said that a pearl placed in the navel could cure stomach disorders! The possibilities pearls posses are astounding and should definitely be noted.


  1. I honestly had no idea that that was how a pearl was made. I thought it was just a buildup that they created inside on their own- not due to an intruder invasion. I personally don't like wearing pearls, but it does intrigue me that they are helpful in the medical world. From a person whose family has been affected my cancer, I think it's interesting that such a small "thing" can be so helpful.

  2. Meredith, what an interesting blog post! I had no idea that pearls were used in the medical field. I did know that pearls could be formed by a grain of sand, but not food particles.

  3. Interesting information about pearl formation. I am a bit dubious of the anti-cancer claims, however. The link you cite does not contain references to any peer-reviewed work supporting the claims that anything in pearls can prevent cancer and the scientist involved seems to be employed by a pearl aquaculture group. This could be a potential conflict of interest, so I would be careful repeating any information about medicinal use of pearls unless you can back it with some referenced science.

  4. This is a very interesting post! I had no idea that pearls were used in so many ways. Also the formation of them is very unique as well. I had no idea that pearl-forming oysters were different from the edible variety. Great job!