Minerals are inorganic substances which exist naturally in the earth, many of which are critical to the growth and production of bones, teeth, hair, blood, nerves, skin. These minerals are known as essential nutrients, which are: calcium, chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium and zinc.
We need significant quantities of essential macrominerals (such as calcium), such that they are usually measured in milligrams, and we require minute quantities of essential trace minerals (such as selenium), which are usually measured in micrograms.
A single mineral does not work in isolation, rather, they are necessary as synergistic elements to support physical health. They work best in association with all other minerals and trace minerals, the way they are found in unrefined whole foods.
These minerals are essential because they critical for the production of vitamins, enzymes and hormones in the body, as well as proper blood circulation, fluid regulation, nerve transmission, muscle contraction, cellular integrity, and energy production. These minerals work synergistically with each other and with other nutrients, such that any deficiency or overabundance of any mineral can cause disease.
Essential minerals are found in fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts, beans and dairy products, however, most of the soil in which our produce is grown has long been depleted of these nutritive minerals. Commercial fertilizer is well known to contain three primary minerals yet there are hundreds necessary for soil to be as fertile as to allow plant life to produce the minerals we need for optimum health.
Therefore, amounts of essential minerals in our produce may vary widely, depending on local soil content and farming methods. It is widely believed that organic farming methods preserve and replenish the necessary soil nutrients for healthy levels of these minerals in agricultural produce. Some minerals may be obtained from our water supply, but amounts there are also widely varied and often unknown.
The cooking and processing of food also compromises mineral availability and absorption, where many naturally occurring minerals are removed. A daily mineral supplement, although not a substitute for a healthy diet, can help to ensure that we get the mineral essential to our health.
Calcium is the most important mineral to add to our diets, since our bodies cannot product it. Calcium, along with magnesium, vitamin D, phosphorus and fluoride strengthens the bone. Although most calcium is found in the bone, the small amount found in the blood is essential to metabolic functions, and when depleted causes the bone’s supply to be raided when the diet lacks sufficient calcium to maintain the metabolic process.
The National Institutes of Health recommends 1000-1500 mg of dietary calcium per day. Good sources include dairy products, oysters, salmon, dark leafy greens (spinach, kale), broccoli and oranges.
Iron is critical for the delivery of oxygen to the cells, is necessary for the production of energy, necessary for the synthesis of collagen and function of the immune system. Iron is normally deficient only among children and pre-menopausal women, but excess iron is more common in men and post-menopausal women.
Excess amounts adversely affect the immune system, cell growth and the heart. Iron absorption can be blocked by calcium, magnesium, manganese, and zinc. Common sources of iron include meat, fish, beans, spinach, molasses, kelp, brewerâ€™s yeast, broccoli and seeds. Since iron from plant sources is not as easily absorbed as that from animal sources, vegetarians should supplement with, or eat foods high in, vitamin C to enhance iron absorption.
Magnesium is crucial for maintenance of the acid-alkaline balance in the body, healthy functioning of nerves and muscles, and the activation of enzymes to metabolize blood sugars, proteins and carbohydrates. It is also vital for proper bone growth and necessary for adequate calcium absorption. A 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium is essential for the effectiveness of taking calcium supplements to maintain strong bones.
Magnesium deficiency is considered one of the most under-diagnosed deficiencies in the US today, suffered by approximately 70% of the US population. Indications of a magnesium deficiency may include muscle twitches (e.g., Restless Leg Syndrome), nervousness, abnormal heart beat or disorientation.
Healing properties of magnesium rich foods include the calming of nervous system functions, mental and emotional imbalances including irritability, depression, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders and PMS. It is also helpful in relaxing the functioning of muscles, reduction in symptoms of migraine, cramps and digestion. The best sources of magnesium are legumes, whole grain, and seeds.
Phosphorus is stored in the bones at normally a 1:2 ratio to calcium, and is also a component of soft tissue and cells, where it contributes to the body’s chemical processes, for example to provide the energy necessary for metabolism.
Food sources include protein-rich foods such as meats and dairy products, although some is present in almost all foods. With this and the fact that it is easily absorbed by the body, it is not found in most supplements. People taking aluminum hydroxide for extended periods however may end up with a deficiency, as these normally contain aluminum which prevents phosphorus absorption.
Zinc is required to support the immune system, protein synthesis, and reproductive health, particularly in men. Deficiencies are common, and can adversely affect the ability to heal, physical growth, nerve health, and the skin.
Amounts of zinc in excess of 100 mg/day or more can have adverse effects such as lower HDL (good) cholesterol and poor copper retention. Sources of zinc include meats, fish, whole grains, brewer’s yeast, mushrooms, and pumpkin seeds.
Chromium is essential to several enzyme systems, including that which works with insulin in the processing of glucose (sugar). Insulin is necessary in the metabolism of triglycerides (the primary form of fat in the body). Therefore, chromium assists with maintaining triglycerides due to its control of insulin.
Chromium deficiency has been shown to be linked to blood sugar imbalance and improper metabolism. Widespread chromium deficiency is recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as being caused by inadequate food intake but also to excess sugar intake which in turn causes chromium levels to decrease. Chromium toxicity can result from taking levels greater than 800 mcg/day. The only common food source is brewer’s yeast.
Copper is important for the health of the cardiovascular, immune and nervous systems, liver, skin joint and blood. It is most concentrated in the liver and brain, and a crucial component in the absorption and utilization of iron and zinc.
Any excess of copper or zinc causes the suppression and decreased utilization of the other . Copper deficiencies have been shown to be linked to the inadequate production of the critical antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase (SOD), and to red blood cell deficiency. Copper is easily obtained through whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, and shellfish.
Iodine is essential to the function and development of the thyroid gland. Deficiencies result in enlargement of the thyroid, and during pregnancy and infancy can cause brain development and growth issues in the child. The most common source of iodine is table salt.
Any more than 150 mcg/day is possibly a concern for those with thyroid abnormalities, but for most people 1000 mcg/day is a safe limit. However, such amounts may result in breathing difficulties or skin irritations for anyone with sensitivities.
Manganese is critical to the metabolism of bones, and is essential for enzyme reactions, and healthy brain, thyroid, and nervous systems. It is easily lost in processed foods. Deficiency may affect the health of these systems, including cartilage and skeletal formation, normal reproduction, and glucose tolerance. The best sources of manganese are legumes and whole grains.
Selenium is a powerful antioxidant which works in concert with vitamin E to support the operation of antioxidant enzymes, and may reduce the risk of abnormal cell growth, as will many other antioxidants. It supports cardiovascular health and supports the thyroid and nervous system. Thyroid disorders are a growing concern in the US, and obesity and low thyroid are directly related.
Toxic heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, can be bound up with selenium and rendered harmless. Sources of selenium are whole grains and vegetables, and seafood.
The dietary intake should be limited to 200 mcg daily to avoid toxicity. Excess amounts can compromise the enzyme functions and skeletal development in fetuses, and in amounts of as much as 75/mg/day, it can cause nerve damage, nausea, hair loss and skin abnormalities.
Molybdenum is necessary for the proper function of important enzymes. Deficiencies occur most often in those with metabolic conditions, while excess amounts can cause poor copper retention. Sources include whole grains, beans and dairy products.
Fluoride protects tooth enamel from acid forming bacteria, and strengthens bone and tissue. Sources include fluoridated water, tea, and canned salmon and mackerel (because of the bones processed with the fish). There are many warnings about fluoride in our diets, particularly as an additive to the public water systems, and even toothpaste, although associated with prevention of tooth decay.
Non-Essential Trace Minerals:
There are other trace minerals not yet recognized by the health authorities, but which are believed essential for human health such as silicon, arsenic, boron, and vanadium.
Boron has been shown only recently (since the 1980s) to play an important role in the metabolism of other minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium. It is also believed to play a part in regulating steroid hormones. Sources of boron are nuts, beans, soy, and prunes.
Silicon is involved in the formation of cartilage and skeletal system. It is common in most unrefined produce (grains, vegetables and fruits).
Vanadium has been found to be important for metabolizing fat, and maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system by inhibiting cholesterol synthesis. Common sources are vegetables and seafood. Vanadium absorption is normally poor, less than 5% of dietary vanadium is absorbed by the body.
Electrolytes are essential to maintaining healthy electrochemical activity. Water, along with sodium, potassium and chloride. Sodium and potassium are positively charged, while chloride is negatively charged. Typically we get plenty of these minerals in our daily diet, but through exercise they are excreted through the sweat glands and must be replenished to avoid serious health risks.
Potassium, along with Sodium, is responsible for the regulation of fluids inside of the cells. Potassium is crucial for a healthy nervous system in nerve impulses, muscle contraction, and blood pressure. Levels are controlled by water consumption and kidney function.
Deficiencies are not common in healthy people but are common in individuals who use chemical laxatives and diuretics, or who have had excessive vomiting, diarrhea of kidney failure. Symptoms of deficiency include muscle weakness, intestinal issues, heart and respiratory problems.
Potassium is found in a wide variety of foods, however most abundant in unprocessed foods, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables. It is only toxic if taken in excess of 18,000 mg/day.
It is important to be sure that our diets are comprised mostly of the highest nutritional value quality foods. While supplementation is important to ensure we get all that we need, we should do our due diligence in finding the best options.