The mineral balance is regulated chiefly by hormones, and hormones rely upon certain fatty acids, vitamins, and amino acids for their manufacture. Minerals are inorganic elements that originate in the earth and cannot be made in the body. Most of the minerals in the human diet come directly from plants and water, or indirectly from animal foods. Only about 1/200th of the daily supply of minerals comes from water.
Nutritionally, minerals are grouped into two categories; macro minerals, and trace minerals or micro minerals. Macro minerals such as calcium and magnesium are needed by the body in larger amounts, 100 mg or more. Trace minerals are needed in much smaller amounts, usually given in mcg (less than 100 mg).
The term mineral is not exactly correct. We are talking about ions not chemical compounds of actual minerals.
What is an ion?
An ion is a particle (either an atom or a group of atoms) that carries an electrical charge. There are two types of ions: positively charged ions called cations, and negatively charged ions called anions. Examples of important cations in the body include magnesium, sodium, potassium, calcium, and hydrogen. Important anions are bicarbonate, chloride, and phosphate. Once dissolved, the so called minerals do not exist as such: sodium chloride breaks down into sodium ions and chloride ions in solution.
Three basic classifications of minerals exist. They are “metallic minerals,” “chelated minerals,” and “colloidal minerals.” Metallic minerals are found in their pure elemental form or as salts such as sodium chloride and zinc sulfate. They are the most commonly used form in nutritional supplements. They are the least expensive form of minerals. Their degree of absorption is the least of all three forms.
Colloidal minerals are those that occur in nature in the colloid state. That is, they are minute particles that can be easily dispersed in a medium such as water. Plant-derived colloidal minerals provide the best of all forms of minerals because they are associated with natural plant tissue. This gives them all the advantages of chelated and metallic minerals and more!
Minerals and proteins must be taken in at the same time. Adequate digestive acids must be present to ionize the mineral and also break down the proteins to amino acids. Then amino acids must combine in a stable formation with the base minerals.
The greatest lesson I can give you regarding trace minerals is their total integration and interdependence on one another. Remember, any substance can be toxic at certain levels, regardless of how essential it may be. The most important trace minerals are iron, zinc, copper, chromium, iodine, selenium, manganese, and molybdenum. Some others, such as arsenic, boron, cobalt, nickel, silicon, and vanadium, are recognized as essential for some animals, while others, such as barium, bromine, cadmium, gold, silver, and aluminum, are found in the body, but little is known about their role in health.
A severe lack of iron deprives body tissues of oxygen and may cause anemia. Some of the early warning signs of iron deficiency include fatigue, paleness, and dizziness, sensitivity to cold, irritability, listlessness, poor concentration and heart palpitations.
Things that inhibit iron absorption: coffee, tea, soy-based foods, antacids, and tetracycline. Also, excessive amounts of calcium, zinc, and manganese can inhibit iron absorption. Symptoms of iron toxicity include diarrhea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, fatigue, stomach cramps, and weak pulse.
Zinc is a trace mineral that is found in every fluid, tissue, cell, and organ, in the human body. Inadequate intake of Zinc or zinc deficiency can affect any of over 200 enzymes in the body.
In patients with either bulimia nervosa (binge-purging) or anorexia nervosa (self-induced starvation), zinc deficiency can directly affect cognitive and perceptual processes that help maintain these eating disorders. Recently it has been shown that there is an inverse relationship between morbid obesity and zinc, meaning that the more morbidly obese the individual the lower their zinc status. This suggests that zinc plays an important role in the entire continuum of eating disorders, from obesity to anorexia nervosa.
A similar example would be the mineral magnesium which plays a role in over 300 enzyme reactions in the body, many of which are directly related to cardiovascular health.
Zinc is integral to the synthesis of RNA and DNA, the genetic material that controls:
- cell growth, division and function
- bone development and growth
- cell respiration
- aiding enzymes in digestion and energy metabolism
- wound healing
- the liver’s ability to remove toxic substances such as alcohol from the body
- immune function
- the regulation of heart rate and blood pressure
An adequate zinc intake enhances the ability to taste (standard process), promotes healthy skin and hair, enhances reproductive functions, and may improve short-term memory and attention span. As an anti-inflammatory agent, zinc is sometimes used to treat acne, rheumatoid arthritis, and prostatitis. Zinc gluconate lozenges (containing 23 mg of zinc each) taken every 2 hours significantly reduces the average duration of common colds by seven days.
Most susceptible to zinc deficiency are young children, pregnant women, vegetarians, and elderly people. Some of the more common symptoms of zinc deficiency are: loss of taste, hair loss or discoloration, white streaks on the nails, dermatitis, loss of appetite, fatigue and poor wound healing. In children, zinc deficiency can retard growth and stunt sexual development in boys. Zinc deficiency is a well-known complication of Crohn’s disease. Zinc is involved in virtually all aspects of insulin metabolism (synthesis, secretion and utilization). Zinc is also very important in treating periodontal disease. Zinc has also been shown to reduce the size of the prostate.
Treatment with topical and oral zinc has been shown to reduce the duration and severity of herpes outbreaks. High levels of zinc are also toxic to Chlamydia and trichomonas and have been used successfully in cases which did not respond to traditional antibiotic therapy.
Too much zinc can also cause problems: Problems such as nausea, headaches, vomiting, dehydration, and stomachaches. Ingesting extreme amounts of zinc daily can impair immune function, cause poor muscle function, fatigue and possibly kidney failure.
Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) in adults are 1.5 mg to 3 mg. Its many functions include helping to form hemoglobin in the blood, facilitating the absorption and use of iron, assisting in the regulation of blood pressure and heart rate, strengthening blood vessels, bones, tendons, and nerves, promoting fertility, and insuring normal skin and hair pigmentation. Excess calcium and zinc will interfere with copper absorption. A true copper deficiency is rare and is associated with albinism, or with acquired malabsorption ailments such as Crohn’s Disease and celiac disease. Deficiencies may also occur in infants who are not breast-fed and some premature babies.
Symptoms of copper deficiency include: brittle, discolored hair, skeletal defects, anemia, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, and infertility.
Taking more than 10 mg of copper daily can bring on nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and stomach aches. Women who are pregnant or taking birth control pills are susceptible to excess blood levels of copper. Some research suggests that high levels of copper and iron may play a role in hyperactivity and autism.
Recommended Dietary Allowances in adults is 50 mcg to 200 mcg. Chromium works with insulin to regulate the body’s use of sugar and is essential to fatty-acid metabolism.
Its contribution to metabolism makes chromium a helpful supplement in weight loss programs. Inadequate chromium can result in alcohol intolerance, elevate blood sugar levels, and possibly induce diabetes-like symptoms such as tingling in the extremities and reduced muscle coordination. Chromium is not absorbed well, so the body must take in far more than it uses.
Common effects of iodine deficiency are: goiter, weight gain, hair loss, listlessness, insomnia and some forms of mental retardation. Hypothyroidism and an iodine deficiency are associated with a higher incidence of breast cancer. There is also evidence of an association between low thyroid function and Fibrocystic Breast Disease (FBD).
On the other hand, extremely high intake, while it may not be toxic, since most excess is excreted by the kidneys, may cause nervousness, hyperactivity, headache, rashes, metallic taste in the mouth and goiter (due to thyroid hyperactivity).
Selenium supports immune function and neutralizes poisonous substances such as cadmium, mercury, and arsenic that may be ingested or inhaled. A word of caution, in high doses, selenium and selenium compounds are very toxic, causing hair loss, nail problems, accelerated tooth decay, and swelling of the fingers among other symptoms.
Livestock grown in areas containing high amounts of selenium in the soil and in which a plant called Astragalus (“loco weed”) is present are poisoned. This is because Astragalus concentrates selenium.
Recommended Dietary Allowances for adults are 2.5 mg to 5 mg. Manganese is essential for the proper formation and maintenance of bone, cartilage, and connective tissue. It contributes to the synthesis of proteins and genetic material, and helps produce energy from foods. It also acts as an antioxidant and assists in normal blood clotting. Manganese is an important co-factor in the key enzymes of glucose metabolism. It has been found that a deficiency results in diabetes in guinea pigs. Another interesting fact is that diabetics have been shown to have half the level of manganese that normal individuals have.
Recommended Dietary Allowances for adults is 75 mcg to 250 mcg. Molybdenum is a component of the enzyme “xanthine oxidase”. It helps generate energy, process waste for excretion, mobilize stored iron for the body’s use, and detoxify sulfites (chemicals used as food preservatives). Molybdenum works with vitamin B2 in the conversion of food to energy. The average adult body contains about 9 mg with the highest concentrations in the liver, kidneys, bone, and skin. Molybdenum deficiency is extremely rare. Symptoms include rapid heartbeat and breathing, headache, night blindness, anemia, mental disturbance, nausea and vomiting. Marginal molybdenum deficiency has been associated with the development of cancer. In China, people consuming molybdenum deficient diets have been found to have an increased risk of throat cancer. Low molybdenum levels have been linked to an increased allergic reaction to sulfite food additives. Toxic effects of excess molybdenum intake include weight loss, slow growth, anemia, diarrhea, increased blood levels of uric acid and swelling in the joints. This may occur at intakes of 10 to 15 mg.
Boron is primarily needed for healthy bones and teeth. Boron also enhances brain function, promotes/improves alertness, helps to prevent osteoporosis, and builds muscles. Boron is required to activate certain hormones including estrogen. Although most people are not deficient in boron, the elderly usually benefit by supplementing their diets with boron in 2mg to 3mg daily doses.
A study conducted by the Unites States Department of Agriculture indicated that within eight days of supplementing their daily diet with boron, a test group of postmenopausal women lost forty-percent less calcium and one-third less magnesium through their urine than they had before beginning boron supplementation.
As stated earlier in this article minerals are essential to proper body function and your health. Therefore taking a mineral supplement is a very important aspect of your daily wellness routine. When taking minerals make sure they are organically bound minerals for the best absorption.
Ref: Rennert, O.M. Chan, W-Y. Metabolism of Trace Metals in Man, Vol. I. CRC Press, 1984, p. 71.
Elizabeth here: I do believe minerals do not get enough attention in the media compared to vitamins. Our modern diets are severely lacking in trace minerals. That's one reason I use a high quality sea salt as discussed in this post.