Minerals are Mother Earth's molecules found in her crusty soil. They are designed to be absorbed by plants then passed to animals and extremely to humans and provide us as humans with numerous health benefits. When you digest your food, minerals are absorbed from the food and transported into your body tissues. There they play an important role in keeping your body functioning at it's optimal levels.
Once absorbed, minerals are distributed into your body fluids and tissues to make up approximately four percent of your body's total weight. They then work in conjunction with vitamins, enzymes, hormones, and other substances, to play an important role in numerous biological functions. These include the growth and maintenance of bones and teeth, muscle contracting, nerve transmission, blood formation, energy production, fluid regulation, macronutrient metabolism, acid-alkaline balance (pH), and various other enzymatic reactions. Nutritional minerals are classified according to how much of the body's total weight they comprise. Macro minerals comprise at least.01 percent of body weight, while trace or micro minerals institute less than.01 percent. An adequate supply of both macro- and trace minerals are equally important for optimal health.
Macrominerals are calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium, while trace minerals are chromium, cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, sulphur, and zinc. While far more is known about macrominerals than trace minerals at this point in time, there is more and more information emerging about trace minerals every day. While necessary in only "trace" amounts in the body, these neutral minerals are vital for many important functions of the body. So first, let's take a look at the macrominerals important to our health.
Calcium is the most plentiful mineral in the human body. Therefore, it plays a vital function. 99 percent of it occurs in bone tissue, and the remaining one percent is used for other functions, including blood clotting, muscle contracion, and nerve function. Healthy teeth and bones both depend on adequate calcium supply, and calcium also contributes to healthy skin, helps regulate cardiovascular function and blood pressure levels, aids in the metabolism of iron, and is required for proper cell division.
Since the body can not produce calcium, we must get it from our diets or a supplement. The best food sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, turnip and collard greens, salmon, sardines, canned fish, almonds, and Brazil nuts. However, calcium can not be absorbed and utilized without vitamin D.
Signs of calcium deficiency typically include bone and joint problems such as osteoporosis and fractures. But calcium deficiency can result in anxiety, brittle nails, depression, insomnia, muscle cramps and twitching, and diminished nerve function. Calcium is best supplemented as a separate supplement rich in bioavailable forms of calcium, such as an istonic liquid form. It is often paired with vitamin D in order to provide maximum absorption and utilization by the body.
In addition, the body can only absorb calcium in limited doses (500mg or less at a time) and needs the presence of aids to help it dissolve and absorb. So using calcium carbonate (a stomach acid neutralizer such as the antacid Tums) is not an effective means of providing absorbable calcium to your diet. Taking calcium at several times through the day, either with dairy products, greens, fish or nuts as well as supplements is the smart way to get your full calcium dose daily.
Chloride is an essential part of hydrochloric acid (HCl), the vital stomach acid responsible for digestion. It also plays a role in regulating the body's acid-balance. It helps the liver eliminate toxins and aids in transporting carbon dioxide to the lungs for excretion. Among the best food sources of chloride are common table salt (sodium chloride), sea salt, seaweeds, celery, lettuce, and tomatoes. The standard American diet typically contains more than enough chloride due to its overall high salt content.
Chloride loss can easily occur following profuse diarrhea or vomiting, as well as periods of profuse perspiration such as during heat spells or fevers. Otherwise, chloride deficiencies are rare. When it does occur, the most common symptoms being acid-base imbalances and over alkalinity of body fluids. Usually obtaining sufficient natural sources of salt will provide plenty of chloride for your system. A good multi-vitamin and mineral provides adequate levels as well.
Magnesium acts as a muscle relaxant in the body. As such, it relaxes skeletal muscle, heart muscle and even muscle of the GI tract. In addition, it is involved in hundreds of enyzmatic reactions in the body. The majority of the body magnesium supply is contained in the bones and teeth, with the second highest concentration occurring in the muscles. The remaining magnesium supply is found in the blood and other body fluids. Due to magnesium's ability to relax muscle, it is an important nutrient for the heart muscle. It is especially important in preventing spasms of the coronary arteries, which can cause heart attacks. It is also needed for energy production in the cells of the body, the maintenance and repair of cells, healthy cell division, proper nerve transmission, hormone regulation, and the metabolism of proteins and nuclearic acids. Due to these vital functions, low magnesium levels can alter nerve transmission to the heart and lead to heart palpitations as well.
Magnesium is found primarily in plants rich in chlorophyll, particularly dark green vegetables. Nuts, seeds, legumes, tofu, wheat germ, millet, brown rice, apricot, and avocado are also other good sources.
Magnesium deficiency is now considered the most common vitamin deficiency. It is more common than many doctors realize, due to factors such as poor dietary intake, overcooking of food leading to mineral loss, soil depletion of magnesium, and the overuse of alcohol which depletes the body of magnesium. Deficiency symptoms often include depression, fatigue, gastrointestinal disorders, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, memory problems, mood swings, impaired motor skills, muscle spasm, nausea, and tetany (a form of muscle cramping).
However, excessive consumption of magnesium supplements can lead to increased GI motility and subsequent diarrhea. Doses of 250 to 500 mg as usually safe and higher doses can be used if diarrhea does not occur. Some people who suffer with constipation issues will find higher doses of magnesium helpful in maintaining overall bowel regularity.
Phosphorus ranks second to calcium as the body's most abundant mineral. It is found in every cell of the body, but primarily (approximately 85 percent) in the bones and teeth. In addition to contributing to bone and teeth structure, phosphorus helps form DNA and RNA, catalyzes B-complex vitamins, is involved in cellular communication and numerous enzymatic reactions, and helps produce cellular energy and increase overall endurance.
The best food sources of phosphorus are protein foods, such as meats, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and cheese. Other good sources include nuts, seeds, wheat germ, whole grains, and Brewer's yeast. The standard American diet can be extremely high in its phosphorus content. This is due to soda consumption. Soda can contain up to 500 mg of phosphorus per serving and create calcium-phosphorus imbalance.
Since phosphorus is contained in all animal foods, phosphorus deficiency is rare without one is a vegetarian or a vegan. Overuse of antacids, excess calcium intake, and lack of vitamin D can all result in phosphorus deficiency, however. Physical signs of deficiency include anxiety, arthritis, impaired bone growth, irritability, and weakness. Avoiding soda and using a multi-vitamin and mineral will assure adequate phosphorus levels in your body.
Potassium, along with chloride and sodium, is an electrolyte, or essential body salt, that conducts electrical current through the body. Approximately 98 percent of your body's potassium supply is inside of the cell wall. There it helps regulate water and acid-base balance. It also plays an important role in nerve function. It can help metabolize proteins and carbohydrates, aid in energy production and helps regulate heartbeat.
Best dietary sources of potassium are fresh fruits and vegetables, with bananas being a particularly rich source. Whole grains, seeds, nuts, wheat germ, salmon, and sardines are also good food sources.
Unfortunately, potassium deficiencies are fairly common, particularly among older people on certain medications and restrictive diets as well as in people suffering from certain chronic disease. Diarrhea, diabetes, fasting, and the overuse of diuretics and laxatives all contribute to potassium loss. Deficiency symptoms include irregular heartbeat, depression, fatigue, high blood pressure, hyperglycemia, impaired growth, mood swings, and unhealthy changes in the nervous system. An isotonic multi-vitamin and mineral will help supply adequate levels of potassium.
Sodium is a critical mineral for body function. Sodium is present in all of the body's cells, as well as the blood and other body fluids. Approximately 60 percent of the body's sodium content is contained in fluid outside the cells with 10 percent found inside the cells, and the reminder found in the bones. Like potassium, sodium helps maintain the body's fluid balance within and outside of the cells. This in turn helps regulate the body's acid-base balance and also helps transport carbon dioxide. Sodium plays an important role in muscle contraction and nerve transmission. In addition, sodium is involved in the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach and helps transport amino acids into the bloodstream to all the cells of the body.
Nearly all foods contain some degree of sodium. Seafood, beef, ham and poultry contain particularly high amounts. The primary diet source of sodium is table salt. Sodium is also present in significant amounts in most canned and processed foods. While chronic sodium deficiency is rare, acute or sudden sodium loss can occur with diarrhea, vomiting, profuse perspiration due to strenuous activity, and the overuse of diuretics. Deficiency symptoms include dehydration, low blood pressure, muscle cramping and twitching, and muscle weakness. Problems related to excess sodium intake are far more common. Among people who eat the standard American diet of highly processed foods, it can lead to high blood pressure. Individuals with heart dysfunction can easily have worsening of symptoms such as shortness of breath, swelling and fatigue with sodium overload.
Chromium is an essential mineral compositing part of the glucose tolerance factor (GTF). GTF is a factor which enhances insulin function, making chromium vital for proper carbohydrate metabolism and for regulating blood sugar levels. Since glucose is involved in energy production in the cell, by improving the way glucose is transported into the cells, chromium and GTF play an important role in energy production. There is even new research suggesting that chromium may also be useful for regulating body cholesterol levels.
One of the best food sources of chromium is Brewer's yeast found in many bread and even beer. Chromium is also found in cereals, wheat germ, eggs, meats, and shellfish. Chromium deficiency is quite common, especially in the United States. This is due in part to mineral-depleted soils and our over-reliance of refined and processed foods in the culture. Many people have problems absorbing chromium, particularly as they age. Deficiency symptoms include diabetes-like blood sugar problems as a result of peripheral tissue loss of sensitivity to glucose. Anxiety, fatigue, and impaired cholesterol metabolism are also associated with a lack of chromium in the diet.
Cobalt is a component of cobalamin (vitamin B12) and plays an essential role in the production of red blood cells. It is also involved in a number of key enzymatic reactions. Adequate vitamin B12 intake normally provides sufficient amounts of cobalt needed by the body. B12 is found in beets, green cage, figs, legumes, lettuce, liver, and seafish and sea vegetables. Cobalt deficiencies are basically those caused by a lack of B12 – anemia and nerve damage.
While copper is present in all body tissues, it is specifically concentrated in the liver and brain. It helps manufacture collagen (tissue structural support) and hemoglobin (the protein involved in carrying oxygen through red blood cells). Hemoglobin, along with iron, is necessary for the transport of oxygen in red blood cells. It also acts as an antioxidant, increases iron absorption, and serves as a catalyst for a variety of enzymatic reactions.
You get copper from dark green leafy vegetables, eggs, organ meats, poultry, nuts, shellfish, and wholegrain breads and cereals. Although dangerous copper deficiencies are rare, less serious copper deficiencies are more common. Symptoms include anemia, dermatitis, dirrhea, edema, fatigue, impaired collagen production, labored respiration, and tissue and blood vessel damage.
Iodine is plays a large role in healthy thyroid function. It is necessary for the production of thyroid hormone. In this role, it helps regulate metabolism and energy production in the whole body. Since thyroid hormones plays such a vital role in all body functions, iodine is of vital importance to overall health.
The best food sources of iodine are iodized salt, followed by seafood and seaweed. Iodine deficiency is estimated to affect at least 200 million people worldwide. This is felt to be due in part to depleted soil conditions. Deficiency symptoms include fatigue, goiter, hypothyroidism, decreased libido, impaired mental functioning, impaired metabolism, and weight gain.
Iron is another mineral present all the cells of the body. It is most commonly found in combination with protein, especially muscle protein. Iron is primarily involved in the production of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is integral to the transport of oxygen through the body. However, iron is also essential for a healthy immune function and energy production.
Among the best food sources of iron are beef, Brewer yeast, kelp, molasses, organ meats, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, oysters, and sardines. If you are taking iron as a supplement, it is best taken with vitamin C, which aids in its assimilation.
Women require more iron than men, especially during their childbearing years, during pregnancy and menstruation. As many as 10 percent of all women in the Western world are estimated to be iron-deficient. Children and the elderly are also more prone to iron deficiency. Deficiency symptoms include iron- deficiency anemia, dizziness, fatigue, headache, learning disabilities, lowered immunity, and impaired sleep.
Manganese is involved in several different enzymatic reactions in the body and is essential for proper brain function as well as the overall health of the nervous system. It is involved in the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates. It is required for cholesterol and fatty acid synthesis, as well as collagen formation. Manganese is found in green leafy vegetables (especially spinach), nuts, organ meats, and wholegrain breads and cereals.
Manganese deficiency in humans is rare but can result in dizziness, hearing problems, and weakness.
Molybdenum, in conjunction with copper, is necessary for the body's proper utilization of iron. It also aids in metabolizing carbohydrates. It helps the body detoxify potentially toxic sulfites commonly used to preserve processed foods. Molybdenum deficiency is rare, and is primarily caused by eating foods grown in molybdenum-deficient soils or a diet high in refined and processed foods. Deficiency symptoms include anemia as well as a greater risk of dental caries. Excessive molybdenum take can also result in gout-like symptoms and elevated uric acid levels.
Selenium in recent decades has been extensively studied and has been recognized as an important antioxidant. It is felt to be capable of performing many of the same antioxidant functions as vitamin E, including protecting cellular membranes from free radical damage, and minimizing the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, selenium sees to aid liver function, assists in the manufacture of proteins, help neutralize heavy metals and other toxic substances. It has been extensively studied to see if it acts as an anti-carcinogen.
Selenium is found in foods that include Brewer's yeast, wheat bran and wheat germ, Brazil nuts, oranges meats, and seafood. A number of plant foods, such as broccoli, onions, and tomatoes, can also be good sources, depending on the soil content in which they are grown.
Selenium deficiency can result in an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.
Sulfur occurs in all cells and body tissues, especially those high in protein content. It is a necessary nutrient for collagen formation, and is involved in the synthesis of protein. In addition, sulfur helps maintain the health of hair, skin, and nails. It also plays a role in a number of enzymatic reactions, and contributions to the process of cellular respiration. The best food sources of sulfur are those high in protein, such as eggs, fish, legumes, meat, milk, and poultry. Plant food sources include Brussels sprouts, cage, garlic, onions, and turnips.
No deficiency symptoms for sulfur have been established.
Zinc is one of the most important mineral nutrients. It is necessary for the proper function of over 200 enzymatic reactions in the body. It is a potent antioxidant and detoxifier, and is essential for growth and development, healthy body tissues, regulation of insulin, proper immune function, and, in men, the heath of the prostate gland. In addition, zinc plays a vital role in cellular membrane structure and function as well as to help maintain adequate levels of vitamin A in the body.
Zinc is found in herring, shellfish (especially oysters), egg yolk, milk, and beef and other meats. Whole grain cuts and cereals, nuts, and Brewer's yeast are other food sources. Zinc deficiency is quite common with vegetarians and vegans because they avoid animal foods. They have a particularly high risk unless they consume adequate amounts of whole grains and other non-animal foods containing zinc.
Symptoms of zinc deficiency will include impaired energy production and protein synthesis, and sub-optimal formation of collagen. Other symptoms include dermatitis, fatigue, greater risk of environmental sensitivity, hair loss, impaired immune function, diminished libido, and greater risk of prostate conditions.
Zinc can interfere with copper absorption, therefore zinc and copper supplements should be taken apart from each other.
Whew! That was quite a list, was not it? Just imagine how well your body is to use each of these minerals in a such a highly sophisticated fashion. If you are now overwhelmed, there is good news. Eating a diet rich in fresh, whole plant-based foods can provide all these nutrients with proper attention to variety. Even small amounts of animal protein sources can provide these necessary minerals in addition to a largly plant-based diet. If you are concerned, simply adding a multi-mineral to your supplement regimen can guarantee you're covered, no matter how well or poor your diet is day to day.