The Micro Series: The “Micro” Minerals

Welcome back to The Micro Series!  Over the next couple of weeks, we will be highlight all the major micronutrients, meaning the vitamins and minerals.  It will be broken up into four distinct parts: the fat-soluble vitamins, water-soluble vitamins, the “macro-minerals,” and finally the other minerals.

Today, we will focus on the “micro” minerals.  While, for the sake of this post, they are called “micro,” that does not mean these are inconsequential.  As a matter of fact, they are all needed for the body to function properly.  Luckily, there are a variety of whole-food options you can try to get all the vitamins and minerals you need, so why not get creative and try them all!

Chromium: Chromium is essential for the metabolism and synthesis of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.  It is particularly important in the secretion and production of insulin, and therefore is vital for proper regulation of blood sugar levels.  Many Americans are deficient in chromium due to the high intake of processed sugars and carbohydrates in the average diet.  Low chromium levels are seen in many diabetics and those with metabolic syndrome (also known as Syndrome X).  Chromium can be found in whole grain products, nuts, eggs, vegetables, and apples.

Iron: iron makes up the “heme” portion of hemoglobin, and is vital for the healthy function of red blood cells.  In order to transfer oxygen to peripheral tissues from the lungs, hemoglobin is needed to bind oxygen to red blood cells.  Iron is also needed as a coenzyme for many metabolic reactions in the body.  Absorption of iron is an issue, as it is available in foods in different forms.  The reduced form, or ferrous iron, is more readily absorbed than ferric iron.  Heme iron, found in animal products, is absorbed almost 10x as easily as non-heme iron found in plant foods.  Additionally, a high intake of fat-soluble vitamins aids in the absorption of iron.  Deficiency can lead to anemia, fatigue, weakness, immune system dysfunction, and impaired mental function.  Iron absorption can be inhibited by an elevated intake in zinc.  Iron can be found in eggs, fish, liver, green leafy vegetables, meats, figs, pine nuts, lentils, white beans, and seeds from sunflower, pumpkin, and squash.  Some studies have shown the consumption of inorganic iron found in fortified white-flour products has been linked to higher risks of heart disease and cancer.

Zinc: Zinc is needed for proper mental development and maintenance of healthy reproductive organs, especially the prostate gland.  Zinc is also involved in collagen formation and the synthesis of cholesterol, proteins, and fats.  Zinc regulates the release of vitamin A from the liver, and is important for maintaining vision.  In fact, night blindness can be a symptom of low zinc intake.  Blood sugar regulation requires adequate amounts of zinc as well.  Symptoms of low zinc levels are delayed sexual development, growth retardation, loss of taste or smell, delayed wound healing, and loss of appetite.  Low zinc consumption during pregnancy can lead to birth defects.  Zinc absorption is inhibited by increased intake of iron and copper.  Zinc can be found in oysters, red meat, seeds, ginger, fish, nuts, kidney beans, and turkey. 

Copper: copper is a cofactor in reactions essential for the formation of bone, hemoglobin, and red bloods cells.  Copper promotes healthy function of nerves, the immune system, and collagen formation.  It acts as an anti-inflammatory compound by scavenging for free radical in the bloodstream.  Copper is need for proper nervous system production and maintenance.  It is needed to maintain memory and brain function.  Some studies have found copper has cancer-inhibiting and cholesterol-reducing properties.  Copper deficiency can lead to brain and liver damage, anemia, neutropenia, and degeneration of vasculature.  Toxicity of copper can lead to Wilson’s Disease, a syndrome that includes the development of psychiatric disorders, and Kaiser-Fleischer rings around the iris.  Copper can be found in liver, nuts, lentils, oats, peas, molasses, sunflower seeds, asparagus, almonds, and mushrooms.

Selenium: along with vitamin E, selenium’s major role is as an antioxidant.  Selenium is involved in immune function, as it helps eliminate free radicals in the body.  It is also important in maintaining healthy heart function, pancreatic function, and connective tissue (like skin and muscle) elasticity.  Deficiency in selenium has been associated with Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, Keshan’s disease, and Kashin-Beck disease.  Selenium can be found in Brazil nuts, butter, seafood, and grains grown in selenium-rich soil.

Iodine: 75% of all iodine in the body is found in the thyroid gland.  Therefore, it is no surprise iodine is essential for thyroid hormone production and function.  Iodine deficiency leads to hypothyroidism, cretinism, and the development of goiters.  As a therapy, iodine can be used to help treat the above conditions, along with fibrocystic breast disease, atherosclerosis, and asthma.  Iodine toxicity can cause rashes, nausea, headaches, and in very high doses may actually inhibit the thyroid gland.  Iodine can be found in saltwater fish, kelp, seaweed, fish broth, and in green leafy vegetables.

Manganese: manganese is found in mitochondria (an organelle known as the “powerhouse” of the cell) because that is where energy (ATP) is made.  Manganese is needed in females for the formation of breast milk, and is also needed for healthy bone formation and remodeling (working in conjunction with vitamin K).  It also plays an important role in maintaining skin integrity, tendon and ligament strength, and controlling blood sugar levels.  Diabetics tend to have only half the amount of manganese intake compared to their normal counterparts.  Overdosing of manganese can lead to Parkinson’s-like symptoms, hallucinations, and violent actions.  The best sources of manganese are nuts, whole grains, butter, seeds, and beans.

Boron: boron is needed for proper bone formation and modeling.  Boron may also play a role in producing various hormones, especially testosterone, estrogen, and the active form of vitamin D.  While there is no direct evidence of an outright disease associated with a boron deficiency, more recent evidence has shown a deficiency may be involved with the development of arthritis and other bone metabolism issues.  Boron can be found in many fruits (especially tomatoes and apples), green leafy vegetables, and nuts.

Silicon: a newly added member to the list of essential minerals, silicon is needed for healthy formation of bones, cartilage, skin, nails, hair, and connective tissue (particularly glycosaminoglycan and collagen).  It is needed for the production of elastin, which is responsible for maintaining the elastic integrity of the tissues listed above.  Silicon may also be helpful in preventing atherosclerosis by aiding in maintaining blood vessel walls.  Deficiency in silicon can lead to growth abnormalities and bone deformities.  Good sources of silicon can be found in millet, flax, corn, oats, beets, barley, and beer.

Vanadium: glucose, cholesterol, teeth, and bone metabolism all require vanadium.  Some evidence has suggested vanadium may lower blood glucose levels independent of insulin levels in the bloodstream.  Vanadium lowers the rate of cholesterol synthesis in those who have high blood cholesterol levels.  Vanadium has also been associated with decreased rates of dental caries (cavities).  Little is known about vanadium deficiency, but it may be associated with cardiovascular disease and kidney disease.  Vanadium can be found in buckwheat, unrefined vegetable oils, olives, and whole grains.

Molybdenum: is a cofactor for many oxidation/reduction reactions in the body.  It is involved in the metabolism of certain trace minerals found in the body, such as copper, iron, and sulfur.  It is also needed for nitrogen metabolism, fat oxidation and metabolism, and normal cell function.  Molybdenum is needed for alcohol detoxification as well.  It is used for the oxidation of purines (found in DNA), so that they can be excreted as uric acid- therefore a deficiency in molybdenum can lead to gout.  Molybdenum is found in lentils, peas, grains, beans, and dark leafy vegetables.

Fluorine: is an essential mineral needed for hardening teeth and bones.  It is also needed for proper development in children.  Low levels of fluorine are associated with growth retardation, dental caries, anemia, and weaker bones.  Molybdenum has a synergistic effect with fluorine in preventing dental caries.  While deficiency in fluorine can cause issues, an overdose of fluorine can lead to teeth mottling.  Fluorine is found in in tap water, as 0.2mg is in an 8 oz. glass of tap water.  In food, fluorine is found in fish, buckwheat, wine, and coffee.

Nickel: Nickel is found in RNA and DNA.  It is needed to stabilize the structures of nucleic acids and proteins.  It may be involved as a cofactor with certain liver enzymes.  It also may play a role in iron and vitamin metabolism.  Deficiency in nickel can cause an iron deficiency, and it can affect mitochondria and liver function.  Nickel can be found in beans, lentils, leafy green vegetables, bananas, peas, and wheat.

Cobalt: vitamin B12 needs cobalt to function properly.  A cobalt atom is incorporated into the center of the vitamin’s molecular structure.  Because of this relationship, cobalt is therefore essential for proper formation of cells, especially those in the bone marrow, nervous system, and gastrointestinal tract.  Cobalt is found in the same sources as vitamin B12 is found, which are only animal sources.  Therefore, vegans and vegetarians may be susceptible to acquiring a deficiency, although it is rare.  Deficiency can lead to pernicious anemia and neurological issues.  Cobalt toxicity has been associated with goiters.  Cobalt can be found in animal meats, dairy products, and eggs. 

Lithium: Lithium is one of the most abundant minerals in nature, however there is less than 1 mg stored in the human body.  Most of this is found in the adrenal glands, ovaries, pituitary gland, and thyroid gland.  Lithium can be used as a treatment for bipolar disorder.  A deficiency in lithium is extremely rare, but low levels may affect reproduction in animals.  Lithium can be found in yeast, green leafy vegetables, grains, liver, seafood, and legumes.

Germanium: once thought not to be essential, germanium now may be needed to achieve optimum health.  Germanium, in conjunction with other minerals and antioxidants, may be helpful in fighting off food allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, viral infections, fungal infections, and even cancer.  Foods grown in germanium-rich soil contain higher levels of it.  Most foods high in germanium include garlic, onions, ginseng, mushrooms, and aloe vera. 

Final Thoughts

Today we covered the “micro” minerals and the roles they play in our health.  Luckily, you can find these in a variety of different food sources.  Keep in mind, that you need all of these in sufficient amounts, as they are all needed for the body to function properly.  Luckily, there are a variety of whole-food options you can try to get all the vitamins and minerals you need, so why not get creative and try them all!


Though based in research, personal, and clinical experience, the opinions in this article should not be taken as medical advice. The information is designed for educational purposes only and is not designed to diagnose, treat, or cure disease.  Botanical medicine and nutraceuticals should be treated with the same caution and care as pharmaceuticals, as both have the potential for strong, potentially adverse effects and allergic reactions. Please consult a trained, licensed health care practitioner before proceeding.  Neither the publisher nor the author takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person reading or following the information in this book. All readers, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition or supplement program.