If the human body was reduced to its simplest form as a small pile of ashes, these “mineral ashes,” weighing approximately five pounds, might be small in quantity, but represent the material needed to carry out many vital roles. Minerals are involved in a variety of functions. They are necessary to promote growth and regulate body processes. They provide structure to bones and participate in muscle contraction, blood formation, protein building, energy production, and lots of other bodily processes. You can find minerals in soil and water, and humans consume them in food and drink form.
Minerals differ from vitamins in a couple of ways. First, they are inorganic compounds, meaning they do not contain carbon atoms in their molecular structure. Secondly, they retain their structure when exposed to the elements. There are seven minerals considered “macro-minerals,” along with a long list of trace elements. The seven macro-minerals include magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, chloride, potassium, sodium, and sulfur. These are needed in higher amounts than the trace minerals. However, if the trace minerals are missing, serious diseases can quickly come to fruition. The list of trace minerals continues to grow with time, and now exceeds thirty.
Humans get their minerals in a variety of ways. Minerals can be taken in as salts. While most people think of salt as table salt, or sodium chloride, a salt is simply a negatively charged atom and a positively charged atom joined together through an ionic bond. Thus, other well-known salts exist, such as magnesium chloride, zinc sulfate, and calcium phosphate, to name a few. These can be ingested in solid form or dissolved in solution as separate ions. Minerals are also found in the food we eat, and incorporated into their chemical structures. They are chelated, which is a fancy way of saying their chemical structure contains a metal ion or ions. Common chelated compounds include hemoglobin, which contains an iron ion, and chlorophyll, which contains a magnesium ion.
There are factors that can depress our ability to absorb minerals when needed, even when there is adequate mineral content found in the foods we are eating. For example, for hormones to function properly, we need adequate amounts of fat-soluble vitamins. These vitamins send “absorb this mineral” signals to the gut. Fat-soluble vitamins and cholesterol are needed to maintain the gut lining, ensuring that only the nutrients we need pass through, while preventing harmful substances from entering the bloodstream. These can include toxins and undigested proteins, which can lead to allergic reactions.
Some minerals also compete for binding receptor sites; this can alter what is eventually absorbed. This is especially true of the trace minerals, like copper, iron, and zinc. In other cases, minerals can enhance the absorption of other minerals. For example, the proper proportion of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus in the diet enhances the absorption and use of all three minerals. Calcium and manganese compete for a receptor site, so if excess calcium is consumed, less manganese will be absorbed because calcium ions will be occupying those sites. If one does not have enough hydrochloric acid in the stomach, certain foods may not be broken down enough to release their nutrients as well. This becomes a more prevalent problem as we age.
Commercial food processing reduces the nutrient content of food and may be dangerous to human health. For example, refining whole grains (including wheat, rice and corn) has resulted in a dramatic reduction of their natural-food-complex nutrition. Milling wheat into white flour reduces the natural-food-complex vitamin and mineral content by 40-60%, on average. Food processing also reduces trace minerals such as manganese, zinc and chromium, as well as various macro-minerals (magnesium). Treating canned or frozen vegetables with EDTA (a preservative) can strip much of the zinc from foods. High rates of calcium-metabolism disorders suggest that the forms of calcium many are consuming simply do not agree with the body, or are not assimilated properly, resulting in calcium loss.
Instead of supplements, minerals should ideally be consumed in their natural forms. The mineral content found in proper, nutrient-dense food sources and mineral waters. Unrefined salts are a great way to increase mineral intake as well. Organically-grown produce contains higher levels of some essential minerals compared to conventionally grown produce. They also contain lower levels of toxic heavy metals. Even if modern food practices did not affect nutrition (which they do), all minerals that humans need for optimal health do not exist uniformly in soils. Soils that are deficient in certain minerals can result in low concentrations of major or trace minerals in drinking water and plant crops, which contribute to marginal or deficient intake from said foods from those soils. Luckily, we are able to draw from a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and herbs from all parts of the world.
Listed below are the seven macro-minerals, along with important trace ones:
|Best Food Sources
|Magnesium is a regulator for the absorption of calcium and is involved with maintaining bone’s structural integrity. 65% is found in bone, and 25% is found in muscle tissue. Magnesium helps regulate heart contractility and strengthens muscles and nerve tissues. Magnesium redirects excessive calcium outside the cell, promoting relaxation in the stressed areas. It is also a smooth muscle (intestines and blood vessels) relaxer, which can stimulate elimination. It may be useful in treating patients with constipation if the dosage is correct. Magnesium is helpful in controlling hypertension, angina, and bleeding following a stroke. It is estimated somewhere between 60-82% of Americans are magnesium-deficient.
|Fatigue, irritability, weakness, muscle tightness/spasms, high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, and nerve conduction issues
|Magnesium can be found in all fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, seaweeds, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, potatoes, bananas, apples, peaches, lima beans, black-eyed peas, sesame seeds, alfalfa, soy products, cereal grains, avocado, millet, oatmeal, peas, figs, and okra.
|80% of phosphorus in the body can be found in bones and teeth. Its most famous function is the role it plays in the Krebs cycle and oxidative phosphorylation and the production of ATP. Controls the activities of most hormones and many vitamins, and helps build bones, teeth, blood, brain and hair. Phosphorus helps filter out waste in the kidneys as well. It is tightly regulated in the bloodstream, as it must be in balance with serum calcium levels. Phosphorus is also needed to help balance and use other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, iodine, magnesium, and zinc. Having too much phosphorus in the body is actually more common than having too little, especially in modern countries.
|Deficiency is uncommon with phosphorus, as Americans consume twice as much as is needed.
|Rare. Only those with kidney problems or calcium dysregulation develop this.
|Found in almost all foods, especially peas, corn, seeds, mushrooms, carrots, nuts, whole grain products, dried fruit, and legumes.
|The most abundant mineral in the body. The primary function is to harden bone. However, calcium is also needed for muscle contraction, maintenance of cell membranes, and aids in transport across cell membranes. Assists the actuation of many enzymes including pancreatic. Works with neuro-transmissions. It is also needed for proper contraction of the heart. 99% of calcium is found in teeth and bone. The body gets the calcium it needs in two ways. One is by eating foods that contain calcium and the other is by drawing from calcium in the body. If one does not eat enough calcium-richfoods, the body will remove calcium from bones. In a perfect world, the calcium that is “borrowed” from the bones will be replaced at a later point. But this doesn’t always happen, and can’t be accomplished if vitamin K2 and D levels are not optimal. Calcium is absorbed through the small intestine, and is best absorbed in more acidic environments. However, at best only 30% of ingested calcium is absorbed through the gut. Calcium is tightly regulated in the bloodstream, and two hormones maintain its balance: parathyroid hormone (increases serum calcium levels) and calcitonin (decreases serum calcium levels).
|Osteoporosis (adults), rickets (children), muscle spasms, dental diseases, insomnia, depression, and anxiety.
|Excessive thirst, nausea, vomiting, constipation, confusion, lethargy, fatigue, cardiac arrhythmia, other heart problems.
|Most fruits and vegetables, especially kelp, sesame seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, carrots, seeds, yeast, okra, broccoli, rhubarb, almonds, turnips, Brazil nuts, tofu, walnuts, and cashews.
|Sulfur is found in the structure of a few amino acids. It also plays a role in many biochemical processes. Proteins that contain sulfur compounds are used as the building blocks of cell membranes. Sulfur is found in gel-like substances located in connective tissues and skin. It aids in protecting the body from infection, slowing the aging process, and defends against the harmful effects of pollution and radiation.
|Restricted growth, eczema, dermatitis, poor growth of nails and hair or brittle hair and nails.
|Increased cardiac risk
|The cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.), garlic, onions.
|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. The main function of chromium is as a component of glucose tolerance factor (GTF), a substance that works with insulin to facilitate the uptake of blood sugar (glucose) into the cells. 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)
|Excess intake or tissue accumulation of chromium can inhibit rather than enhance the effectiveness of insulin. At extremely high levels, it may encourage the growth of cancer. Kidney and liver damage/impairment.
|Whole grains, nuts, vegetables, natural water sources, mushrooms, spices, herbs, and apples.
|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.
|Taking too much iron can cause unhealthy iron deposits in the body, and can lead to the production of free radicals. The buildup of iron in the tissues has been associated with a rare disease known as hemochromatosis. Overdoses can cause bleeding from the stomach or intestines, a drop in blood pressure, liver damage, reduced resistance to infections, and could be fatal for young children.
|Green leafy vegetables, most fruits, figs, pine nuts, lima beans, whole grains, peas, avocado, root vegetables, lentils, white beans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin, and squash.
|Enhances immune system and thymus. Protects against birth defects. 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. Involved in many enzyme systems and in the synthesis of nucleic acid (DNA and RNA), so it is directly related to growth and repair of the body. Effects the transfer of carbon dioxide from tissue to lungs. Zinc is a constituent of digestive enzymes for hydrolysis of proteins. Aids in healing wounds. 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.
|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.
|High doses can produce liver disease with lethargy, pain in the stomach and fever.
|Chickpeas, lentils, seeds (pumpkin, chia, hemp), ginger, quinoa, nuts (walnuts, cashews), kidney beans, seaweeds, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, onions.
|Liver, gallbladder, blood, lungs, and heart function. Copper is a cofactor in reactions essential for the formation of bone, hemoglobin, and red blood cells. The mitochondria depend on copper for proper energy metabolism. Copper promotes healthy function of nerves, the immune system, and collagen formation. It acts as an anti-inflammatory compound by scavenging for free radicals in the bloodstream. Copper is needed 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.
|Deficiency can lead to brain and liver damage, anemia, neutropenia, and degeneration of vasculature.
|Wilson’s Disease, a syndrome that includes the development of psychiatric disorders, and Kaiser-Fleischer rings around the iris.
|Leafy green vegetables, nuts, lentils, oats, peas, peanuts, cashews, beans, quinoa, pecans, brown rice, molasses, sunflower seeds, asparagus, almonds, and mushrooms.
|Chloride is a major mineral nutrient that occurs primarily in body fluids. Chloride plays a role as an electrolyte. Chloride is a negatively charged ion found in the blood, where it represents 70% of the body’s total negative ion content. Chloride also combines with hydrogen in the stomach to make hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid is needed to break down proteins, aid in the absorption of minerals, and activate intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor is needed to properly absorb vitamin B12. Chloride is also needed to help balance pH levels and transport carbon dioxide out of the body. Along with potassium and sodium, chloride works with the nervous system by aiding the transport of electrical impulses.
|Deficiency of chloride is rare, but it can be life-threatening. It leads to a state of alkalosis, with symptoms including muscle weakness, loss of appetite, irritability, dehydration, and lethargy.
|Table salt (known as sodium chloride), sea salt, most fruits and vegetables: coconut, avocados, dates, turnips, lettuces, kale, kelp/dulse, celery, tomatoes, potatoes, apricots, orange juice, pineapple, watercress, raw white cabbage, spinach, asparagus, cucumbers, parsnips, carrots, onions, cooked beans, and peas.
|Along with potassium, these two minerals make up the majority of electrolytes found in the body. All body fluids contain at least some level of sodium, and most is found in the extracellular fluid. Sodium is especially important for water balance regulation and maintaining fluid levels inside and outside of cells. It also plays crucial roles in muscle contraction/relaxation, acid-base balance, and nerve conduction and stimulation. Sodium plays an important role in proper kidney and adrenal function. Some of the first symptoms one may experience with low sodium are adrenal fatigue, gut problems, insomnia, and erectile dysfunction.
|Sodium deficiencies are rare in the American diet.
|Excessive sodium consumption can lead to high blood pressure, kidney stones, osteoporosis, and congestive heart failure.
|All fruits and vegetables, especially dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, celery, watermelon, strawberries, apples, huckleberries, gooseberries, cauliflower, asparagus, salt (all types), cucumbers, beets, okra, pumpkin, string beans, kelp/dulse.
|Along with sodium, these two minerals make up the majority of electrolytes found in the body. The main role of potassium is being the main electrolyte in the intracellular fluid, and it determines the amount of water inside the cells. They tend to work in conjunction with each other in many biological reactions. Help balance blood fluids and is needed for proper nerve and muscle function. It is needed for proper heart rate and contraction. Potassium is the major electrolyte found within cells. Potassium is vital for glycogen storage in muscles to be used as energy. Ideally, the ratio of potassium to sodium consumption should be between 5:1 and 10:1.
|Potassium deficiency can lead to muscle cramps and spasms, mental confusion, irritability, nerve conduction abnormalities, heart arrhythmias, and weakness. Taking diuretics, COPD, and diabetes mellitus can cause potassium deficiency.
|Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea with ulcers.
|All fruits and vegetables, but especially avocados, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, mushrooms, seaweeds, legumes, seeds, and apricots.
|Along with vitamin E, selenium’s major role is as an antioxidant. The most important known function of selenium is as a component of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Selenium is involved in immune function, as it helps eliminate free radicals in the body. The thyroid gland contains the highest concentration of selenium. Adequate selenium levels are needed for healthy thyroid function. 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.
|May include “garlic” breath, loss of hair, fingernails and toenails, irritability, liver and kidney impairment, metallic taste in mouth, dermatitis and jaundice. Large overdoses can cause death.
|Brazil nuts, seaweeds, garlic, onion, mushrooms, navy beans, sunflower seeds, and grains grown in selenium-rich soil.
|Crucial for the thyroid, brain, Leydig cells and for the gut in order to make antimicrobial peptides. 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. As a therapy, iodine can be used to help treat hypothyroidism, goiters, cretinism, fibrocystic breast disease, atherosclerosis, and asthma.
|Iodine deficiency leads to hypothyroidism, cretinism, and the development of goiters.
|Rashes, nausea, headaches, and in very high doses may actually inhibit the thyroid gland
|Kelp, seaweed, and green leafy vegetables.
|Manganese is found in mitochondria (an organelle known as the “powerhouse” of the cell) because that is where energy (ATP) is made. It is mostly found in the cells of the liber, kidneys, pancreas, and bone. 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). Manganese is also necessary for GnRH which makes it a crucial mineral for fertility. 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.
|Rare. Atherosclerosis, confusion, tremors, impaired vision and hearing, skin rash, elevated cholesterol, increased blood pressure, irritability, pancreatic damage, sweating, increased heart rate, mental impairment, grinding of teeth, fatigue and low endurance. Weak bone, hair and fingernails. Skin conditions. Conception issues and weight loss. Glandular disorders, weak tissue respiration, defective reproduction functions, seizures and convulsions.
|Parkinson’s-like symptoms, hallucinations, and violent actions
|All dark leafy green vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beets, blueberries, oranges, grapefruit, avocado, seaweed, asparagus, seeds, and beans.
|Boron is needed for proper bone formation and modeling. It also plays a role in metabolizing various vitamins and minerals. 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.
|Fruits (especially tomatoes, pears, grapes, and apples), green leafy vegetables, grains, and nuts.
|Needed for healthy formation of bones, blood, muscles, tooth enamel, pancreas, 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.
|Alfalfa, seaweeds, dark, leafy greens, horsetail, nettle, flaxseed, many fruits including apples, grapes, nuts, seeds, onions, berries (including strawberries), lettuce, figs, dandelion, cucumbers, cooked, dried beans and peas, sunflower seeds, tomatoes.
|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.
|Little is known about vanadium deficiency, but it may be associated with cardiovascular disease and kidney disease, and increased rates of dental caries (cavities).
|Buckwheat, olives, and whole grains. Also found in organic foods.
|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). Regulates calcium, magnesium, copper metabolism. Needed for conversion of purines to uric acid.
|Increased heart rate, mouth and gum disorders, anemia, loss of appetite, weight loss, impotence in older males, increased respiratory rate, night blindness, stunted growth, and gout.
|Gout-like symptoms, pain, joint swelling, etc.
|Lentils, peas, grains, beans, and dark leafy vegetables.
|An essential mineral needed for hardening teeth and bones. It is needed for proper development in children. Also needed for healthy blood, skin, hair and nails. 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. High levels of fluoride are associated with a calcified pineal gland, muscle weakness, mouth sores, GI issues, loss of mental acuity, fatigue, depression, and more.
|Decay of teeth, curvature of the spine, weak eyesight
|Since fluoride stays in the body for a long time, it can build up in bones. It can lead to teeth mottling painful and aching bones, stiffness, weakness, chalky white areas on the teeth, brown or pitted teeth, knots on the bones, rapid aging, increased rates of cancer, high death rate (up to 3x greater in areas of high fluoride concentration in water supply), sagging and wrinkled skin, scleroderma (hard patches of skin).
|Fluorine is found in tap water, as 0.2mg is in an 8 oz. glass of tap water. Fluoridated water should be AVOIDED. In food, fluorine is found in carrots, turnip and beet greens, dandelion, sunflower seeds, garlic, spinach, green leafy vegetables, and nuts.
|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 and pancreatic enzymes. It also may play a role in iron and vitamin metabolism.
|Iron deficiency anemia, and it can affect mitochondria and liver function. Can also be toxic to the kidneys and urinary tract.
|Leads to paralysis, overflow of blood to the brain, and epilepsy. In excess, it can be carcinogenic. Can rob the body of oxygen.
|Trace amounts found in all foods, especially, beans, lentils, leafy green vegetables, bananas, peas, and wheat.
|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. Aids in formation of red blood cells, nerve tissue, appetite, and pancreas function.
|Similar to Vitamin B12- Pernicious anemia and neurological issues.
|All leafy greens, some fruits, and nuts.
|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 depression, manic depressive disorders, mania, suicide, spousal and child abuse.
|Tremors, drowsiness, headaches, confusion, restlessness, dizziness, psychomotor retardation, lethargy, coma.
|Yeast, green leafy vegetables, grains, and legumes.
|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.
I hope you learned a little bit more about your minerals today!
I’ll see you next week!
Dr. Vincent Esposito
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