Minerals – An Overview

Have you ever wanted to know which minerals to take for good health?

Minerals are fundamental for overall well-being.

These micronutrients are essential for many functions with in the body.

Lets back up… What are essential micronutrients?

Good nutrition includes Macro & Micro Nutrients.

  • Macronutrients include Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats.
  • Micronutrients include Vitamins and Minerals.
  • Essential means they are necessary for survival & that our bodies can not make them. We need to obtain them form our diet or in supplement form.

Minerals are naturally occurring, usually inorganic, crystalline substances essential for our survival. Our bodies use them daily for many functions, from energy metabolism to pH and fluid balance.

Minerals essential for development and good health include:

  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • potassium
  • sodium
  • chloride
  • sulphur
  • zinc
  • iron
  • selenium
  • manganese
  • iodine
  • chromium
  • copper
  • molybdenum
  • fluoride

Some minerals are needed in larger doses than others. Minerals that are needed in smaller doses are called trace minerals (micro minerals or trace elements). Minerals that are required in larger doses are known as macro minerals (major minerals).

Macro Minerals are required daily by the body in amounts of 100mg or more. They include Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride and Sulphur.

Trace minerals are found in living tissues in small amounts. Some may be essential for survival & others are not. Trace minerals are mostly required by the body as catalysts in enzyme systems – such as cellular energy production and the transportation of oxygen.

All trace minerals can become toxic if consumed at high levels, for a long time. It is important to seek professional advice before supplementing with these minerals – pathology testing is often the only way to be sure if you are deficient in these elements. This in itself becomes tricky, as minerals exist within parts of the body which are difficult to test.

Examples of trace minerals include:

  • Iron
  • Selenium
  • Manganese
  • Molybdenum
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Fluoride,
  • Chromium
  • Zinc.

Electrolytes

Electrolytes are minerals that produce electrically charged ions when dissolved in water. Needed for survival, they are crucial for many functions in the body that rely upon an electric current – electrolytes provide this charge. Electrolytes interact with each other, cells, tissues, muscles and nerves, thus a balance of all the different electrolytes is essential for good health.

The kidneys play a vital role in regulating the balance of electrolytes.

Signs of electrolyte imbalance include:

  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • changes in blood pressure
  • arrhythmia
  • bone disorders
  • twitching
  • muscle spasms
  • weakness
  • seizures
  • nervous system disorders

Electrolyte imbalance can be caused by severe dehydration, prolonged periods of vomiting & diarrhoea, poor diet, excess sweating, cancer treatments & some other drugs, kidney disease & age – as kidney function may be diminished.

Treatment can include oral and intravenous intervention & will be dependant upon whether levels are too high or low & what the cause of imbalance was.

Some examples of electrolyte function include:

  • Muscle contraction – which requires calcium, sodium & potassium, if these become imbalanced it can cause muscle weakness or muscle cramps.
  • Communication between cells – the brain, heart muscle and nerves rely upon electrolytes to carry electrical impulses to other cells.
  • Regulation of acid-base balance & pH of the blood. Blood must be maintained within a narrow range of pH between 7.35–7.45, anything outside of this range & the body becomes very unwell.
  • Fluid balance inside & outside of cells. If cells become swollen with water they are at risk of bursting, not enough water will cause them to shrivel up.

Electrolytes in the body include:

  • sodium
  • potassium
  • calcium
  • bicarbonate
  • magnesium
  • chloride
  • phosphate

When to supplement with minerals, how much to take, how long to take it for?

It is always a good idea to seek professional advice before supplementing with minerals. Depending upon age, sex, and individual health needs dosage can vary greatly. Your Health Practitioner can monitor symptoms & asses individual requirements over time. Therapeutic doses of minerals can differ greatly from Recommended Daily Intakes (RDI).

Even with pathology testing it can be tricky to determine if the body is in need of supplementation. This is because minerals are present in many areas of the body – not just blood or urine which are easier to measure than inside cells, tissue & bones.

Factors affecting absorption & required dosage include:

  • gut health
  • pregnancy
  • age
  • sex
  • diet
  • medications
  • stress

Nutritional supplementation itself may also affect uptake. Some minerals compete with one another to be absorbed by the gut, while others are better absorbed in the presence of certain vitamins.

For example calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc have similar bio-chemistries and may compete with one another for absorption. If there is a deficiency in any of these minerals it is a good idea to take supplements apart from one another to ensure maximum uptake.

Minerals such as non-haem iron require vitamin C for uptake; calcium is better absorbed in the presence of vitamin D & vitamin K helps to ensure calcium will be sent into the bones rather than stay in the blood stream.

Here is an overview of minerals and the roles they perform within the body, Recommended Daily Intake (RDI), deficiency & toxicity signs, as well as some natural food sources.

** RDI’s vary from age/sex amounts mentioned are a guide and based upon adult intake.

Calcium

Ca

Ca the most abundant mineral in the body, is well known for keeping bones and teeth strong, this is where most of our Ca is stored. It helps muscles and blood vessels to contract and expand. Ca aids in sending messages throughout the nervous system, and is used to facilitate the release of hormones and enzymes that affect almost every function in the human body.

Deficiency may have no symptoms at all. Other signs may be fatigue, brittle bones/teeth/nails, muscle cramps/spasms, arm/thigh pain, depression or severe PMS.

Calcium toxicity can mean there is too much Ca in the blood stream causing brittle bones, kidney stones or blocked arteries. Signs may include thirst, frequent urination, palpitations, constipation & nausea.

Ca is regulated by the parathyroid gland, vitamins D & K are also important for balancing Ca with our bodies.

Foods rich in Ca – dark green veg, white beans, fish with edible bones sardines/ salmon, dairy products, almonds. RDI = 840mg

Magnesium

Mg

Mg causes muscles and blood vessels to relax – so is good at lowering blood pressure and preventing cramps. Mg regulates nerve function and blood sugar levels. It also helps your body make protein, contributes to bone density, and helps build DNA. Mg is essential for neurotransmitter function supporting sleep & mood.

Deficiency signs include muscle cramps, insomnia, anxiety, loss of appetite, fatigue & weakness.

Magnesium overload may cause diarrhoea, stomach cramps, low blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and confusion.

Foods rich in Magnesium = pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, dark green leafy veg, oat bran, bananas, chocolate.

RDI = 260-350mg

Iron

Fe

Fe supports the function of the red blood cells, being a part of the protein haemoglobin (Hb). Hb transits oxygen from the lungs to all tissues – like muscle & organs. Fe is important for cell growth, development & normal body functions. Fe increases overall energy levels, it also assists the body to make some hormones & connective tissue.

There are two kinds of iron in foods – haem iron found in meats and non-haem iron found in some vegetables & cereals. The body absorbs haem iron more readily. Vegans & vegetarians should plan meals carefully to ensure they are getting enough iron in their diet.

Deficiency in iron can lead to anaemia. Signs include fatigue, pale skin, light headedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, brittle nails, elevated heart rate & unusual cravings – known as pica.

Iron toxicity can cause stomach upset, nausea, constipation, even organ failure seizures or coma. Haemochromatosis is an inherited iron overload disorder & should be treated early to prevent ill health.

Foods rich in Iron = meat, dark green leafy veg, beans, dried apricots, peas, red kidney beans. RDI = 6-8mg

Zinc

Zn

Zn assists the immune system to guard against invading bacteria & viruses. Zn is needed to make proteins & build DNA. Zn is helpful for wound healing & has an affinity with skin. Zn helps taste and smell.

Zn is essential during pregnancy, infancy & childhood as the body needs Zn to grow and develop properly.

Deficiency in Zinc can cause low immunity, slowed wound healing, skin & eye lesions, loss of appetite, slowed/impaired growth & development rate, impotence, loss of taste & smell, mental lethargy.

Zinc toxicity can cause nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhoea & may interfere with iron & copper levels.

Foods high in Zn = oysters, chicken, pork, pumpkin seeds, eggs, oats, mushrooms, asparagus. RDI = 6.5-12mg

Selenium

Se

As an antioxidant Se helps protect the body from free radical damage & infection. Se plays a vital role in reproductive health, thyroid function, making DNA & immune systems T cells, antibodies & macrophages.

Deficiency signs include lethargy, nausea, vomiting, headaches, thyroid dysfunction, muscle weakness, brain fog, mood issues, confusion & seizures.

Too much Selenium may cause similar symptoms as not enough – fatigue, nausea, diarrhoea, hair loss, skin rashes, metallic taste in the mouth.
Foods high in Se = oysters, brazil nuts, eggs, chicken breast & shiitake mushrooms. RDI = 55micrograms

Manganese

Mn

Mn is required to support normal brain & nervous system functioning. Many of our body’s enzyme systems also rely upon trace amounts of Mn to operate successfully. Mn helps the body make bones & connective tissues. Sex hormones & blood clotting factors also rely upon Mn to be produced. Mn plays a role in blood sugar regulation, carbohydrate & fat metabolism & calcium absorption.

Deficiency is rare signs may cause changes in carbohydrate & lipid metabolism, impaired growth & reproductive function.

Too much Manganese can cause scaly dermatitis, reduced K vit -dependant clotting factors & hypocholesterolaemia.

Foods rich in Mnseeds, nuts, whole grains, beans, leafy greens & tea. RDI = 5mg

Chromium

Cr

Cr a trace mineral that helps the body to breakdown all 3 macronutrients – carbs, fats & proteins. Thus it can be helpful in controlling triglyceride levels & improving insulin sensitivity.

Deficiency is rare & may lead to impaired glucose tolerance, confusion, lack of co-ordination, weight loss.

Too much Chromium can lead to headaches, mood changes, allergic reactions, sleep disturbances & irregular heartbeats.

Foods rich in Cr – grape/orange/tomato juice, whole wheat flour, brewer’s yeast, beef, apples & green beans.

RDI = 25-35mg

Phosphorus

P

Important for the health of each cell in the body. P works alongside Ca to help build strong bones. Helps with the functioning of muscles & blood vessels.

Deficiency is rare & may cause bone related issues – bone pain, brittle bones, reduced appetite, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, irregular breathing, joint stiffness

Phosphorus overload may cause no symptoms. Others can experience muscle cramps/spasms, joint pain, itchy skin, rashes, numbness & tingling around the mouth.  Excess P can pull calcium out of the bones & make them brittle, this can lead to calcium deposits in blood vessels, eyes, lungs & heart.

Foods rich in P = cheese, beer, beans, cod, pork, milk.

RDI = 580mg.

Potassium

K

Cells, nerves and muscles need K to function properly. Integral in helping the body to regulate blood pressure and heart rhythm. K works in symphony with Na to balance the water level of each cell via osmosis. Helpful in digestion and to pH balance of the body.

Deficiency may leave you feeling weak, tired, confused, constipated, tingling or numb, increase urination, cause muscle cramps, arrhythmia & high blood sugar.

Potassium Toxicity may happen suddenly and cause heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea & vomiting.

Foods rich in K = apricot, pineapple, kiwi, beans, potatoes, carrots, lean meats. RDI = 2300-3800mg

Sodium

Na

Working in tandem with potassium to balance the body’s fluid levels, Na is essential for health. Na supports the function of nerve conducting impulses and the ability of muscles to contract & relax. In nature foods come with a balance of sodium & other minerals, such as potassium. Packaged processed foods often contain high amount of table salt which can be unhealthy if consumed in high amounts, leading to most notably high blood pressure. Salts derived from nature such as Celtic sea salt & Himalayan salt are a healthier choice to flavour food than white table salt, as they contain a balanced mineral composition.

Deficiency is rare & usually caused by drinking too much water. This can cause fluid imbalance causing cells to swell, nausea, headache, restlessness, confusion, fatigue & seizures.

Sodium Toxicity can lead to high blood pressure, kidney, liver & heart disease.

Foods rich in Na = sea salt, seafood, cured meats, cottage cheese, celery, carrots, spinach, beetroot. RDI – 460-920mg

Chloride

Cl

Chloride is often bound to sodium as in table salt – NaCl. Like Sodium & Potassium, Cl is necessary for maintaining the balance of fluids within the body. Keeping bodily fluids balanced regulates blood pressure & pH. Cl helps with nerve impulses, muscle contraction, the exchange of oxygen & carbon dioxide from red blood cells & aids digestion as it forms part of stomach acids hydrochloric acid – HCl.

Deficiency or overload of Chloride may lead to fluid loss – dehydration, fatigue, difficulty breathing, diarrhoea & vomiting.

Foods rich in Cl = seaweed, rye, olives, lettuce, celery.  RDI= 2.3g

Iodine

I

Iodine is needed to help the body’s metabolism so that our cells can make energy from food. The Thyroid is the only organ to absorb iodine. It uses iodine and the amino acid tyrosine to make thyroid hormones; T4 (Thyroxine or tetraiodothyronine – 4 iodine molecules) & T3 (Triiodothyronine – 3 iodine molecules). Iodine is also essential for both brain & bone development of the foetus, so it is important for pregnant mothers.

Deficiency signs may include fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, constipation, feeling cold, muscle weakness.

Too much iodine can be as detrimental as not enough & have drastic side effects for the thyroid, so balance is key.

A pathology test is the only true way to know your iodine status. Seek professional advice before supplementing.

Foods rich in iodine = seaweeds, eggs, beef liver, chicken, shellfish. RDI = 150mg

Copper

Cu

Found in all body tissues Cu is needed for survival.

Cu helps to make red blood cells, absorb iron, form collagen, maintain nerve cells, support immunity & assists in the energy production of cells.

Deficiency is rare but can cause fatigue, light patches in skin, elevated cholesterol, brittle bones, loss of balance & co-ordination, increased risk of infection.

Too much copper can cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting & may lead to Liver disease.

Foods rich in copper = organ meats, oysters, shiitake mushrooms, spirulina, nuts & seeds, leafy greens.  RDI = 900 micrograms

Fluoride

F

Fluoride supports the formation of bones & teeth. Levels present in bone & teeth are 10,000 times higher than anywhere else in the body.

Deficiency is rare & may result in weakened tooth enamel, cavities & tooth decay.

Fluoride Toxicity may have side effects such as dental & skeletal fluorosis causing white spots on teeth, joint pain & calcification of ligaments. Other signs may inclide low IQ, kidney stones & arthritis.

Foods rich in fluoride = some teas, fish, tap water.

RDI = 3-4mg

Molybdenum

Mo

Mo is essential for protein synthesis and building DNA. It also helps the body breakdown of drugs & toxins.

Deficiency is very rare occurring in people with a Mo cofactor deficiency disorder & may lead to seizures & brain damage.

High intake of Molybdenum may lead to conditions such as aching joints like in gout due to increased levels of uric acid.

Foods rich in Molybdenum – whole grains, legumes, beef, chicken, eggs, potato, banana, leafy greens, dairy products such as milk & yoghurt.

RDI = 50 micrograms

References