"The Importance of Trace Minerals"
Although most people know minerals are important to their
health, few people know exactly why or even that much about them. Biochemically
speaking. minerals are inorganic chemical elements not attached to a carbon
There is a distinction between minerals and trace minerals
(also called -trace elements) If the body requires more than 100 milligrams
( i.e., more than 1150th of a teaspoon) of 11 mineral each day. the substance
is labeled a mineral. If the cellular body requires less than this, it
is labeled a trace mineral.
Trace minerals are generally needed in quantities
of only a few milligrams (mg) or micrograms (mcg) per day. For a list of the essential
minerals and trace minerals as well as nonessential contaminants. please see Table 1 on NSN
When studying the relationship of minerals to human health,
it becomes increasingly evident that keeping a balance level of minerals
in every organ, tissue and cell of the human body may be a prominent key
to maintaining a healthy existence.
As early as 1964, two mineral researchers wrote; "Even small departures from the
normal mineral composition of the milieu interior [the interior of the cell may
have profound physiological consequences...."
Although minerals comprise only a fraction of total body weight, they are
crucial for many body functions including transporting oxygen, normalizing the
nervous system and simulating growth, maintenance and repair of tissues and
One can summarize the health benefits of some of the more
important minerals and trace minerals as follow.
As stated below, these
minerals and trace minerals can be of most benefit if they are in balance
with other elements they interact with.
* Calcium: Essential for developing and maintaining healthy
bones and teeth Assists in blood clotting. muscle contraction, nerve transmission,
oxygen transport. cellular secretion of fluids and enzyme activity Optimal
intake helps reduce risk of osteoporosis.
* Chromium: Aids in glucose metabolism and helps regulate
blood sugar by potentiating insulin and serving as
a component of glucose tolerance factor.
Colbalt: Promotes the formulation of red blood
cells and and serves as a component of the vitamin
* Copper: Essential to normal red blood cell
formation and connective tissue formation. Acts
as a catalyst to store and release iron to help form hemoglobin. Contributes to central nervous system function.
lodine: Needed by the thyroid hormone to support
* Iron: Necessary for red blood cell formation and
Required for transport of oxygen throughout the
body. Important for brain function. Amount needed is
higher in women of childbearing age.
* Magnesium: Activates over 100 enzymes and helps
nerves and muscles function. Helps maintain the integrity
of cell membranes and stabilizes the cell electrically
Critical for proper heart function.
* Manganese: Key component of enzyme systems,
oxygen-handling enzymes Supports brain function and
reproduction Required for blood sugar regulation Part of
* Molybdenum: Contributes to normal growth and
development Key component in many enzyme systems including
enzymes involved in detoxification.
* Phosphorous: Works with calcium to develop and
maintain strong bones and teeth. Enhances use of other nutrients Key role in cell membrane integrity and intercellular
communication Critical for proper energy processing in the body
* Potassium: Regulates heartbeat, maintains fluid
balance and helps muscles contract.
* Selenium: Essential component of a key antioxidant
enzyme, necessary for normal growth and development Role in detoxification of heavy metals. such as mercury. Role
in production of antibodies by the immune system.
Component of teeth.
* Sulfur: Needed for structure of most protein, including
muscles and hair. Critical role in liver detoxification. Important functions in antioxidant nutrients and oxygen
handling Role in growth.
* Zinc: Essential part of more than 200 enzymes
involved in digestion, metabolism, reproduction and wound healing Critical role in immune response Important
There are even more benefits
than these, so it is certainly easy to see that minerals play
an important role in health.
Every person absorbs minerals in a slightly different way--- a process called
biochemical individuality. According to Ruth L. Pike and Myrtle L. Brown in
their book Nutrition: Integrated Approach. “Whatever the nutritional potential
of a food, its contribution is nonexistent if it does not pass the test of
absorption. Those nutrients that have not been transferred through the
intestinal mucosal cell to enter the circulation have. for all nutritional
intent and purpose, never been eaten.
The variety of nutrients from the organism's environment that have been made
available by absorption must be transported through the circulatory system to
the aqueous microenvironment of the cells Then. they serve their ultimate
purpose -- participation in the metabolic activities in the cells on which the
life of the total organism depends.“’
The absorption of minerals is dependent on many different factors. not the least
of which is age as well as adequacy of stomach acid output, balance of bowel
flora, presence or lack of intestinal illness”- and parasites, and amount of
dietary fiber intake.
Aging increases the risk of gastric atrophy, a condition that commonly is
associated with a decreased secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. The
problem becomes that as a level of hydrochloric acid output decreases the body’s
ability to absorb minerals from the food-bound form diminishes. This inability
to adequately absorb minerals contributes to age-associated degeneration. Hence,
the form a mineral takes is crucial. since the less dependent It is on
hydrochloric acid to be absorbed, the more likely it will be able to be utilized
by the body.
Gastric atrophy or conditions such as achlorhydria (lack of stomach
acid) or hypochlorhydria (inadequate stomach acid) can also impair the
body’s absorption of important minerals. Achlorhydria has been found in
children as young as five or six years of age. Hypochlorhydria, however, is more com-manly
seen after age 35. It is estimated that between 15-35 percent of adults
over age 60 have some degree of gastric atrophy, including hypochlorhydria.’
Some acid-dependent minerals that require adequatestomach
acid to enhance intraluminal absorption (the transferof nutrients to the
circulatory system) in the small intestine include the following.
Nonessential Minerals / Contaminants
The absorption and efficient use of mineral in the body
can also be affected by excessive levels of nonessential mineral contaminants
such as aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. These toxic minerals
can have an “unbalancing” effect on the body’s cells (see Table 2). Cadmium,
for example, an air pollutant from cigarette smoke and industrial emissions
and a by-product of population growth, is experimentally known to cause
hypertension, cancer and immune disorders. Cadmium acts like a classical
stress agent. It has also been implicated in learning disabilities. Unlike
lead, which has a short half-life in human tissue of from 30 to 100 days,
cadmium has a half-life of between 10- 30 years.
While it is known
that free cadmium is very toxic, it has also been found to greatly increase
the toxicity of other agents. Cadmium has a unique capacity to form a close
bond with chloride compounds such as the chlorinated pesticide lindane.
When the two are combined, they alter liver metabolism and tissue levels
of lindane double. Cadmium accumulates in cells that are the most malignant; in
prostate cancer, for example. there is a linear correlation between the grade of
malignancy and cadmium content. On the positive side, little cadmium is absorbed
orally unless there are nutrient deficiencies.
Recent research indicates that adequate dietary intake of essential minerals and
trace minerals may prevent and reduce affects of poisoning by environmental
pollutants and enhance the ability to work and learn. They can protect the body
from the effects of toxic minerals(4). Minerals that protect against cadmium and
other nonessential mineral contaminants are listed in Table 2.
Besides optimum levels and kinds of minerals to cope with
toxicity, mineral requirements are affected by two other factors-- disease
and drug-nutrient interaction Physical illness can raise demands for many
trace elements. for example, the need for magnesium increases in heart
disease and eating disorders.
And the demand for some minerals, such as
zinc, increases under psychological, stress. Drug-nutrient interaction
can also create deficiencies and imbalances of minerals at the cellular
level For example, the absorption of iron from the gut can be reduced by
antacids and tetracycline. Magnesium and zinc are hyper-excreted by those
receiving oral diuretics, nephrotoxic drugs, penicillamine, or antacids
Optimal Mineral Levels
Considering the importance of minerals to good health, establishing
optimal mineral levels -- i.e. an update on the Recommended Dietary Allowances
(RDAs), released in their 10th edition in 1989 -- is an urgent need. Recent
analyses of data of nutrient and supplement intake in the United States
conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and other government
agencies indicate that the vast majority of people in both affluent and
emerging industrialized countries do not reach even 75 percent of the RDAs
numerous trace minerals.
It is valuable to remember, however. that the realization
of importance of trace minerals to human health is a recent discovery For
example. only fifteen years ago, every textbook taught that the trace element
boron was nonessential to all mammals, including man However, today, it
is believed to be so important to human health that numerous scientists
are preparing to petition the government to recognize boron as a trace mineral essential to human health.
Minerals and trace minerals do not exist by themselves
but in relationships to one another Too much of one element can lead to
imbalances in others, resulting in disease rather than the absence of disease.
Factors such as diet, absorption ability, toxicities and drug-nutrient
interactions play a role in maintaining a balance of trace elements in the body.
NSN REFERENCES (Table 1) Minerals, Trace Minerals And Mineral Contaminants
||Essential Trace and Minerals:
||Nonessential Contaminant Minerals:
||Arsenic (in abundance)
l No RDAs set for these minerals Only estimated requirements
are established for chloride, potassium and sodium No estimates as yet established for sulfur.
+ No RDAs as yet established for these minerals Estimated
safe and adequate intakes are established for chromium, copper, chlorine, manganese and molybdenum There is no estimate as yet established
NOTE: Several trace minerals that may be essential but
have not yet been proven to be include minute amounts of arsenic, boron, nickel, silicon and tin.
(Table 2) Mineral Contaminants Guide
||Contaminate Body Part Affected
||Stomach, bones, brain
||Possibly magnesium None other known
||Cells (cellular metabolism)
||Selenium, lodine, calcium, zinc, vitamin C, sulfur amino acids
||Renal cortex of the kidney, heart, blood vessels
to the brain appetite and smell center of the brain,
every known process in the development of cancer
||Zinc, calcium, vitamin C, sulfur ammo acids
||Bones, liver, kidney, pancreas, heart, brain, nervous
||Zinc, iron, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin E,
sulfur amino acids
||Nervous system, appetite and pain centers of the
brain, immune system, cell membranes
||Selenium, vitamin C. pectin, sulfur amino
(NFM 38) NFM’s Nutrition Science News l December 1995