What Are Minerals?
Minerals are inorganic chemical elements that the body needs for healthy growth and metabolism. They are also involved in making hormones and enzymes.
Minerals are just as important as vitamins and work in conjunction with vitamins to perform many bodily functions such as bone formation, heart function, and digestion.
Many minerals are brought into the food chain of plants and animals through the soil, and the mineral content of soil varies from region to region, often leached out through poor farming methods. Some experts believe that the soil in many agricultural areas is so depleted of vital minerals that supplements are now necessary to ensure the body gets an adequate supply of some of these essential elements.
The distinction between a mineral and trace elements is the daily amount that your body needs. If you need over 100 mg of a particular element it is considered a mineral – or macro-mineral. Anything less, and it is considered a trace element.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Your body contains two to three pounds of calcium. For proper calcium absorption, vitamin D, fluoride and silicon are needed. Calcium works closely with phosphorus and magnesium.
This mineral is necessary for bone and tooth formation, heart function, blood coagulation, and muscle contraction. Calcium has a role in controlling blood pressure and may help prevent colorectal cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, PMS, and osteoporosis. Leg cramps may also be alleviated with calcium.
In tandem with potassium and sodium, chloride is an electrolyte that helps to keep the fluid balance in and out of the body's cells. A diet containing lots of natural, whole food should contain adequate amounts of chloride.
Chloride regulates fluid and acid-base balance, plus forms part of gastric juice necessary for digestion. It is essential for the proper functioning of the liver and healthy joints and tendons.
More than half of the body's magnesium is found in bone, the rest in cells, soft tissues, muscle, and blood. If the diet is low in magnesium, it is leached from the bones. Cooking, canning, and freezing destroy magnesium.
Magnesium is involved in the formation of bone and teeth. It is also vital for nerve conduction and muscle contraction, plus activates enzymes that aid in the release of energy from food. It helps control blood pressure, regulate body temperature and maintains the acid-base balance in the body.
Calcium and magnesium must be in proper proportion to perform their closely related body functions. For example, calcium stimulates muscles while magnesium relaxes them. Magnesium has had some success in treating migraines, asthma, and diabetes.
Next to calcium, phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the body, making up about one percent of your body weight. Like many minerals, phosphorus is involved in bone and tooth formation, and it helps release energy from nutrients.
It is involved in almost all body processes and is part of the genetic code of cells. It is also part of the structure of all soft tissues and organs. Phosphorus acidifies urine and reduces the incidence of kidney stones.
Potassium is a major nutrient in fruits and vegetables and is the predominant positive electrolyte in body cells. To avoid high blood pressure, try to keep your potassium to sodium intake at 5:1 ratio.
Potassium helps maintain blood pressure and is involved in nerve transmission and muscle contraction. In partnership with sodium and chloride, potassium helps maintain the water balance in and out of body cells, plus it regulates blood pressure and heartbeat. It stimulates the kidneys to release toxins from the body. Some studies have shown potassium may help prevent strokes.
If you experience swelling in parts of your body, you could be at risk for hereditary angiodema. Learn more about the symptoms here.
Sodium is one mineral you don't need to worry about getting enough of.
The typical modern diet has more than enough in the form of sodium chloride – otherwise known a table salt – found in processed foods, cured meats, canned vegetables, salty snacks, and condiments. There's no need to keep a salt shaker on the dinner table as there is probably more than enough sodium in your meal without an extra sprinkle.
Sodium is an electrolyte that plays a crucial role in maintaining blood pressure. Along with potassium and chloride, it regulates fluids and acid-base balance in the body. It is also involved in nerve transmission and muscle contraction, including the heartbeat.
The average human body contains about one teaspoon of sulfur. You may know sulfur as the mineral that gives rotten eggs their distinctive smell. Sulfur is necessary for the formation of hair, nails, cartilage, and tissue. It is needed for metabolism and a healthy nervous system, plus it aids bile secretion in the liver.
Trace elements are minerals that the body needs only in tiny amounts. Most of them are very important despite their low levels, and some don't seem to have much use at all (such as nickel, tin, and vanadium). Generally speaking, if the body requires less than 100 mg of a particular mineral per day, it is considered a trace element.
Research is still exploring the role of various trace elements, and most don't even have a recommended daily allowance determined yet. A safe and adequate intake amount or range may be listed instead, but most of these elements can be garnered from an average daily diet or standard multivitamin.
Note that the levels of some of these trace elements found in food vary depending on the soil from which the food is grown.
Here are some examples of trace elements:
- Boron helps regulate the levels of calcium in the body, which may help to preserve bone and prevent osteoporosis. It promotes healthy growth, development, and metabolism.
- Chromium helps insulin work efficiently when metabolizing glucose. It is also involved in using proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
- Cobalt works in concert with Vitamin B12 for the functioning of enzymes and production of red blood cells. It also helps form the myelin covering around the nerves.
- Copper is involved in the absorption and metabolism of iron. It also helps form connective tissue, nerve fibers, and red blood cells. Copper helps keep your arteries flexible.
- Fluoride is essential for healthy bone and tooth formation, as it helps the body retain calcium. It prevents acid and plaque formation in the mouth caused by food, especially sugar.
- Iodine is necessary to form thyroid hormones, which regulate the body's metabolism. It also promotes healthy cell function, keeps skin hair and nails healthy and is important for overall growth and development.
- Iron binds with hemoglobin molecules and carries oxygen in your blood and throughout your body. It is involved in enzyme activities related to energy storage and availability. Iron also forms part of several enzymes and proteins in the body.
- Manganese is used in bone formation, muscle coordination, nervous system function and is involved in several enzyme reactions. It is also used, along with vitamin K, to promote blood clotting.
- Molybdenum forms part of xanthine oxidase, an enzyme involved in converting nucleic acid to uric acid. It also helps promote normal growth and development, and may prevent anemia, tooth decay, and impotence.
- Selenium works in conjunction with vitamin E and is involved in several enzyme systems. It is necessary for healthy skin, muscles and heart function. Selenium promotes the formation of antibodies and can help prevent infection. It also helps prevent the absorption of metals such as mercury, silver, and thallium and may protect against prostate cancer.
- Zinc is a component of insulin and over 100 enzymes, proteins, nucleic acids, and hormones. It helps in the healing of wounds, tissue repair, growth, energy conversion, and sexual development. It regulates blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol levels.
The Bottom Line...
Now that you have an understanding of what minerals are and their uses, you can now discuss with your doctor about what supplemental minerals are appropriate to add to your diet and overall healthy lifestyle.