Minerals And Good Health

Much attention is given to the necessities of vitamins for good health, but the role of minerals is as important. Even if one mineral is lacking the body can not function properly.

Minerals are divided into two groups - macro elements and trace elements. They combine with vitamins, form enzymes and are necessary for almost every physiological process. Minerals are found in a broad range of plant and animal foods, as well as in drinking water.

It is not always apparent what the function of minerals are and year by year new minerals are being included in the list of essentials. Like vitamins the best way to overcome this problem is by including a very wide range of foods in your diet.


Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. The RDA for adults is 1200 milligrams.

About 99% is found in the bones and teeth. Calcium also has a role to play in the regulation of various body functions including the cardiovascular and nervous systems. It keeps your heart beating regularly, alleviates insomnia and helps to metabolize iron.

The best natural sources are sea vegetables Wakame: 1300, Arame: 1170, Kelp: 1093, (Mg per 100g). Taken from Vegetables from the Sea by Teruko & Seibin Arasaki] , low-fat yogurt, skim milk, beans, tofu, sesame seeds, nuts, sardines with bones, salmon and green vegetables.

Calcium absorption is hindered by the presence of oxalate s in the food. Calcium absorbability of kale (a low-oxalate vegetable) was compared with that of milk in 11 normal women. Absorption of calcium was excellent in all subjects. In 9 of the 11 women, kale calcium absorbability was higher than that of milk calcium. [Heaney, R.P., and Weaver, C.M.: Calcium absorption from kale. American Journal of Clinical Nutr. Vol. 51:656. 1990]

For optimal calcium absorption, a proper amount of vitamin D is needed each day. This can be obtained from fortified milk and cereals, or 15 minutes to an hour of midday sunshine.

It appears there is a threshold of calcium intake, below which skeletal reserves may be used to meet daily calcium needs. Studies show that loss of estro prompts rapid loss of bone mineral, especially from the spine, regardless of calcium intake.

Intakes over 2000 milligrams per day may lead to hypercalcemia, induce constipation, and inhibit the intestinal absorption of iron, zinc, and other essential minerals.


It is difficult to estimate the chromium requirement, but a range of 50 micrograms to 200 micrograms per day is tentatively recommended.

Trivalent chromium is required for maintaining normal glucose metabolism. Evidence shows that chromium improves glucose tolerance [Riales, R., & Albrink, M. J., American J. Clin. Nutr., Vol. 34, pg 2670] . Diabetes and coronary heart disease are associated with low chromium concentrations in human tissue.

The chemical forms of chromium in foods are not known with certainty, but the bioavailability of chromium compounds has been found to be high in brewer's yeast, shell fish, whole wheat bread and mushrooms.

An increased incidence of bronchial cancer has been associated with exposure to dusts containing chromate. But the carcinogenicity of certain chromates bears no relevance to the nutritional role of non toxic trivalent chromium.


Because of the uncertainty of quantitive human requirements, it is not possible to establish an RDA. 1.5 milligrams to 3.0 milligrams per day has been recommended as a safe and adequate range of dietary copper intake for adults.

Copper is an essential nutrient, necessary for extensive body functions. It converts iron to hemoglobin , is essential for the utilization of vitamin C and stops the degeneration of the nervous system. In a study of 10 men who got less than half the suggested copper intake for 6 weeks, four of them responded with a significant increase in cholesterol. [Journal American Dietetic Association, July 1990. Pg 96. response to low-copper diet ... according to researchers with USDA's Agricultural Research Service]

The best natural sources are shell fish, sea vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and peas. It is found abundantly in tap water because of contamination from copper pipes.

Toxicity from dietary sources is extremely rare, but supplementation should be avoided as an excess can lower zinc levels, produce insomnia, hair loss and depression.


Approximately 1 mcg per kilogram of body weight is required. The RDA for adults is 150 micrograms.

Iodine is an essential component of the thyroid hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine. It is almost entirely used by the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland controls metabolism, proper growth, helps burn up excess fat and gives you more energy.

Deficiency of dietary iodine may result in decreased synthesis of the iodine-containing thyroid hormones. This can lead to cretinism and mental retardation. Iodine intake consistently lower than 50 mcg per day usually leads to thyroid hypertrophy (ie. endemic goiter). In addition, epidemiological and experimental studies suggest that endemic goiter predisposes to cancer of the thyroid.

The best natural sources are seafoods and sea vegetables (kelp, arame and kombu). Iodized salt is a regular source, providing about 75 mcg per gram.

Individuals who are sensitive to iodine may react to excessive exposure with iododerma, fever, salivary gland enlargement, visual problems and/or other symptoms. Death from severe forms of iododerma has been reported. Acute responses to the ingestion or injection of large doses of an iodine-containing solution include cardiovascular collapse, convulsions, and asthma attacks.

Adverse effects of iodine have also been reported from dietary supplements, including seaweed extracts, vitamin and mineral preparations. Goiter caused by high iodine intakes has been registered in Japan. [Nagataski, S. 1974. Effect of excess quantities of iodine. Pg. 329-344 in Handbook of Physiology, III, Endocrinology.]

The response to excess iodine is variable. Some individuals tolerate large intakes without side effects, whereas others may respond adversely to levels close to recommended intakes. Those who are most likely to respond adversely are those living in endemic goiter areas or for other reasons have habitually had a low intake of iodine, and those who are sensitive to iodine.

The maximum tolerable level of iodine appears to range from 200 mcg per day to 1000 mcg per day. These levels of intake are possible from diets that include milk, iodized salt, seaweed and products containing the red food coloring erythrosine which has high levels of iodine.

Generally, iodine intakes by the majority of the population in the USA is considered safe and adequate.


Iron is a constituent of hemoglobin. Body iron content is regulated by the amount absorbed. The absorption is influenced by body stores and by the amount and type of iron in ingested foods. The RDA for adults is 15 milligrams.

It is a vital component of many enzymes, it can promote resistance to disease and prevent fatigue. A trend toward reduced risk of melanoma was observed by Stryker et al when iron intake was increased (not including supplements). [Styker, W.S., Stampfer, M.J., Stein, E.A., Kaplan, L., Louis, T.A., Sober, A., and Willet, W.C.: Diet, plasma levels of beta-carotene and alphatocopherol, and risk of malignant melanoma. American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 131:612 1990]

A deficiency can cause anemia, resulting in impaired concentration, reduced physical performance and work capacity, and decrease immune function. Ascorbic acid is necessary for the proper assimilation of iron.

The best natural sources of iron are sea vegetables, clams, cockles, mussels, oysters, yeast, molasses, beans, nuts, seeds and cereals.

Tea, coffee, bran and phytates decrease iron absorption.

There are no reported cases of toxicity from foods but iron poisoning may occur from ingesting large amounts of medicinal iron supplements.


Magnesium is known as the antistress mineral. The RDA for adults is 350 milligrams.

Many biochemical and physiological processes require magnesium. It is necessary for vitamin C and calcium metabolism. It keeps teeth healthy, brings relief from indigestion and can aid in fighting depression. More than 300 enzymes are known to be activated by magnesium. It controls cellular metabolism and maintains electrical potentials of nerve and muscle membranes for the transmission of impulses across junctions.

The best natural sources are whole seeds, nuts, legumes, unmilled grains, green vegetables and bananas.

Phytate or fiber may reduce magnesium absorption. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing vast quantities to be lost in the urine.

There is no evidence that large dietary intakes of magnesium are harmful to people with normal renal function. In cases of impaired renal function and use of magnesium-containing drugs hypermagnesemia may occur. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and hypotension. As conditions worsen respiratory depression, coma and asystolic arrest may occur. [ Mordes, J.P. and W.E. Wacker, 1978. Excess magnesium. Pharmacol REV. 29:273-300.]


Because of the lack of manganese deficiency in adults, the current dietary intakes satisfy the needs for this mineral. A provisional daily dietary intake of 5.0 milligrams is recommended.

It is necessary for the use of biotin, B1 and C, by the body. It can help eliminate fatigue, improve memory, reduce nervous irritability and assure the proper digestion and utilization of food. A deficiency can cause poor reproductive performance, growth retardation, abnormal formation of bone and cartilage, and an impaired glucose tolerance.

The best natural sources are whole grains, cereal products, nuts and green leafy vegetables. Dairy products, meat, fish, and poultry are poor sources.

Toxicity has only been observed with workers exposed to high concentrations of manganese dust or fumes in the air.


Nickel is now quite firmly established as an essential nutrient, but no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or Estimated Safe and Adequate Intake (ESADI) has yet been set for nickel. [Root, E.J. Current Perspectives on Nickel, Nutrition Today, Vol 25:3, June 1990.]

Research showed that nickel was to be found in blood and tissues at quite consistent levels, that it is associated with DNA and RNA in amounts that suggest physiological significance, and that it occurs also in blood in amounts which appear biologically meaningful.

Nickel is required for normal growth and reproduction in animals, and presumably in human beings as well. It appears to have a role in the modulation of the immune system and in development of the brain. Since brain is depleted in deficiency more than other tissues, the brain and immune system should receive attention in future studies of nickel deficiency.

The best sources of nickel include oatmeal, legumes, nuts, cocoa, whole wheat bread, and some leafy vegetables such as kale and lettuce.

The danger of nickel toxicity from food appears to be very low, since large amounts of nickel are required to produce any toxic effects through ingestion. But in susceptible people, contact with nickel or nickel salts cause skin irritations.

Chronic exposure at lower levels can cause cancer. Workers exposed to nickel compounds have a higher than normal incidence of cancer of the respiratory tract, particularly of the nasal cavities and lungs. Nickel released from burning tobacco isthought to be responsible for at least part of the carcinogenicity of tobacco smoke. There is no indication of cancer arising from ingestion of the nickel in food.


The precise requirement for phosphorus is unknown, but a 1 to 1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus will provide sufficient phosphorus for most age groups. The RDA for adults is 1200 milligrams.

Phosphorus is an essential component of bone mineral and is necessary for normal bone and tooth structure. It is involved in almost all physiological chemical reactions. It aids in growth and can lessen the pain of arthritis.

The best natural sources are cereal grains, nuts, seeds, meat, poultry and fish.

Aluminum hydroxide binds phosphorus, making it unavailable for absorption. An excess of iron and magnesium have the same effect. Phosphorus deficiency results in bone loss and is characterized by weakness, anorexia and pain.


Potassium is the principal intercellular cation. There is no RDA but a minimum requirement of 1600 milligrams per day would be adequate.

Potassium is of great physiological importance, contributing to the transmission of nerve impulses, the control of skeletal muscle contractility, and the maintenance of normal blood pressure. Deficiency symptoms include weakness, anorexia, nausea, drowsiness and irrational behavior.

Potassium is found in most foods since it is an essential constituent of all living cells. The richest dietary sources are unprocessed beans, nuts, leafy green vegetables and fruit.

Low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia), alcohol or smoking cause potassium loss.

Acute intoxication (hyperkalemia) can cause cardiac arrest and prove fatal.


The RDA is 70 micrograms for male adults, 55 micrograms for females.

Selenium plays a role in pancreatic function, in hepatic heme metabolism, and in the immune response. It has a close metabolic interrelationship with the antioxidant vitamin E. Deficiency only occurs simultaneously with a deficiency of vitamin E and can be cured by supplementation of either. It can neutralize certain carcinogens so possibly provide protection from some cancers.

The best natural sources of selenium are seafoods, eggs and depending on the selenium content of the soils in which they are grown, grains and seeds.


Sodium is the principal cation of extracellular fluid. As the rate of sodium loss can vary under different conditions there is no official RDA, but the minimum daily requirement for healthy adults is 500 milligrams.

Sodium is crucial for regulating the membrane potential of cells and is involved in active transport across cell membranes, it is pumped out in exchange for potassium. It helps the nerves and muscles function properly.

Sodium is found in abundance in most processed foods thus there is very little chance of a deficiency occurring with the average Western Diet. The best natural sources are salt, shellfish, anchovy, lox, spirulina, wakame, cheese and red or green peppers.

The body may be depleted of sodium under extreme conditions of sweating or chronic diarrhea.

Excessive intake of sodium can result in edema and hypertension.


Sulfur is used to treat many kinds of skin disorders. Sulfur cream, lotion, ointment, and bar soap are used to treat acne. Sulfur ointment is used to treat seborrheic dermatitis and scabies. Sulfur may also be used for other conditions as determined by your doctor.


The RDA is 15 milligrams per day for men and 12 milligrams per day for women. Recent research suggests that men have a higher need for zinc than do women. Thus, it is appropriate that the RDA is sex-specific for zinc.

Zinc is an essential trace element that must be supplied in the diet of human beings so that growth and health can be maintained. It is necessary for protein synthesis and the metabolism of vitamin A, it helps the healing process of internal and external wounds, decreases cholesterol deposits and promotes mental awareness. A deficiency can cause loss of appetite, growth retardation and immunological abnormalities.

The best natural sources are oysters, nuts, wheatgerm, whole grain products, brewers yeast, meat, eggs, legumes and seeds.

Zinc is more easily absorbed in small amounts than large amounts. Human studies have shown that milk apparently inhibits zinc absorption. Because cow's milk and milk products are the major sources of calcium and higher levels of calcium have been recommended in women to protect against bone loss, this could be a matter for concern. Its bioavailability is reduced by protein or fiber. [Sandst?m, B. and ?. Cederblad. 1980. Zinc absorption from composite meals.] Smoking and alcohol also decreases the absorption of zinc.

Ingestion of zinc supplements exceeding 15 mg per day is not recommended. Toxicity can cause gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting.

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