Trace Minerals- Why we need them.



Trace minerals are present in the body in miniscule amounts. If you took all the trace minerals in your body they would not even fill a teaspoon. They are however very important, just as important as any other nutrient. Each trace mineral performs a vital role of its own. Too much or too little can cause serious effects on your health. The trace minerals found in foods are dependant on the soil and water content and how they are processed. Certain factors in the diet can affect the bioavailability of trace minerals. The trace minerals discussed here are iron, zinc, iodine, selenium, copper, manganese, fluoride, chromium, and molybdenum, there are many more.

IRON– Iron is very important to human life. It plays a central role in the hemoglobin molecule of our red bloods cells, where it functions in oxygen and carbon dioxide transport. Iron also functions in several key enzymes in energy production and metabolism, including DNA synthesis. There are two forms of iron, heme, and non heme. The heme iron comes from animal sources and is absorbed very well. The non heme comes from plant sources and is not as easily absorbed as the heme form. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the United States. Iron is of course found in red meat, the plant forms are many. Kelp, brewers yeast, molasses, wheat bran, many seeds, nuts, and legumes, millet, parsley broccoli, are a few. The RDA for iron is 10 milligrams for males and 15 milligrams in females. Females need more iron during their menstruating years and during pregnancy. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, excessive menstrual loss, learning disabilities, impaired immune function, and decreased energy levels and physical performance. Not only is iron used to prevent deficiency it has been shown to be helpful in a number of other instances, including restless leg syndrome. Elevated iron levels can be linked to heart disease (for one reason it probably comes from high intakes of red meat), by spinning off free radicals in the blood and either damaging cholesterol or the artery walls directly. Antioxidants like vitamins C and E protect against iron-induced oxidative damage. Other possible risks for iron overload include increased risk of infection and cancer. Generally supplementations should be only for menstruating, pregnant, and lactating women, and possibly vegetarians. Children should not take iron as they are very susceptible to iron overload, causing damage to the intestinal lining, liver failure, nausea, and vomiting.

ZINC– Zinc is in every cell in the body and is a component in over 200 enzymes. Zinc functions in more enzymatic reactions than any other mineral. Zinc is important in many actions of the body’s hormones including, thymic, insulin, growth, and sex hormones. Zinc is stored primarily in the muscles and is highly concentrated in the red and white blood cells. The bones, skin, kidney, liver, pancreas, retina, and prostate also contain zinc. Zinc is found in high levels in oysters and other shellfish, fish, and red meats. Good sources are also found in plant foods such as whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Zinc is less bioavailable in plant foods because it binds to fiber and excreted before it is well absorbed. Severe zinc deficiency is rare, however it may be reflected in increased susceptibility to infection, poor wound healing, decreased sense of smell and taste, and minor skin disorders. The RDA for zinc is 15 milligrams per day. Zinc is beneficial in immune function, wound healing, sensory functions, skin health, and sexual function. It is also very involved in many enzyme and body functions. Adequate levels of zinc are required for cell growth and protein synthesis. Zinc is also essential for the senses of vision, taste, and smell. Zinc is an important factor for men’s prostate function and sex hormones. Zinc is also important in skin function. Zinc can be beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis, other inflammatory diseases, acne, macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, and Wilson’s disease. The principle toxic effects of zinc occur at levels greater than 150 milligrams per day. This includes leading to a copper deficiency anemia, reduced HDL (good cholesterol) levels, and depressed immune function. Zinc is the least toxic trace element and generally causes vomiting when too much is ingested. Zinc competes with copper and calcium and also iron for absorption. So for supplementation it is best to take apart from high fiber foods for the best absorption. Zinc supplements can cause gastrointestinal problems and nausea if taken on an empty stomach.

IODINE- Iodine is a trace element required in the manufacture of thyroid hormones. You have probably heard of people with goiter, a large lump on their throat. This and other illnesses are caused by iodine deficiency. Many seafood’s including seaweeds contain iodine. Most people get their iodine from iodized salt. Sea salt does not contain iodine in sufficient amounts. Iodine deficiency is particularly harmful to pregnant women causing neo-natal hyperthyroidism and hyperthyrotropinemia. It can also increase chances of miscarriage and infant mortality. Some other disorders are growth retardation, Cretinism, and intellectual disability. The RDA for iodine is 150 micrograms per day, however some people consume as much as 600 micrograms with high salt intake. Besides iodine’s primary role in manufacturing thyroid hormones it is believed to modulate the effect of estrogen on breast tissue. While iodine supplements are generally used to prevent deficiency, they can also have a beneficial effect in fibrocystic breast disease. Iodine absorption can be blocked by some foods, such as turnips, soybeans cabbage, peanuts, millet, and pine nuts, however cooking inactivates the substance that inhibits absorption. Too much iodine can inhibit thyroid gland synthesis, and can cause acne like skin eruptions.

SELENIUM– Selenium functions with antioxidants in preventing free radical damage to cell membranes. Low levels of selenium are thus related to a higher risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory diseases, and other conditions associated with free radical damage. This also includes cataract formation and premature aging. The level of selenium in food is directly related to the selenium content of the soil food is grown in. Selenium is found in wheat germ, Brazil nuts, whole wheat bread, bran, red Swiss chard, barley, orange juice, turnips, garlic and brown rice. The RDA for selenium is 50 micrograms per day. Selenium not only enhances the antioxidant function of vitamin E, it has antioxidant effects of its own, and is involved in the production of thyroid hormone, as is iodine. Selenium is also antagonistic to heavy metals such as lead, mercury, aluminum, and cadmium. Selenium toxicity symptoms come from chronic toxicity including depression, nervousness, emotional instability, nausea, vomiting, a garlic odor to the breath and sweat, and in acute cases hair and fingernail loss. This is rare from dietary sources. Selenium absorption is adversely affected by heavy metals and vitamin in high doses. Selenium absorption is reduced with high intakes of other trace minerals and chemotherapy drugs.

COPPER- Copper is the third most abundant trace mineral in the body after iron and zinc. It is essential to several key enzymatic reactions in the body. The highest concentration of copper is in the brain and liver, however it is also found in the skeleton, skeletal muscle, skin, and bone marrow. Copper is found in shellfish, oysters and legumes. You also get copper from the water consumed that has run thru copper pipes. Copper is required for iron absorption therefore iron deficiency anemia is possible when copper is deficient. Copper deficiency is linked to poor collagen integrity. This poor integrity is seen in the rupture of blood vessels, osteoporosis and bone and joint abnormality. Copper deficiency is also related to brain disturbances, increased lipid peroxidation, elevated LDL and reduced HDL, and impaired immune function. Increased copper intake is required in pregnancy, lactation, and in prematurity. The safe intake for copper is 1.5-3.0 milligrams per day, as no RDA is set. Many enzymes contain copper, and enzymes are in every cell in the body and involved in the chemical and metabolic reactions of the body. Copper is used in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and the treatment of arthritis. The copper bracelets that people wear are for this arthritis treatment. Copper reduces pain and inflammation, when absorbed thru the skin. The high intake of vitamin C, zinc, iron, and other minerals may decrease the absorption of copper. High intakes of copper can cause nausea and vomiting and copper like iron should be kept out of the reach of children.

MANGANESE- Manganese was not considered an essential trace mineral until 1931 when researchers discovered that mice and rats fed a diet devoid in manganese demonstrated poor growth and impaired reproduction. Manganese is found in nuts, whole grains, dried fruits, and leafy green vegetables. Human deficiencies of manganese show that numerous metabolic abnormalities develop, including skin rash, loss of hair color, bone remodeling, and reduced growth of hair and nails. Also the HDL (good cholesterol) was lower. Safe intake of manganese is 2.5-5.0 milligrams per day, as no RDA has been set. Manganese functions in many enzyme functions, including enzymes involved in blood sugar control, energy metabolism, and thyroid hormone function. It also functions as the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD). Without SOD cells are susceptible to damage and inflammation. The principle use of manganese is to treat strains, sprains, inflammation, epilepsy, and diabetes. Manganese has a very low level of toxicity. It has been toxic to people mining it, causing “manganese madness”, which is characterized by severe psychiatric symptoms such as hallucinations, violent acts, and hyperirritability. Manganese may inhibit the absorption of iron, copper, and zinc. In turn high intakes of magnesium, calcium, iron, copper, and zinc may inhibit the absorption of manganese. Antacids may also inhibit the absorption of manganese.

FLUORIDE- Fluoride is of course the trace mineral in water systems that has been the subject of much debate over the last few years. Other than in water systems fluoride is present in the soil, plants, and animals. Humans have only a trace of fluoride, which makes the bones and teeth larger and more perfectly formed. Fluoride is said to make the teeth more resistant to decay and lower the incident of dental caries that lead to tooth decay and loss. Most people obtain fluoride from drinking water, however it is also found in tea and seafood. Fluoride does not have a RDA, but it does have an adequate level set at 3.1 for women and 3.8 for men. Too much fluoride can cause fluorosis, which is characterized by discoloration and pitting of the tooth enamel. Toddlers and children should be supervised to make sure they are not swallowing toothpastes and mouthwashes with fluoride in them. I personally think receiving fluoride from food sources is adequate and is one of the reasons I do not drink tap water.

CHROMIUM– Chromium is the active ingredient in glucose tolerance factor (GTF). It is used for its effects on blood sugar control mechanisms. In 1957 GTF was discovered, and it restored impaired glucose tolerance in rats. In 1959 the active component was identified as chromium. Chromium’s best sources are meats and whole grain products. The primary effects of deficiency are glucose intolerance, which is characterized by elevated blood sugar and insulin levels. Therefore chromium is a very important trace mineral for diabetics. There is no RDA for chromium, the adequate dietary range is 50-200 micrograms per day. Chromium is critical to proper insulin action. By increasing the body’s sensitivity to insulin it improves the blood sugar levels. In the obese this can effectively help them to lose weight. Chromium works closely with insulin to facilitate the uptake of glucose in the cells. Without chromium, insulin’s action is blocked and blood sugar levels are elevated. So chromium’s key benefit is helping insulin work properly. It not only benefit those with diabetes or hypoglycemia, it helps elevated blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, weight loss, and acne. Chromium has not been found to be toxic in any ways. Refined sugars, white flour, and lack of exercise can however deplete chromium levels, and calcium carbonate and antacids may reduce chromium absorption.

MOLYBDENUM- Molybdenum functions as a component in several enzymes. These enzymes can be involved in sulfur metabolism, uric acid formation, and help with alcohol detoxification. As many other minerals, molybdenum content in foods depends on the soil content of molybdenum. Legumes and whole grains are the richest sources of molybdenum, and many vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, green beans, onions, and potatoes contain molybdenum. Some fruits also contain molybdenum, such as strawberries apricots, and raisons. There is no RDA for molybdenum, however the adequate dietary range is set at 75-250 micrograms per day. Molybdenum deficiency may be a cause of sulfite sensitivities, and in people who are receiving intravenous nutrition. It manifests in an inability to detoxify sulfites because the enzyme that detoxifies sulfites is dependant on molybdenum. Sulfites are used as preservatives, and have been discontinued in many foods, because of their toxic effects. Molybdenum has been used in cancer prevention, cavity prevention, and the treatment of Wilson’s disease, in addition to sulfite sensitivity. Molybdenum toxicity is rare, however people with gout should restrict molybdenum in their diets due to it’s enhanced production of uric acid. Molybdenum can interact with copper and fluoride, an increase in molybdenum can cause an increased excretion of copper, and it may also enhance the effects of fluoride.

Trace minerals as you can see are very important to optimal health and can be used therapeutically in many of the above-mentioned conditions and diseases. The balance in the levels of trace minerals is as important to absorption as the soil content in which the food is grown in for bioavailability of the minerals. If it is not in the soil it is not available for assimilation. I believe receiving trace minerals from natural sources in the diet is best when healthy. In the treatment of disease, supplementation can be helpful as long as you keep in mind all the different absorption conditions related by the different levels of different trace minerals in concert with each other.

Submitted by Tricia @ Nutrition by Tricia


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