Minerals and our health

The magic of minerals

The only thing that will catalyze or activate an enzyme is a mineral, therefore in order for cells to function properly they need all the required minerals, deficiencies lead to disease.

While most would recognise the importance of vitamins in their diets, many don’t realise the incredible power of minerals in regards to health. Minerals can be divided into macrominerals and microminerals. There are 7 macrominerals that your body needs daily: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur, and microminerals needed in smaller amounts (trace elements): silicon, iron, zinc, iodine, copper, manganese, chromium, selenium, and molybdenum. As minerals are super important if we aren’t getting them the body will extract from the bone as well as send signals that you are hungry, which can be a reason you over eat or crave specific foods.

How to get your minerals

Minerals are naturally given to us via water and food, however with current farming practices that deplete the soil of necessary minerals and water supplies that have been polluted and poisoned, along with overly processed foods,  we have become mineral malnourished. This does not mean however that you need to rush out and start taking every mineral, as your body needs a balance and too much of one mineral effects the absorbtion of the other. eg. copper and zinc work closely together however in inflammatory conditions copper is more readily absorbed resulting in a lower absorbtion of zinc, and if you take in too much zinc you reduce your absorption of copper which is necessary for blood vessel formation, a healthy heart and for stabilizing collagen. Copper deficency is not normally a problem as it is found in a number of foods however zinc is commonly low unless taken as a supplement 1. Where possible try to eat organic fruit and vegetables to get the best chance of a high mineral content.2

Macrominerals

Major minerals
Mineral Function Sources
Sodium An electrolyte therefore involved in conduction of proper fluid balance, acid base balance, nerve transmission, muscle contraction and heart function. Balance of the three electrolytes are very important, high sodium levels are a known contributor to the development of cancer, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. All of our daily sodium requirements can be found in food. (not processed as these are usually high in sodium) Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, breads, vegetables, and unprocessed meats
Chloride An electrolyte therefore involved in conduction of proper fluid balance, acid base balance, nerve transmission, muscle contraction and heart functionImportant for healthy bones and teeth; helps muscles relax and contract; important in nerve functioning, blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, immune system health Table salt, soy sauce; large amounts in processed foods; small amounts in milk, meats, breads, and vegetables
Potassium An electrolyte therefore involved in conduction of proper fluid balance, acid base balance, nerve transmission, muscle contraction and heart function. Most important dietary electrolyte, involved in the conversion of blood sugar in to glycogen (low levels of glycogen will produce muscle fatigue and weakness) Meats, milk, fresh fruits and fresh vegetables, whole grains, legumes
Calcium Most abundant mineral in the body, builds and maintains bone and teeth. The contraction of muscles, release of neurotransmitters, regulation of heartbeat and blood clotting are all dependent on calcium Kelp and other seaweeds, cheddar cheese, leafy green vegetables, nuts (especially almonds) and sunflower seeds
Phosphorus One of the most essential minerals, ranking second to calcium. Involved in energy metabolism, DNA synthesis and calcium absorption and utilization.Important to have a good calcuim to phosphorus ratio to avoid bone loss. Readily available in high protein foods. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, legumes and whole grains
Magnesium Found mostly in the bone, and some in the muscle and blood, it is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions, including those involved in metabolism, muscle contraction, energy formation. Magnesium is especially important for the heart. High calcium intake depletes magnesium Kelp and other seaweeds, nuts and seeds; legumes, leafy green vegetables, avocado, chocolate,
Sulfur Found in protein molecules such as the joints, hair, nails and skin. Helps make insulin, and glutathione (a detoxification compound) Eggs, legumes, whole grains, garlic, onions, brussel sprounts and cabbage. methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)

Trace minerals (microminerals)

Trace minerals
Mineral Function Sources
Iron Critical to hemoglobin molecule creation, and involved in many enzymatic reactions such as in metabolism and energy production. Low stomach acid decreases absorption, and iron in vegetables and meat is slightly different and iron in meat is most efficiently absorbed. Organ meats, red meats, fish, poultry, shellfish (especially high in clams); egg yolks; legumes; dried fruits; dark, leafy greens; molasses, iron-enriched breads and cereals; and fortified cereals
Zinc Component of more than 200 enzymes in our bodies, necessary for immune function and secreation of thymic hormones, involved in protein synthesis and cell growth, as well as wound healing. Involved in the maintainance of vision, taste and smell. Critical to male fertility and prostrate function, as well as skin function. Osyters (fresh), pumpkin seeds, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, garlic
Iodine Involved in thyroid hormone production, deficiency results in enlarged thyroid (goiter) Seafood, foods grown in iodine-rich soil, iodized salt, bread, dairy products
Selenium Antioxidant, although high intake is toxic Meats, seafood, grains
Copper Important in the manufacture of hemoglobin, collagen structures and energy. Deficiency is characterized by anemia, fatigue, poor wound healing, elevated cholesterol and poor immunity. Competes with zinc for absorption Nuts and seeds, whole grains, organ meats, drinking water (in copper pipes)
Manganese Part of many enzymes reactions, including blood sugar control, energy metabolism, cerebral function and thyroid hormone function Nuts, whole grains and vegetables
Silicon  Cross links collagen strands, contributing to the strength and integrity of connective tissue Unrefined grains
Chromium Involved in blood sugar regulation Unrefined foods, especially liver, brewer’s yeast, whole grains, nuts, blueberries, banana
Molybdenum Part of some enzymes involved in alcohol detoxification, metabolism of sulfur-contianing amino acids, deficiency is rare as found in most foods. Legumes; breads and grains; leafy greens; leafy, green vegetables; milk, liver
Source: Encyclopedia of Healing Foods (2005), Michael T. Murray & Joseph Pizzorno

Reasons we become mineral deficient

  • Genetically acquired metabolic defects, usually occurring at a cell enzyme level
  • Kidney loss, either through too much fluid (diuretics such as coffee, tea and alcohol)
  • Reduced absorption due to lowered digestive function
  • Low mineral content in the food we eat
  • Physical and mental stress

Signs of mineral deficiency

These can be vague and varied but include:

  • fatigue or weakness
  • constipation, bloating, or abdominal pain
  • decreased immune system
  • diarrhea
  • irregular heart beat, or palpitations
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle cramping
  • nausea and vomiting
  • numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • inability to concentrate

How to know what minerals you are deficient in?

The best way to do this is through your natural health care provdier or naturopath, who will go through your diet and do a physical examination looking for various signs that can indicate a particular deficiency as well as thougth hair testing or measurement of electrolytes (minerals) in the blood.