A mineral is an inorganic chemical element that the body must have in minute amounts for body processes such as normal growth and metabolism. They are essentially the building blocks of a living being since they are all what remain after plant or animal tissue decomposes. Minerals are also essential for enzyme and hormone formation.
Minerals attained from food, much like vitamins. Approximately 4-5% of the body’s weight is mineral matter, most of which is in the skeleton. Minerals are also present in tissue proteins, enzymes, blood, and even some vitamins. The majority of the minerals are 75% calcium and phosphorous, mostly from the bones, though some is present in the blood. Other elements are available in much less quantities and are called trace elements. These include iron and fluoride. Minerals, like vitamins, contain energy or calories.
Unlike vitamins, though, minerals are not produced in the body. Thus, vital mineral deficiencies are much more common than vitamin deficiencies, since minerals are not manufactured in the body. Minerals are also harder to liberate from food during digestion and are absorbed much less. A lower percentage of minerals passively go from the gastrointestinal tract to the blood. Minerals are a foundation of many different cells, including blood, nerve, and muscle cells. They also provide both structural and functional support. Electrolyte minerals such as sodium, potassium, and chloride, help regulate the acid-base and fluid balance of the body. Minerals also catalyze biochemical reaction and help in energy production. They also aid in muscle contraction, nerve transmission, cell permeability, and blood and tissue formation.
Essential minerals are those that cannot be produced in the body in sufficient amount to support the functions in which they are used. They are considered to be essential if symptoms are seen when there is a lack of them in the diet and when symptoms are resolved when the supply is replenished. Such problems arise in diets that are deficient in calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium.
Trace minerals, or elements, are less than 0.0196 of total body weight. Many of these are measure in micrograms (meg) or in milligrams (mg). The trace minerals are usually measured in parts per million (ppm) of body weight (1 ppm 1 mcg per gram). Despite the small amount, many of the trace elements are essential to health and life, it is tougher to determine the need for trace elements. Recent studies have revealed their importance, especially in the cases of selenium and chromium. These two minerals, once feared out of toxicity concerns, are now known for their role carbohydrate metabolism and blood sugar regulation. Chromium makes up the glucose tolerance factor and selenium is important in the proper immune function, heart function, and cancer prevention. Fluoride helps prevent tooth decay, though too much of it has been shown to cause cancer. Other essential or recommended trace minerals include:
Diet and Supplements
The average person gets enough minerals by eating a reasonable diet that has a lot of whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables. For the most part, the body will fine tune the levels of most minerals to maintain optimal function. The process will begin in the stomach, where minerals are separated from food proteins to prepare for absorption. It gets more complex when the minerals try to go into circulation, because many of them are eliminated through the kidney or from the liver and bile or other digestive juices through the kidneys with the urine or from the liver and bile or other digestive juices through the intestinal tract. Some minerals are stored in tissues and later used in metabolic functions. Many minerals will compete with each other when naturally present or when they are supplemented. Large amounts of calcium may reduce the absorption of other minerals such as magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, and manganese. Zinc will reduce iron, copper, and phosphorous absorbption, while phosphorous when taken in excess can interfere with the absorption of several minerals.
Forms of Minerals
Minerals come in different forms. One common form is inorganic salts, like iron phosphate or sodium chloride. They are also parts of organic salts, are part of plant, or animal tissues. They are also bound to amino acids or protein molecules, such as iron in hemoglobin. Many minerals are chelated (chelate is derived from the Greek word for “claw”) by organic molecules in nature.
Several minerals are found in water in their free ionic states, as positively or negatively charged particles. The salts are the major components of seawater also provide a great environment for cellular life. The main positively charged ions, sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium, combine with negatively charged anions such as chloride, phosphate, and carbonate. The charge of a mineral can determine a lot on the mineral’s capacity whether it will act as an acid or base as a body. Furthermore, the lining of the GI tract is both ionically and electrically charged and may not allow other ions to pass through easily. This is why chelated minerals or mineral salts, or positive and negative ions, can be asbsorbed much easier.
Most minerals are generally well absorbed even when there is a dysfunction in the digestive system. Zinc and chromium may be absorbed poorly in cases of digestive difficulties. Most minerals are destroyed by heat, some are soluble in water and are lost during the cooking or other food preparation process. Other factors where minerals could be lost include:
- Agricultural (modern farming)
- Environmental (pollution and depletion)
- Food Processing
Several problems, minor and major, can arise from mineral deficiencies. The most well known is osteoporosis, a condition caused by loss of bone minerals due to long-term, low calcium intake and Vitamin D deficiency. Hypertension has been shown to be caused by low calcium, low magnesium, high sodium, and lower potassium levels. Magnesium deficiency has been rooted to muscular spasms, nerve related pain, and even heart attacks. Low zinc or selenium levels may hinder the immune system and increase the chances of infection.
Assuming someone has a balanced diet, there should no issues as far as getting the required minerals. Problems may arise in these cases:
- High stress or overwork, which may cause a person to not eat a balanced diet. Many minerals are also used up to make extra stress hormones.
- Sickness, especially in the case of bronchitis or surgery recovery.
- Chronic disease such as asthma or diabetes since these conditions may cause a change in the way the body absorbs vitamins and minerals.
- Pregnancy or nursing, extra vitamins may be needed in these caess.
- Depressions, since those depressed usually do not eat well.
- Alcohol abuse, heavy drinks have a deficiency in almost all vitamins and minerals, notably B vitamins.
Symptoms of mineral deficiency are difficult to diagnose since they shadow many other conditions, but may include such things as exhaustion, irritability, insomnia, or anxiety.
The Required Daily Amount
It is advisable to take the amount recommended by a medical professional.
- Alan H. Pressman and Sheila Buff. The Complete Idiot's guide to vitamins and minerals, Alpha A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc (2007)
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Types of Minerals
Chromium can be obtained through beer, meat (particularly liver), cheese, whole grain cereals and breads, and brewer’s yeast. Brewer’s yeast is perhaps the best source, with an adult requirement of about 2 tablespoons per day (or six tablets). While small amounts of chromium can be found in leafy vegetables, white rice and white bread, all three of these types of foods are poor sources for chromium. The processing of grain and rice takes away over 80 percent of the chromium originally found in it.
Boron seems to be closely tied to vitamin D, and a deficiency in both of these items might be the key for a disruption of calcium in the body. Because boron plays a role in calcium metabolism, low levels of this mineral may be tied to arthritis and hypertension. Normal levels of calcium and magnesium in the body typically help maintain “normal” blood pressure, while abnormal deposits of calcium are thought to lead to plaque in the arteries and irritation of the joints.
Studies have shown that manganese could very well be the least toxic of the minerals in the human body from a nutritional standpoint. When consuming manganese from food or supplements, there seems to be no toxic levels. However, when manganese is consumed through a water supply with abnormally high levels of the mineral, neuromuscular problems similar to Parkinson’s disease may result.
Phosphorous is common in many foods, particularly in animal tissues. This means many foods high in protein are also high in phosphorous. Good sources for consumption of phosphorous include turkey, chicken, fish, meats, milk, cheese and eggs. While most red meats and poultry are good sources of calcium, these foods are typically even better sources of phosphorous.
Selenium is transferred from the soil where it is found into food sources such as the plants and vegetation humans consume. Selenium can also be acquired from eating meat from the animals which consume these plants. However, the level of selenium in the soil varies tremendously from one region to another. Also, much of the selenium which is contained in natural foods is “processed out” as the vegetation is prepared for sale and shipment. A good example of this processing loss is when manufacturers make white flour or white rice, where the loss of important vitamins and minerals is extensive.
Iodine is a trace element that plays a significant role in the healthy functioning of the thyroid. Humans typically contain about 20 to 30 milligrams of iodine. While this element is present in the muscles, skin, bones, and blood, it lies primarily in the thyroid. Iodine is essential to thyroid hormone production, which helps regulate various processes in the body, including physical and mental development and metabolism.
Iron is an extremely important mineral that is used throughout the body and in turn affects how the entire body functions. The main role of iron is as part of the hemoglobin contained in red blood cells; these cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to tissues throughout the body. Iron is also found in myoglobin, which supplies oxygen to the muscles, including the heart. A lack of sufficient iron results in inadequate oxygen distribution throughout the body; this condition causes weakness, fatigue, decreased stamina for physical activity, and, when prolonged, may lead to anemia. Iron deficiency is a rather significant problem, especially for adolescents, women of childbearing age, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and the elderly.
Copper is an element found throughout the body, primarily in the brain and liver but also in the hair, kidneys, and heart. There is typically about 100 to 150 milligrams of copper within the body. About 95 percent of the body’s circulating copper is found in ceruloplasmin, a copper-protein compound, which makes this blood component a good source for testing to determine copper levels within the body. Copper plays a role in many processes that allow the body to function properly, including the maintenance of a healthy nervous system and the support of bone and joint health.
Calcium is the most plentiful mineral found in the human body and plays a large role in keeping the body functioning effectively. Calcium is significant in maintaining heart and bone health. While calcium is found in teeth and blood, the majority of a human’s calcium, about 98 percent of it, is found in the bones. Unsurprisingly then, calcium deficiencies most prominently affect the bones, often resulting in conditions such as osteopenia and osteoporosis. Because of the risk of these and other conditions, it is very important that all people, especially children, adolescents, pregnant and nursing women, and elderly men and women sustain appropriate calcium intake. Healthy levels of calcium can be maintained through a nutritious diet of foods rich in calcium, as well as calcium supplements.