A Mineral Primer
In the late 18th century the French chemist Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, who is considered the founder of the science of nutrition, theorized that important nutrients would eventually be isolated from soils.
Today, we can easily find a plethora of mineral formulations in almost any food or drug store. Almost weekly new articles in various medical journals relate how minerals and trace minerals can improve our health. Here is a brief refresher on minerals and your health:
This mineral is required for strong bones and teeth, blood clotting, muscle contraction and relaxation, secretion of hormones, enzyme activation, nerve transmission, maintaining the calcium-phosphorus ratio, and combining with vitamin D and various minerals to prevent osteoporosis. In evaluating 124 healthy women, ages 52 to 62, for the relationship between bone loss, calcium intake and physical activity, a British study found that women with the highest intakes of calcium and physical activity had the highest bone mineral density at all sites. The researchers reported that high calcium intake and exercise protect bone mass in women 5 to 12 years postmenopausal.2
In another study; when men were given 1 g of calcium twice daily, they experienced a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.3 Still another study determined that increased calcium intake reduces blood pressure in pregnant women, which can sometimes be life-threatening. In fact, calcium reduced pregnancy-induced hypertension by 70 percent.4 Higher doses of calcium have been proven effective in alleviating symptoms of PMS in many women!
Main food sources of calcium: Dairy products, fish, eggs, almonds, broccoli and green leafy vegetables.
Chromium is an activator of certain enzymes, helps stabilize blood sugar levels, is necessary for the formation of fatty acids and cholesterol, and is a stabilizer of nucleic acids DNA and RNA). Richard Anderson, Ph.D., of the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center in Maryland, recommends that those with diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance or high cholesterol levels take 400 to 600 mcg chromium daily. In one study, he found that 200 mcg/day and 1,000 mcg/day reduced cholesterol levels in patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus after four months.5
Researchers at Oklahoma State University at Stillwater reported that 150 mcg/day of chromium reduced total and LDL cholesterol in 42 patients 60 years of age and older.6
Main food sources of chromium: Brewer's yeast, blackstrap molasses, eggs, cheese, liver, wheat bran, beef, whole grains, wheat germ, potatoes and oysters.
Vital for infant growth, immune function, bone strength, red and white blood cell maturation, iron transport, cholesterol and glucose metabolism and brain development.7
Leslie M. Klevay, M.D., of the USDA Human Nutrition Center at Grand Forks, N.D., said in the Medical Tribune that lack of copper is the only nutritional deficiency that raises cholesterol, blood pressure and uric acid, impairs glucose tolerance and causes ECG abnormalities. A copper deficiency can also raise the risk of myocardial infarction or heart attack.8
Routine dietary supplementation with multivitamins and trace minerals, including B6, copper, magnesium and zinc, is appropriate for those with rheumatoid arthritis.9
Main food sources of copper: Liver, kidneys, blackstrap molasses, black pepper, Brazil nuts, oysters, soy flour, wheat bran, wheat germ and seeds.
This mineral is crucial for making the iodine-containing hormones secreted by the thyroid gland. Those hormones regulate the rate of oxidation within the cells, the functioning of the nervous and muscle tissues and the metabolism of nutrients.
Iodine supplementation can prevent cretinism (physical stunting and mental retardation) when taken by a woman prior to conception. Supplements can also prevent fetal and infant death, according to a researcher at the University of Liverpool. Iodine deficiency has been recognized for decades as a major cause of endemic goiter.10
Main food sources of iodine: Kelp, iodized salt, saltwater fish, blackstrap molasses, seafood and some vegetables.
Iron aids oxygen transport and is a component in energy metabolism. One study found that 10 percent of adolescent girls and premenopausal women were iron-deficient, as were 9 percent of children age I to 2 years.11 In studying 38 pre-menopausal women ages 19 to 40 at the University of Texas at Galveston, researchers reported that avoidance of red meat increases the risk of iron and zinc deficiencies. A low serum ferritin concentration may also suggest the possibility of low zinc status.12
Iron in its heme form, found in about 50 percent of flesh food, is the most bioavailable. Non-heme sources from plants and dairy products are less bioavailable. Between 15 and 35 percent of heme iron is absorbed, compared with 2 to 20 percent of non-heme iron. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of non-heme iron. Iron deficiency is typically caused by blood loss, such as during menstruation.13 Pregnant women, whether vegetarian or not, will reduce their likelihood of anemia if iron is taken at 30 mg/day during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.14
Main food sources of iron: Liver, soy flour, blackstrap molasses, eggs, beef, wheat bran and germ, dried fruit, oysters and spices.
A constituent of bones and teeth, magnesium relaxes nerve impulses and muscle contractions (such as the heart). It's needed for protein metabolism. In plants it is a component of chlorophyll, which is necessary for making glucose and oxygen from sunlight. It is compatible with calcium and is an activator of many enzyme systems.
For premenstrual syndrome, we recommend adequate amounts of protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates, along with reducing caffeine and salt, and eliminating alcohol. For supplements, we recommend 1,500 mg/day of calcium; 360 mg/day of magnesium and beginning with 50 mg/day of vitamin B6. For more PMS info, check our separate article.
Magnesium is a cofactor of more than 300 enzymatic reactions. A deficiency has been related to acute myocardial infarction, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure, arrhythmias, diabetes, alcoholism and kidney disorders.16
Main food sources of magnesium: Wheat bran, soy flour, nuts, whole grains, molasses, poultry, fish, seafood, meat, green leafy vegetables and dried figs.
Manganese is necessary for the formation of bone and growth of other connective tissues, for blood clotting, insulin action, cholesterol synthesis and as an activator of certain enzymes relating to carbohydrates, fats, proteins and nucleic acids.
Manganese, calcium and zinc are necessary for proper bone metabolism. To strengthen spinal bone mineral density in postmenopausal women, the researchers at the University of California at San Diego prescribed a calcium-citrate-malate supplement that contained 250 mg of calcium; 5 mg of copper; 2.5 mg of manganese and 15 mg of zinc.17
In a later study, researchers reiterated the importance of calcium, manganese, zinc and copper in halting bone loss.18
Main food sources of manganese: Brown rice, rice bran, nuts, whole grains, tea, spices, molasses, soybeans, sunflower seeds, potatoes and pineapple.
Closely associated with sodium, potassium is involved with the proper osmotic pressure within cells. The two minerals are involved in the transfer of nutrients in and out of cells. Potassium relaxes muscles, including the heart, and it is necessary for the secretion of insulin by the pancreas. Although deficiencies are not common, they can cause irregular heartbeats, muscle weakness, diarrhea, irritability, nausea and swollen abdomen. Crash diets, diuretics, vomiting, diabetic acidosis and prolonged sweating can lead to potassium deficiencies.
Frederick L. Brancati, M.D., reported that potassium supplements reduced blood pressure substantially in African Americans who were eating a low-potassium diet.19
A study of 13 healthy young men who walked and ran on a treadmill to exhaustion demonstrated that potassium levels dropped dramatically after exercise. The researchers noted that the rapid reduction of potassium concentrations, with increased catecholamine levels near maximum levels of exercise, may contribute to post-exercise arrhythmias in susceptible athletes. Catecholamine is primarily a neurotransmitter, such as dopamine, epinephrine, etc.20
Main food sources of potassium: Molasses, rice bran, seaweed, soy and potato flour, spices, sunflower seeds, wheat bran, avocado, beef, dates, raw vegetables, nuts, poultry and nectarines.
This mineral provides protection against such toxic substances as arsenic, cadmium and mercury; it helps to protect against heart disease, cancer and cataracts. It has a close relationship with vitamin E. Soils with a low selenium content will obviously produce foods that are deficient in the mineral - a constant worry in today's high volume agricultural marketplace.
In a review article, Raymond J. Shamberger, Ph.D., said that Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah had lower deaths from heart attacks due to the high selenium content in their soils. He added that Selenium deficiencies are noted in patients with AIDS, Down's syndrome, asthma, psoriasis and arthritis. Immune response declines with aging, and a deficiency in selenium and vitamin E may play a significant role. In fact, careful diet and antioxidant supplementation has been postulated to add five to 10 years to a person's life.21
A regimen of 3 g/day of vitamin C, 800 IU/day of vitamin E and 200 mcg/day of selenium helps to protect the skin from excessive ultraviolet radiation, according to Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D.22
Main food sources of selenium: Brewer's yeast, wheat germ, butter, Brazil nuts, whole grain products, lobster, crab, eggs and pork.
Zinc is necessary for normal skin, hair and bones, and it is involved in various enzymes associated with digestion and respiration. It is needed for the transfer of carbon dioxide to red blood cells; for development and functioning of the reproductive system; for wound and burn healing; for the function of insulin; for synthesis of proteins and nucleic acids; and for normal taste acuity.23
Severe burn patients should be given zinc, selenium and copper supplements as soon as they are brought to the hospital, according to some researchers.24
A zinc deficiency may lead to decreased secretion of progesterone, opiates or endorphins and, therefore, may affect patients with PMS, according to researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine. They found that progesterone levels dropped in the afternoon in PMS patients, which resulted in cravings for sweet and salty foods.25
A zinc deficiency may cause abnormal functioning of certain enzymes resulting in abnormal DNA production which might lead to abnormal protein synthesis and the formation of neurofibrillary tangles in the brain of Alzheimer's patients. When these patients are given zinc in the early stages of the disease, it may help to prevent these damaging tangles, reported Family Practice News.26
Main food sources of zinc: Liver, beef, oysters, wheat bran, wheat germ, poultry, nuts, cheddar cheese, peanut butter and pork.