Unlike vitamins, minerals are inorganic and come from the earth and are stored mainly in bone and muscle tissue, but also in blood, enzymes and some vitamins. Unfortunately due to poor soil quality and nutritionally low diets, most of us are unlikely to be taking enough to maintain optimal health.
There are two types:
- Macronutrients such as magnesium, potassium, chloride, silicon, sodium, sulphur and phosphorus. These are essential for strong teeth and bones. The body requires a large amount of them.
- Micronutrients which act as coenzymes in a similar way to vitamins and help metabolism. Some of them are only required in small quantities, but are vital if we are to stay healthy. The essential trace ones, are chromium, cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc.
Minerals need to be carefully balanced because, like vitamins they work together in bio-chemical reactions. If one is deficient, it can interfere with the functioning of others.
How can mineral supplements benefit you?
Minerals are vital for our physical and mental health and are present in all cells of the body. Many health problems can arise due to deficiencies, for example there is a loss of bone minerals due to long-term calcium and vitamin D deficiency in osteoporosis. Low levels of calcium and magnesium can lead to high blood pressure as can high sodium and lower potassium levels.
Magnesium deficiency can cause muscle spasms, nerve related pains and acute heart attacks. Low zinc or selenium levels can impair the immune system. Selenium is also an antioxidant, which can neutralize reactive free radicals that cause cell damage, premature aging and cancer.
How do they work in our bodies?
They contain no calories or energy, but help in the production of energy. Our bodies cannot make them and so they have to come from the earth. If they are not present in the soil where food is grown, then they will be absent when we eat the food.
The fertilizers normally used contain only nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for plant growth, but not the other important minerals necessary for our health. So soil depletion is a major cause of their low content in our diets. Refining and processing food further depletes their levels. In nutritional medicine, they are regarded as even more important than vitamins and deficiencies are common.
Minerals give us both structural and functional support. Some of them are electrolytes – sodium, potassium and chloride – which regulate the acid and fluid balance in our bodies. Others form part of enzymes that act as catalysts for biochemical reactions, help produce energy or regulate metabolism. Some are necessary for nerve transmission, cell permeability, muscle contraction and the formation of blood and tissue.
What is an ‘essential’ mineral?
When the body cannot produce them or not in sufficient quantities, they are called essential.
Deficiency symptoms can be seen when one is lacking in our diet but symptoms disappear when it becomes available to the body once again. For example, chromium is essential for carbohydrate metabolism and the regulation of blood sugar levels. Selenium maintains proper immune and heart function and can help prevent cancer.
They are also essential if they are an important component of another essential nutrient, for example cobalt in vitamin B12.
They are absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract into the circulation and excesses are eliminated via the kidneys and urine or from the liver and bile and other digestive juices through the bowel.
Many of them compete with each other. Large amounts of calcium can reduce the absorption of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and manganese. Zinc can reduce absorption of iron, copper and phosphorus.
Minerals in our water
They are available in water as well as food. The most common ones found in water are calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, phosphates and sulfides. Depending on the water source, iron, zinc and copper may also be present.
Most have been removed from soft water and it is usually higher in sodium, which is not good for our health, especially for people with high blood pressure or heart problems.
This usually has more of the other minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which can help with high blood pressure and heart problems.
The majority are well tolerated but deficiency symptoms of trace minerals such as chromium and zinc can quickly occur if the digestive system is weak.
How to avoid mineral deficiencies
To maintain balanced levels, we should eat a variety of organic wholefoods including plenty of grain. The levels will of course depend upon the soil in which the food is grown. Avoid refined and processed foods, sugar, caffeine and alcohol which all can deplete them. Raw nuts, seeds, whole grains and green leaf vegetables are a better source of calcium than milk, which can cause mucus to form in the body.
To avoid deficiencies and to maintain good health a balanced scientifically formulated mineral supplement is necessary.
What to be aware of when choosing mineral supplements
- It is important to choose supplements that have been scientifically formulated in order to increase bio-availability (meaning that the body can easily assimilate them effectively).
- Ensure that supplements are produced to pharmaceutical standards.
- Poorly formulated supplements pass through the digestion and are excreted with little benefit to the body.
- There needs to be enough of a particular vitamin, mineral, antioxidant or herb to actually make a difference. Trace amounts of herbs are generally not going to be very effective.
- Be sure that the product does not contain any fillers, artificial colors, flavors or other additives.
- Many products contain ingredients that cancel each other out.
- Labels do not always exactly reflect the content of the bottle. There are wide variations in quality and pricing between synthetic and natural ingredients.
Popular mineral supplements
Calcium – plays a vital role in the growth and maintenance of strong bones, gums and teeth. Also necessary for blood-clotting, nerve function and normal blood pressure.
Chromium – enhances the action of insulin and sometimes used in weight loss programmes.
Copper – important as a catalyst in the formation of haemoglobin and works with vitamin C to collagen, membranes found in connective tissue.
Magnesium – needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body and works together with potassium and calcium.
Phosphorus – required by every cell in the body. About 85% of it is found in bone.
Selenium – an antioxidant and essential for the immune system and thyroid gland.
Zinc – supports a healthy immune system, needed for wound healing, helps to maintain your sense of smell and taste and required for DNA synthesis.