Essential Minerals

If you were to ask most people to name an important mineral needed for good health, they'd probably say calcium, based on advertisements in the popular media. Although that would be a correct answer, the fact is we need many different minerals to maintain good health. Luckily, a balanced multiple mineral supplement will provide adequate quantities of most key minerals.

Mighty Minerals
Calcium is necessary for the formation of bones and teeth, blood clotting, and normal muscle and nerve activity. Along with regular exercise and a healthy diet, adequate calcium helps maintain bone health and may help teen and young adult women prevent risk for osteoporosis later in life.

Calcium's role in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis is well established. Research overwhelmingly supports calcium supplementation, alone or in combination with other therapies (e.g., vitamin D supplementation), for slowing or stopping the progression of osteoporosis. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved therapy for treating osteoporosis includes calcium and vitamin D supplementation. This is especially significant since the FDA is not known for its warm, fuzzy feelings about dietary supplements.

As we know, osteoporosis can lead to an increased incidence of fractures. Research clearly shows that calcium supplementation can help to reduce the risk and even prevent fractures due to osteoporosis. One meta-analysis estimates that 134,764 hip fractures and $2.6 billion in direct medical costs could be avoided in one year if people 50 years or older consumed approximately 1,200 mg daily of supplemental calcium.

In addition to its bone health benefits, calcium is also useful for lowering blood pressure, treating migraines, and reducing symptoms of PMS. The recommended daily value for calcium is 1,000 mg, and some research suggests that even higher doses may be beneficial.

Magnesium is necessary for normal function of muscle and nervous tissue while supporting the formation of bones and teeth. Given its role in bone health, it's not surprising that people with osteoporosis are reported to be at high risk for magnesium malabsorption. Furthermore, people with osteoporosis have low bone and blood levels of magnesium. Research shows that supplementing with magnesium reduces indications of bone loss. One two-year study finds that supplementing with 250 to 750 mg magnesium daily stopped bone loss-and even increased bone mass in 27 of 31 people with osteoporosis.

In addition to supporting bone health, magnesium has also been used to help

  • reduce arrhythmias and angina
  • slow or prevent the progression of atherosclerosis
  • lower blood pressure
  • reduce asthma symptoms
  • reduce calcium deposits associated with bursitis
  • reduce oxylate stone formation in kidney stones
  • reduce migraines in premenstrual or premenopausal women
  • reduce PMS symptoms.

The daily value for magnesium is 400 mg. However, many people have found benefit from using a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium. Therefore, if consuming 1,000 mg of calcium, also take 500 mg of magnesium. Magnesium toxicity is rare, and diarrhea is one sign you're getting too much of this mineral.

Iron is part of the protein hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the body. It is also found in the protein myoglobin, which makes oxygen available for muscle contractions. Iron is also necessary for the utilization of energy in the cells' metabolic machinery.

Anemia (literally meaning "too little blood") is a disorder that may be associated with an iron deficiency. Anemia is any condition in which too few red blood cells are present, or the red blood cells are immature, too small, or contain too little hemoglobin to carry the normal amount of oxygen to the tissues. This is not a disease itself but can be a symptom of many different conditions, including nutrient deficiencies, bleeding, excessive red blood cell destruction, and defective red blood cell formation. Iron is the most common nutritional deficiency associated with anemia (but not the only deficiency associated with anemia, so a careful screening is important).

Menstrual bleeding means a loss of iron-containing red blood cells. This is a normal occurrence in the body. But heavy menstrual bleeding, or menorrhagia, can result in a much greater loss of iron, which may lead to iron deficiency and anemia-both of which are easily diagnosed with simple blood tests. The relationship between iron deficiency and menorrhagia is complicated-not only can the condition lead to iron deficiency, but iron deficiency can also lead to menorrhagia. Supplementing with iron decreases excess menstrual blood loss in women who have no other underlying cause for their condition.

The daily value for iron is 18 mg. There's conflicting research concerning iron and the risk of coronary heart disease-some studies find that high iron levels and other markers of iron status appear to increase the risk of heart disease, while others don't support these findings. Those who are not at risk for iron deficiency (men and postmenopausal women) should avoid excess iron intake except under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner.

On the other hand, if an iron deficiency is diagnosed in men or women, many doctors will recommend an increased dosage. Higher amounts may be important since as little as 6 percent of iron ingested with a meal may be absorbed.

Zinc is a versatile trace mineral required as a cofactor by more than 100 enzymes in every organ of the body. This mineral is also associated with the hormone insulin, involved in making genetic material and proteins, immune reactions, vitamin A transport, taste perception, wound healing, sperm production, and the normal development of the fetus. The highest concentrations of zinc are in bone, the prostate gland, and the eyes.

Zinc has also shown effectiveness in helping treat acne and reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and may be beneficial for

  • children with ADHD
  • reducing risk for prostate cancer or benign prostatic hypertrophy
  • shortening duration of the common cold (in the form of zinc lozenges)
  • improving seasonal conjunctivitis
  • treating eczema
  • correcting certain abnormal immune activity in lupus
  • preventing vision loss in people with "dry" macular degeneration
  • protecting against the loss of bone density
  • improving tinnitus
  • improving healing time in ulcers.

The daily level for zinc is 15 mg. For short periods of time and for specific purposes, there may be value in increasing that dosage. However, greater levels of zinc can lower copper levels, so supplemental copper should be added if zinc is consumed at higher levels for an extended period of time.

Other Minerals
A variety of additional minerals are critically important to human health. Just to name a few:

  • Iodine is an essential component of thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolic rate.
  • Copper is necessary with iron for the formation of red blood cells and nerve fibers. It's also necessary in the formation of the hair and melanin, or skin pigment.
  • Potassium is necessary to help maintain normal pressure of body fluids and the acid-base balance of the body. It also functions in the transmission of nerve impulses and muscle contractions.
  • Manganese is an activator of enzymes (cofactor) and is involved in fatty-acid metabolism and protein synthesis. It is also needed for bone formation.
  • Selenium functions as a constituent of the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which detoxifies products of oxidized fats. This mineral is found in red blood cells.
  • Chromium is necessary in the formation of glucose tolerance factor, a complex that works with the hormone insulin.

Phosphorus, Sodium, and Chloride
Phosphorus, sodium, and chloride are all important minerals with vital functions to play in human health. However, their presence is not necessary in a multiple mineral product for one simple reason: Americans already consume adequate or excessive amounts of these minerals.

For example, diets that provide adequate calories and protein also supply adequate phosphorus. Dietary deficiencies of phosphorus are unknown. Animal protein is a rich source of phosphorus, as are processed foods and soft drinks (which are nevertheless undesirable). Phosphorus from additives in processed foods can significantly add to people's intakes. In the case of sodium and chloride, both of these minerals can be found in common table salt.

The Unsung Heroes
Minerals were recognized as essential to human nutrition long before vitamins were discovered. Furthermore, the body can tolerate a deficiency of vitamins for a longer period of time than it can a deficiency of minerals. Minerals are the unsung heroes of nutrition. Their importance has often been overshadowed by the spotlight that vitamins have held in the media. The need for minerals, however, is vital. Since the body stores minerals, take care not to exceed the upper intake levels without professional supervision.

"Boning up on osteoporosis," FDA Consumer Magazine, 4/04 "The case for dietary supplements" by G. Bruno, Huntington College of Health Sciences, 2005 An Evidence-Based Approach to Vitamins and Minerals by Jane Higdon, PhD ($59, Thieme, 2003) The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book by Shari Lieberman, PhD, CNS, FACN, and Nancy Bruning ($15.95, Penguin Group/Avery, 2003)

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