BioChemistry, Nutrition

Understanding Minerals

Dietary minerals are inorganic chemicals that are essential to all living organisms. Minerals come from the earth or water. They are absorbed by plants and ingested by animals. Minerals are essential in the building of bones, synthesizing of hormones, regulating the heart, contracting of the muscles, and conductivity of neurons. They are also vital for a healthy immune system. 

Minerals are grouped in two categories: macro-minerals and trace minerals.  Macro-minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, chloride, sodium, potassium and sulfur) are required in large amounts to support all of the biochemical processes in the body. The trace minerals (boron, chromium, copper, fluoride, iron, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, vanadium, and zinc) are required only in small amounts in the body. The body is dependent on all minerals for proper health and maintenance.



    Athletes have found value in the supplementation of minerals. It has been found that minerals are just as important as vitamins and play an essential role in athletic performance and enhancement. Recent studies indicate that athletes metabolize and excrete minerals at higher rates than non-athletes, thus athletes require a higher percentage of mineral replenishment. However, there are no reported benefits for taking excessive doses of minerals for athletes. Although most minerals do not possess immediate levels that are lethal, one should exercise care when taking mineral supplements. Excessive intake can lead to damaging side effects. Adversely, athletes who ingest insufficient amounts of minerals may experience decreased levels of performance.  It has been found that an inadequate intake of minerals could lead to a greater susceptibility to injury, as well, as longer recovery periods. 





Macro Minerals

The macro minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, chloride, sodium, potassium and sulfur) are required in large amounts to support all of the biochemical processes in the body. Macro minerals are usually ingested in dosages exceeding 100 milligrams per day. They are required for the formation and maintenance of cells and tissues, such as bones and teeth. Macro minerals play a vital role in the proper functioning of the cardiovascular and nervous systems. They are necessary for voluntary and involuntary muscle contractions. Minerals are essential in maintaining osmotic pressure in cells (osmotic pressure reduces water potential, which is the tendency of water moving from one area to another). Minerals are mainly responsible for regulating the flow of water in the body. The excretion of minerals is done so through bodily fluids, such as sweat and urine.



The primary minerals found in the body are calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. Sodium, potassium, chloride and sulfur are also present in large amounts within the body. These minerals fall into a subcategory of macro minerals, called electrolytes. They help balance the flow of water between blood vessels and cells.

 

Authorities vary in determining the classification of minerals. Some base their placement of minerals on the intake levels of individuals, while others base their groupings on the average nutrient levels found in the body.  Thus, variations occur between books and institutions when differentiating between the two groups of minerals.



Calcium

Source -The main food sources are milk, cheese, yogurt, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, shellfish and salmon.

Benefit – Calcium is required in the formation and maintenance of healthy bones, teeth and gums. It is also essential for proper functioning of the cardiovascular and nervous systems.  Calcium helps to stabilize bodily functions, and is necessary for blood clotting.



Magnesium

Source – The main food sources are whole grains, nuts, legumes, fruits, green leafy vegetables, and oatmeal.

Benefit – Magnesium is important for metabolic and structural functions within the body. It assists in the formation and function of bones, teeth, muscles, tissues and nerves. Magnesium assists in the absorption of calcium and potassium. It is needed in the relaxation of muscle tissue. Magnesium is needed for muscle development of cardiac tissue, and it helps regulate blood pressure.



Phosphorus

Source – The main food sources are milk, fish, eggs, corn, nuts, peas, poultry, meat and bran.

Benefit -Phosphorus is required in the formation of bones and teeth.  Roughly eighty-five percent of phosphorus is found in bone tissue and the remaining fifteen percent is distributed in soft tissue.  Phosphorus is essential in the formation of cellular membranes, and it is also required in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats.  It is essential in the functioning of the kidneys and in cardiac muscle contractions. 



Electrolytes

Electrolytes are electrically charged minerals, known as ions. They help regulate and balance the flow of electrical activity in the cells and tissues. They are ionized salts found in bodily fluids (such as blood), tissue fluids, and cells. Electrolytes are responsible for regulating the flow of water between the cells and the bloodstream. The primary electrolytes found in the body are sodium, potassium, and chloride. 

   

Chloride

Source  – The main source is table salt. Chloride is also found in tomatoes, celery, seaweed, olives and processed foods.

Benefit – Chloride is an electrolyte that is essential in controlling fluid loss and retention, as well as, the body’s acid-base balance (the body’s balance between acidity and alkalinity). It also assists the digestive system in the formation of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. As an electrolyte, chloride is involved in the movement of water in the blood vessels and tissues.



Potassium

Source – The main food sources include oranges, bananas, dairy products, meat, poultry, and non-skinned potatoes.

Benefit – Potassium is an electrolyte that is required for all cellular activity. Potassium is vital for muscle contractions, nerve transmission, cardiac tissue contraction, and kidney function.  Potassium is the ion found in the intracellular fluid of cells, and it is an essential element involved in the conductivity of neurons and neuro-muscular activity.



Sodium

Source – The main food sources are table salt, sports drinks, cheese, ham, smoked meats, canned soups and processed meats. 

Benefit – Sodium is an electrolyte that is required for all cellular activity. Sodium helps the body maintain healthy body fluid levels. Sodium is vital for muscle contraction, nerve transmission, and the contraction of cardiac tissue. Lastly, sodium assists the digestive system in the production of hydrochloric acid. 



Sulfur

Source – The main food sources are Brussels sprouts, dried beans, cabbage, eggs, kale, meats, onions, soybeans, turnips and wheat germ.

Benefit – Sulfur is an acid-forming mineral that helps to purify the blood, gives the body resistance to bacteria, and protects the protoplasm of cells. It supports the body in oxidative reactions, helps to stimulate bile secretions in the liver, and protects the body against toxic substances, such as radioactive elements and pollutants. Sulfur is also known to slow the aging process. 



Trace (Micro) Minerals

   Trace minerals (boron, chromium, copper, fluoride, iron, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, vanadium and zinc) are needed in smaller amounts than those of macro minerals. They are required in dosages from micrograms to milligrams, as compared to the larger doses (milligrams to grams) of the macro minerals. Trace minerals have many important roles within the body. Some trace minerals act as cofactors or enzymes and are needed to activate other molecules. They are important in initiating metabolic function in the cells and tissues. Minerals may combine with other compounds, such as amino acids, to form larger molecules. The importance of trace minerals is clear, however, one should exercise care when supplementing with any micronutrient and avoid ingesting excessive doses.  Excessive amounts can have side effects. 



Boron

Source – The main food sources include leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, grains, apples, pears, broccoli and carrots.

Benefit – Boron is necessary in the body for proper formation of bones and cells. It is also important in the regulation of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Boron helps in brain function and memory.  Boron may help reduce the symptoms of arthritis.



Chromium

Source – The main food sources are meat, whole grains, brewer’s yeast, bread, potatoes, and brown rice.

Benefit – The main function of chromium is in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates. It is also important in assisting insulin in lowering blood-sugar levels in the bloodstream. Many believe chromium acts as an anabolic steroid in building muscle and losing fat, however scientific research has yet to substantiate that belief.



Copper

Source – The main food sources include shellfish, meat, liver, mushrooms, whole grains and potatoes.

Benefit – The primary benefit of copper is in the formation of red blood cells.  Copper also plays a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats.  It is also important in the formation of nerve tissue, and it assists the body as an antioxidant to help boost the immune system.



Fluoride

Source – The main sources are fluoridated drinking water, cereals, instant hot oats, grains and tea.

Benefit – Fluoride helps to prevent tooth decay. It also helps in the formation of teeth and bones.  In addition, it plays a minor role in the prevention of osteoporosis.



Iodine

Source – The main source of iodine is found in iodized table salt. It can also be consumed by eating halibut, oysters, codfish, seaweed and dairy products.

Benefit – Iodine is a necessary element for normal cell metabolism. In the presence of iodine, the thyroid gland can synthesize the hormones needed for energy production, normal growth and regulation of metabolism. Iodine helps to stabilize body weight and control cholesterol levels. 



Iron

Source – The main food sources are red meats, liver, poultry, fish, nuts, legumes, and bread.

Benefit – Iron functions as a component of protein in hemoglobin. This is important because hemoglobin is responsible for carrying oxygen to the tissues. Secondary roles of iron are in its involvement with myoglobin and cytochromes. The concentration of myoblobin in muscles cells is dependent on sufficient amounts of iron. Myoglobin helps diffuse oxygen from the blood. Cytochromes act as electron carriers in the respiratory chain.



Manganese

Source – The main food sources are Brussels sprouts, whole grains, nuts, beans, corn, bananas, leafy green vegetables and oatmeal.

Benefit – Manganese is involved in energy production. It is also necessary in reproduction. Along with calcium, it is essential for building strong bones and connective tissue. Manganese helps the body in the assimilation of vitamin C, biotin, choline and vitamin B-1. The body uses manganese for the synthesis of fat and sex hormones. It is also beneficial for healthy brain function. 



Molybdenum

Source – The main food sources are whole grains, nuts, vegetables, milk, breads and cereals.

Benefit – Molybdenum acts as a signaling mechanism to activate enzyme activity in energy production, nitrogen metabolism and uric acid production. It is also a cofactor in the metabolism of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and RNA (ribonucleic acid). Molybdenum helps in the breakdown of sulfites in the body, to prevent toxic build-up.



Selenium

Source – The main food sources include fish, shellfish, red meats, grains, eggs, chicken, garlic, and liver.

Benefit – Selenium is an antioxidant. It helps protect the body against molecular, cellular and tissue damage incurred by free radicals. It also helps to reduce recovery time after exercise or strenuous activity and has anti-aging properties. Selenium boosts the body’s immune response by increasing antibody activity. Selenium may help to reduce arthritic symptoms. 



Vanadium

Source – The main food sources include dill, fish, meat, radishes, snap peas, vegetable oil, and whole grains. 

Benefits – Vanadium acts as a cofactor of insulin and plays a role in the metabolism of glucose. It acts as an inhibitor of cholesterol synthesis. It has also been found that vanadium is needed in the cellular metabolism of teeth and bones, and for growth and reproduction.



Zinc

Source – The main food sources are seafood, oysters, herring, meat, liver, eggs, whole wheat bread, oatmeal and maple syrup.

Benefit – Zinc is important for cell division, cell growth, and cell repair.  It assists the body in boosting the immune system. Zinc is also required in many metabolic processes within the body. It is involved in the growth and maintenance of muscle tissue. Zinc is also necessary for maturation and is necessary in maintaining healthy hair, skin and nails.