Minerals: What They Do

Boron is a trace mineral that has been shown to influence bone composition, structure, and strength, either directly or indirectly by affecting the metabolism of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin D. Boron is believed to play some role in reproduction and development, as well as mineral metabolism and cellular membrane health though these roles have not been established.

Natural sources of boron include most vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains. Boron can be found in most food products made from plants, such as juices, breads, and sauces.

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body and is essential for life. It is necessary for proper mineralization of bones and teeth, muscle contraction and health, nerve conduction, enzyme regulation, proper blood flow and clotting, and cellular signaling and hormone secretion. As an electrolyte calcium is necessary for maintaining a neutral internal environment and proper water balance within the body. 99% of all calcium resides in the bones and teeth providing strength and stability, while the remaining 1% circulates in the blood performing its other physiological functions.

Some natural sources of calcium include dairy products, small fish such as sardines or anchovies when eaten with bones in, broccoli, spinach and other leafy greens, soybeans and tofu, and nuts such as almonds and walnuts.

Chromium is an essential mineral. Foods such as processed meats, whole grain products, bran cereals, green beans, broccoli and spices are relatively rich in chromium. Chromium has been shown to improve the action of insulin as part of the “glucose tolerance factor,” thereby affecting carbohydrate metabolism and blood glucose levels. Chromium is believed to be important in regulating gene expression and may aid in reducing total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.

Copper is a mineral important in numerous cellular functions. It acts as an antioxidant as a component of copper, zinc superoxide dismutase and aids in the reduction of reactive oxygen species, helps increase iron absorption, is involved in collagen and myelin synthesis, hormone synthesis such as norepinephrine and dopamine and is part of the blood clotting process. Copper is also a component of various enzymes that aid in gene expression, cognitive function, and energy production (ATP synthesis). Copper can be obtained within the diet through meats, liver, cocoa, beans, nuts and whole grains.

Iodine, a trace mineral, is essential as a component of the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), and for proper functioning of the thyroid. The thyroid is an endocrine gland that is involved with many physiological functions such as the regulation of metabolism and calcium balance. Iodine deficiency can result in low circulating thyroid related hormones and thyroid problems, enlarged thyroid (goiter), thyroid cancer, infertility and more. In cases where maternal iodine deficiency is significant a child can be born with cretinism, a condition of severe stunted physical and mental growth.

The best natural sources of iodine are generally those that come from the oceans such as seaweeds or marine animals that eat these. In order to reduce the occurrences of iodine deficiency and goiters, most developed countries have fortified salt products with iodine to encourage better intake.

Iron is an essential mineral. It is necessary as a cofactor for enzymes and for healthy immune responses. Iron plays an important role in the synthesis and functioning of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. It is essential as a component of hemoglobin and myoglobin which transport and store oxygen in the body. Iron deficiency can occur for several reasons such as menstrual cycles, pregnancy, bleeding ulcers or hemorrhoids, malabsorption syndromes, or inadequate dietary intake.

Dietary sources of iron can be classified as heme or non-heme. Heme sources come from animal tissues such as red meats, poultry and fish. Heme iron is well-absorbed. Non-heme iron sources include green leafy vegetables, broccoli, blackstrap molasses, tofu, beans, and raisins just to name a few. Studies have shown non-heme iron is better absorbed by the human body when taken in conjunction with vitamin C containing foods or drinks. Breakfast cereals, breads and pastas are often fortified with iron in order to encourage healthy iron levels in the general population.

Magnesium is a mineral vital for human health. It helps to facilitate the absorption and use of calcium and is important for healthy bone formation and structure. Magnesium promotes energy (ATP) production, helps to regulate blood glucose, aids in the maintenance of normal muscle and nerve functions, supports the immune system, promotes healthy cardiovascular functions, and much more. Magnesium deficiency has been associated with several disease conditions, as well as cognitive decline, mental disorders and depression. As an electrolyte magnesium is necessary for maintaining a neutral internal environment and proper water balance within the body.

Dietary sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables such as spinach, a variety of nuts and beans, whole grains, pumpkin seeds, halibut, and more. Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals and mineral waters provide additional sources magnesium.

Manganese, a mineral, is a cofactor in many metabolic and enzymatic reactions. It is involved in amino acid, cholesterol and carbohydrate metabolism. As a component of manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD), it can help protect the cell mitochondria, or the energy factory for the cell, from damage. Manganese is also necessary for proper central nervous system function, formation of connective tissues and bones, growth and development and reproduction. Dietary sources include nuts, seeds, rice, oats, leafy green vegetables and beans.

Molybdenum is an essential micromineral. Legumes, such as beans, lentils, and peas, are the richest sources of molybdenum, while grain products and nuts are also considered good sources. Molybdenum functions as a cofactor for a limited number of enzymes involved in the metabolism of amino acids, drugs and toxins and the breakdown of nucleotides to form uric acid, contributing to the antioxidant capacity of blood.

Potassium is both a mineral and an electrolyte. Fruits and vegetables are the the richest sources of potassium, with the best of those being bananas, potatoes, prune juice, oranges, spinach, cabbage and plums. Potassium acts as a cofactor for some enzymes, such as those involved in carbohydrate metabolism, and as an important part in retaining a healthy acid/base balance and fluid balance in the body. It is critical for the regulation of cell membrane potentials, allowing for proper nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and heart function.

Selenium, a mineral, plays a major role in the protection of membranes, in the proper functioning of the immune system and in the synthesis and metabolism of thyroid hormones. It also acts as an antioxidant to protect cells from damage. In the body, selenium can be found in the amino acids selenocysteine and selenomethionine. Meats, organ meats, nuts, eggs, fish, and mushrooms are good sources of selenium.

Sodium is both a mineral and an electrolyte. The major food sources of sodium include tomato sauce, soups, condiments, canned foods and prepared mixes. Sodium plays important roles in maintaining blood volume and fluid balance, electrolyte balance, regulating blood pressure and heart activity, transmission of nerve impulses and is critical for muscle functions.

Vanadium is a trace mineral essential for normal cell function and development. It can be found in foods such as shellfish, mushrooms, corn, olives, olive oil and gelatins. Vanadium appears to mimic the actions of insulin by stimulating glucose uptake and metabolism.

Zinc is a mineral that acts as a catalyst in over 100 enzymatic reactions. It is involved in growth, immunity, vision maintenance and reproductive development. It is a cofactor in numerous cellular functions such as DNA, RNA and protein synthesis, which are essential for human development. Meats, seafood, green vegetables and whole grains are natural sources of zinc.