What are trace minerals?
- Minerals are found in all food nutrients and supplements. Together with the vitamins, they are required in much smaller amounts to so they are called “micronutrients”. Micro is a Greek origin word meaning “small”. Macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fats) are needed in larger amounts. Macro is a Greek word for “big”. The perfect source of nutrition and diet (such as a diet that contains healthy, varied foods, including fruits, vegetables, cereals, meat, fish) will have all macronutrients and micronutrients at the right levels.
- All minerals are essential because the body cannot make its own, and it uses them as part of other processes to build, repair and recover. They are also required in all organs in the body. Some trace minerals are toxic if consumed at high levels for long enough periods.
- Minerals are basically divided into two groups (higher level and trace, or lower level). The higher-level ones like sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium are found in large amounts dissolved in the blood, and become stored when they are not needed (e.g. calcium, magnesium in bone tissue). In the dissolved form, they are critical for good nutrition because they create a special fluid environment that tissues need for optimal growth and development.
- The lower-level minerals are used as part of copper, participate in oxidation-reduction reactions in energy metabolism. Iron, as a constituent of hemoglobin and myoglobin, also plays a vital role in the transport of oxygen.
There are two basic groups of minerals and what they are for:
– Higher level minerals: these are required in larger amounts in the diet. When you look at a food label, you will see these appearing as an amount in tens or hundreds of milligrams (mg):
- Calcium – fluid balance, bone minerals, cell division, muscle function
- Phosphorus – fluid balance, bone minerals, DNA, energy and cell activity
- Magnesium – fluid balance, bone minerals, energy production, muscle & nerve function
- Sodium – fluid balance and transport, electrolytes, brain, muscle and nerve function
- Potassium – fluid balance, electrolytes, heart function
- Chloride – fluid balance, acid balance, stomach acid
- Sulfur – building new tissues and proteins
– Trace (lower level) minerals: You only need smaller amounts of trace minerals.
- The below are used in lower milligram range:
- Iron – oxygen transport; new blood cells; hemoglobin; brain development
- Zinc – immunity; energy production; antioxidant production; growth
- Minerals at the smallest amounts (micrograms) include the below – (NOTE: micrograms levels are 1000 less than milligram levels):
- Copper – enzymes for energy production; retinal activity, antioxidants
- Iodine – thyroid gland function; metabolism; brain development; heart activity
- Manganese – carbohydrate, protein and cholesterol metabolism; cartilage and bone formation; wound healing; antioxidants
- Molybdenum – enzymes for new DNA production; amino acid utilization; protection of brain and eye function
- Selenium – Antioxidant; immune function; reproduction; thyroid function
- Cobalt – use for amino acids and neurotransmitters
Roles in children’s health areas according to the opti-5 system
- Zinc is best known for its roles in protecting children’s immune system. Deficiency in zinc during childhood is associated with increased risk of serious cases of diarrhea and intestinal infections. Zinc reduces the risk of life-threatening complications by 46% and hospitalization by 23% under 5 yr[i]
- Deficiencies in other minerals including selenium and iron, and minerals that are used for the activity of antioxidants in the body (eg copper, manganese) are also related to lower immune function and infections[ii]
- Iodine is critical for brain development and plays a major role in learning and intellectual achievement. Deficient children have on average 6-10 points lower IQ than children with normal levels under 5 yr [iii]
- Iron is also important or brain development. Children with iron deficiency not only have growth problems and low red blood cells, but may have intellectual problems, which can be corrected with iron in the diet[iv]
- The same minerals that are important in the brain are equally important in eye health, including iron and iodine. Additionally, the retina (the light sensitive part of the eye) can be damaged by oxidants, so minerals that act together with antioxidants (selenium, copper, zinc, manganese) protect against this damage.
- As mentioned above, zinc protects the gut from infections, as do antioxidant minerals
- Magnesium is important in the function of muscles, including the muscles that control the regulator motions of the bowel
Growth and development:
- Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and manganese are critical for bone growth – they form the hard mineral part that gives bones strength, as it replaces the soft cartilage bone during childhood, in a process called “ossification”.
- Growth and development require energy, and energy is made by cells from all nutrients. The process of making energy needs many trace minerals to function, including zinc, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron.
- Lack of many of these nutrients, especially zinc, iodine and iron v leads to growth stunting. Iron deficiency causes lack of red blood cells, which also can lead to stunting because tissues don’t get enough oxygen to grow properly.
How minerals get into food
- Food sources of trace minerals come from the soil – so foods that grow in soil like vegetables, fruits and grains all contain trace minerals. However, some soil is depleted in trace minerals, leaving the food deficient which causes deficiency in people.
- Different countries typically have different soil composition. Farming methods also contribute to soil mineral status – organic farming rotates crops which prevents any single mineral depletion (as different crops will absorb more or less of any one type of mineral).
- Modern farming methods typically deplete the soil of essential trace minerals.
- Processing, such as peeling, extracting, heat-treating, and early harvest for storage and transportation, further diminishes the nutrients in foods.
- Minerals are also found in water – fresh spring water picks up trace minerals as it passes over rocks.
- Sea salt contains trace minerals from the ocean. Sea salt is made by evaporation of seawater. The darker the sea salt the higher its concentration of trace nutrients such as potassium, iron and zinc.
- Himalayan salt comes from salt mines in Pakistan and contains trace minerals such as iron oxide, calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium.
How to supplement via food
- Use a balance of fresh fruit and vegetables from trusted sources (areas where there are fertile soils and clean environment
- Use salt that has been fortified with iodine or naturally occurring mineral salts – be careful to check the aluminum level in it, as this may be toxic[vi]
- Include a small amount of seafood and shellfish, if the child is not allergic to it
- A reliable source of dairy foods, including grass-fed milk, is a reliable source of calcium, phosphorus and other trace minerals
- Mineral water is another way to provide minerals into the diet, although kids don’t like the taste much, so it could be used in cooking when it is flat
- Moderate levels of protein rich foods, including red and white meats, are rich in iron and zinc
Trace Elements – Diet and Health – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)