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Minerals for Good Health

Last Updated on: May 4, 2022

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Minerals are vital for a host of body functions that help you maintain good health. Even though you generally need them in tiny amounts, they are just as crucial as other nutrients.

Every day, hundreds of simultaneous internal processes and reactions keep your body going, including the production of skin, bone, blood, and muscle. What an amazing feat! One of the many things that helps these processes run smoothly is getting enough vitamins and minerals. These micronutrients are critical for repairing cells, fueling chemical reactions, and fighting bacteria and viruses. In short, they help sustain your life. (1)

Vitamins, which are organic substances, break down into two groups: fat-soluble and water-soluble. The body makes some vitamins, and others it must get from food. On the other hand, minerals are inorganic compounds that the body cannot make. All of the minerals you need must come from your diet. (1)

What Minerals Are & Where They Come From

A mineral is a natural crystalline solid that cannot be broken down into other components. Minerals form when a medium that contains or transports mineral-producing ore deposits the ore. One such medium is magma; in the process of rock formation, pressure and heat cause minerals to develop. These minerals must often be mined or quarried. Another medium is water. Seawater, river water, and groundwater transport and release heavy minerals into lake and river beds while lighter minerals wash up on shores. Plants absorb minerals for growth and proliferation, and animals absorb minerals through eating plants; this is how you get minerals in your diet. (2, 3)

What Minerals Does the Body Need?

The body needs many minerals, which are divided into two groups: macrominerals and trace minerals. These two groups are equally important; the difference is that your body needs trace minerals in smaller amounts than macrominerals. Dr. Bruce Bistrian of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center says that if you eat a healthy diet — fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, beans, dairy, and unsaturated fats like olive oil — you’re probably getting enough of most of the minerals your body requires. Other minerals are harder to obtain in the proper amounts and may involve a doctor’s advice. (2, 4)

man holding vegetables
Plants absorb minerals while growing, and animals eat those plants. Aside from supplements, consuming plants and animals is the way humans ingest minerals.

Macrominerals

Sodium

Sodium helps with fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction. It’s very easy to find in something most people use daily: table salt. Sodium is also found in soy sauce, processed foods, breads, and vegetables. If you’re deficient in sodium, you may experience nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headaches, muscle cramps, and weakness. (4, 5)

Chloride

Chloride’s main job is to help with fluid balance. Like sodium, chloride is found in table salt, soy sauce, and processed foods. Chloride deficiency symptoms include weakness, dehydration, fatigue, diarrhea, and vomiting. (4, 6)

Potassium

This macromineral helps with fluid balance, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction. You can find it in meat, milk, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. If your body doesn’t have enough potassium, you may feel weak and fatigued with muscle cramps, heart palpitations, digestive issues, numbness and tingling, mood changes, and difficult breathing. (4, 7)

Calcium

Calcium helps maintain healthy teeth and bones, and helps with muscle relaxation and contraction, nerve conduction, proper blood clotting, and blood pressure regulation. You can find it in dairy products, canned fish with bones, greens, legumes, and fortified tofu. Signs that you may need more calcium include muscle cramps, fatigue, abnormal heartbeat, osteoporosis, dry skin, memory impairment, and tooth decay. (4, 8)

Phosphorus

Phosphorus helps maintain healthy teeth, bones, and the acid-balance system. Meat, fish, eggs, processed foods (including soda), and milk are good sources of phosphorus. If you are deficient in phosphorus, you may experience decreased appetite, fragile or painful bones, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, irregular breathing, weakness, and numbness. (4, 9)

However, an overabundance of phosphorus is more common than phosphorus deficiency, and it’s more worrisome. Too much phosphorus can result from kidney disease or consuming too much phosphorus and not enough calcium. Studies suggest that this can lead to heart disease and osteoporosis. Calcium and phosphorus must be in balance. (4, 9)

Magnesium

This macromineral helps with protein production, muscle contraction, immune system health, and nerve conduction. Great sources of magnesium include nuts, seeds, artichokes, legumes, chocolate, green vegetables, seafood, and hard water. Magnesium deficiency can be serious; symptoms include muscle cramps and weakness, increased anxiety and depression, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and heart arrhythmias. (4, 10)

Sulfur

You might be familiar with sulfur from its rotten-egg smell, but did you know it’s a crucial macromineral? Sulfur builds and fixes DNA, protects cells, assists with metabolism, and helps keep skin, tendons, and ligaments healthy. You can consume sulfur in eggs, meat, poultry, fish, milk, nuts, and legumes. Sulfur deficiency symptoms include rashes, slow wound healing, arthritis, convulsions, brittle nails and hair, gastrointestinal issues, depression, and memory loss. (4, 11, 12)

For all minerals, it’s important to get the recommended daily allowance (RDA), which our government defines as the average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97% to 98%) healthy people. (13)

minerals for good health
The RDA for macrominerals. (14, 15, 16)

Trace Minerals

Iron

Iron’s main jobs are to help the blood carry oxygen throughout the body and help with metabolism. It’s found in red meat, shellfish, poultry, legumes, egg yolks, and greens. Symptoms of iron deficiency (anemia) include pale skin, extreme fatigue, weakness, fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, inflamed or sore tongue, cold hands and feet, unusual cravings, brittle nails, and poor appetite. (4, 17)

Zinc

Zinc is important for the production of protein and genetic material, and it plays a role in normal sexual maturation, proper fetal development, immune system function, wound healing, and taste perception. You can consume zinc in vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, and leavened whole grains. If you are deficient in zinc, you might experience loss of appetite, wounds that won’t heal, decreased senses of smell and taste, lack of alertness, diarrhea, and unexplained weight loss. (4, 18)

Iodine

Iodine keeps your thyroid gland functioning properly, and it helps with metabolism and growth. You can find iodine in iodized salt, seafood, dairy products, bread, kelp, nuts, and eggs. Iodine deficiency symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, weakness, a swelling or lump in the neck, learning or memory problems, feeling colder than normal, slowed heart rate, dry skin, and thinning hair. (4, 19)

Selenium

Selenium acts as an antioxidant and helps with thyroid hormone metabolism, reproduction, and DNA synthesis. Seafood, meat, and grains are good sources of selenium. Infertility, mental fog, fatigue, muscle weakness, weakened immune system, and hair loss are signs of selenium deficiency. (4, 20)

Copper

Copper promotes bone health, a healthy metabolism, and proper nervous system function. This trace mineral can be found in nuts, seeds, organ meats, whole grains, and legumes. If your body needs more copper, you may experience frequent illness, fatigue, weakness, memory and learning issues, brittle bones, trouble walking, cold sensitivity, vision loss, pale skin, and prematurely gray hair. (4, 21)

Manganese

Manganese has many important jobs. It helps the body process carbohydrates, amino acids, and cholesterol; detox from free radicals; form cartilage and bone; and form collagen for wound healing. Manganese is found in brown rice, nuts, dark chocolate, leafy greens, oatmeal, bran, beans, legumes, nuts, whole wheat bread, and fruit. Skeletal defects, impaired growth, impaired fertility, and abnormal fat and carbohydrate metabolism are all signs of manganese deficiency. (4, 22)

Fluoride

Fluoride helps bones and teeth form properly and helps prevent tooth decay. You can find it in fluoridated drinking water, most teas, and fish. Tooth decay and osteoporosis are the main signs of fluoride deficiency. (4, 23)

Chromium

Together with insulin, chromium works to regulate blood sugar. Chromium can be found in whole grains, liver, nuts, cheeses, and brewer’s yeast. Chromium deficiency can show up as impaired coordination, weight loss, confusion, and decreased response to blood sugar, which heightens the risk for diabetes. (4, 24)

Molybdenum

This trace mineral helps the body process DNA and proteins and break down toxins and drugs that enter the body. Molybdenum is found in bread, grains, legumes, leafy greens, liver, and milk. Deficiency in molybdenum is very rare, but symptoms include difficulty breathing, fast heart rate, and disorientation. (4, 25, 26)

minerals for good health
The RDA for trace minerals. (15, 27, 28, 29, 30)

The Takeaway

Minerals are important for so many body functions — from keeping your heart, bones, and muscles healthy to producing enzymes, manufacturing and protecting DNA, and regulating hormones. Your individual health conditions will help you and your doctor determine which minerals you may need more or less of to enrich your overall health.

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