Minerals: Vital to Your Health

How important is watching your minerals? Is there a condition in the human body that corresponds to something called a mineral deficiency? If so, what would that be and how can someone have a mineral deficiency considering all of the dietary choices we have? 

The answer is that this condition can and does exist. Our well-fed citizens may be getting enough calories, but these calories may be empty of nutrients including a normal spectrum of minerals essential to our body functions. A mineral deficiency occurs when the diet or supplements do not furnish enough of one or more minerals.

In order to get some grasp of the whole array of necessary minerals, you first must consider what these are. They include calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, chromium, manganese, selenium, and molybdenum. Some of these are needed in trace quantities only and are used in some of the specific enzyme systems in our body cells. 

Iron deficiency can occur in people who do not eat red meat, which contains an adequate quantity of this. If a vegetarian female who is having a monthly cycle loses enough blood and does not eat red meat or take iron supplements, then she can develop iron deficiency anemia. This condition leads to low hemoglobin levels, which causes blood not to deliver enough oxygen to the various parts of the body, leading to fatigue and weakness. It also can affect cognitive process. 

If there is a zinc deficiency in a man, he may not be able to make adequate levels of testosterone and could suffer from temporary infertility because the body may not make healthy sperm. Oysters are known to enhance spermatogenesis because they do have a high level of zinc in the cellular fluid.

Calcium is a very important mineral, and it is involved in the production of our foundation structure known as the bony skeleton. Many enzymatic processes in the body are dependent on the transfer of calcium across the cell wall to maintain a standard level of electromagnetic force, which contributes to vitality of the living organism. Adequate calcium intake in the presence of magnesium, sunshine, supplements, or cod liver oil will prevent rickets, a condition of weak or deformed bones of the extremities. 

While deficiencies can occur, there can also exist a condition in which the calcium intake is so high that it can contribute to coronary artery calcium deposition and obstruction of the vessels leading to a heart attack. There is a screening test of the heart called the CAQ scan (MRI), which denotes the amount of calcium in the vessels of the heart and can tell you your potential risk level for coronary occlusion. Sometimes an excess can be worse that a deficiency, as in this case. 

Selenium is another interesting mineral, which varies in the soil of different areas. A deficiency of this mineral can cause muscle weakness and may be related to the incidence of prostate cancer. This mineral is actually used to create selenoproteins, which work as antioxidants to protect against cell and DNA damage and therefore are protective of normal body function. A Finnish study also found that a deficiency of this mineral increases the risk of lung cancer, especially among smokers. Selenium deficiency is very rare in the U.S. and Canada, and brown rice and Brazil nuts are said to be good natural sources of selenium.

Magnesium is a very essential mineral in the body, and it is one that a high percentage of our population has a deficiency in. This mineral helps support bone and muscle health, especially heart muscle. If a person is magnesium deficient, the risk of cardiac arrhythmia is greatly increased. Deficiency is also associated with fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps, personality changes, low potassium, and low calcium levels, as these elements are interrelated in the body. Magnesium-rich foods include almonds, cashews, spinach, black beans, and edamame to name a few.

Supplements are known for their ability to help maintain adequate levels of some of the essential minerals. A standard multivitamin may contain 200 plus mg. calcium, 50 mcg. of selenium, 50 mg. of chromium, and 50 mg. of magnesium, to name a few values. There is always a question with supplements about whether they have too much of theses essential elements or not enough. The answer is not always clear because absorption may be best when the mineral is in its natural element, food. 

What has been found in animal livestock studies is that combined trace mineral supplementation has been most effective. Some authors advocate taking a supplement with all necessary trace minerals and changing to a different brand of supplement every 3 to 4 months, which actually sounds like a good idea to me. Clear benefits in the incidence of osteoporosis and fracture in humans has been shown when trace supplements are taken.

In summary, there is much that we know about trace mineral deficiency and a lot more that we don’t know about supplementation and how effective it really is. As for me, I don’t think that mega doses of anything should be taken, but it seems to be good sense to take a broad spectrum multivitamin with trace minerals every day. 

It may take a long time to be able to attribute well being to this, but I believe that our overall health depends on getting these supplements. They may be on economical way to guarantee that we don’t experience any deficiencies throughout our lives. Remember that the body needs about 32 vitamins and minerals each day, and the average multivitamin/mineral tablet has these present. If you take multivitamins, you may feel better, even if part of the improvement is a placebo effect, because the other part of the improvement is a measurable increase in vitality of all your organ systems. 

James H. Carraway, M.D.

Dr. James Carraway is a full-time academic and practicing clinical plastic surgeon.  He is Director of the Cosmetic & Plastic Surgery Center of EVMS, is board certified in surgery and plastic surgery, and is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.  Dr. Carraway has been teaching and practicing for 30+ years and has been director and chairman of residency training programs and fellowship programs in plastic surgery.
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