Minerals Great and Small

vt-14.jpgEverybody knows you should take your daily vitamins — but what about your daily minerals? Are they essential to your health as well?

The human body is a complex and beautiful mechanism, but it needs routine maintenance to replace specific parts when they wear out or get used up. Minerals are some of these ‘parts.’

Vitamins are ‘organic compounds,’ meaning that they come from sources that were, at one time or another, alive. Minerals, on the other hand, while often found in living organisms (including the food we eat), have never, themselves, been alive. This doesn’t mean though that they aren’t vital to life.

Generally speaking, nutritional minerals fall into one of two classes: macro-minerals (the ones you need a lot of) and trace minerals (the ones you need just a little of). While the distinction is sometimes a little fuzzy, the general guidelines are as follows.

The macro-minerals are:

  • Calcium (used in bones and teeth; helps control muscular movement and the secretion of hormones and enzymes)
  • Chloride (helps control the body’s balance of fluids; also plays a vital part in digestion)
  • Magnesium (found in bone and in organ and tissue cells; used in hundreds of the body’s biochemical processes.)
  • Phosphorus (promotes an efficient metabolism, stabilizes blood levels, and influences appetite)
  • Potassium (vital to the nervous and muscular system; helps to ‘clean’ cells)
  • Sodium (regulates cellular fluid levels by ‘pumping’ water into cells)

Some trace minerals include:

  • Cobalt (necessary for absorption of certain vitamins)
  • Copper (a key component of many enzymes)
  • Fluorine (an essential element in tooth enamel)
  • Iodine (vital for thyroid health)
  • Iron (a key ingredient of blood, iron makes blood turn red when oxygen hits it, such as when you cut yourself)
  • Manganese (aids in antioxidation)
  • Molybdenum (vital for enzyme production; used by the liver)
  • Nickel (needed for production of certain hormones)
  • Selenium (used to build antioxidant proteins)
  • Sulfur (used in the production of specific amino acids)
  • Zinc (aids the immune system; helps with cell growth and tissue repair)

Insufficient minerals, like insufficient vitamins, can cause deficiency diseases. For instance, a copper deficiency can contribute to anemia, hair loss or arthritis, and a deficient amount of iodine can cause goiters.

In some cultures, people eat dirt or clay (called geophagy) to supplement their diets with minerals, but in the U.S., where this would be considered, well, dirty, people usually ensure that their basic mineral requirements are met by taking supplements. A good multiple mineral product will usually curb that urge to take a bite from your backyard.

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