The Importance of Minerals in Nutrition

Dietary minerals are some of the chemical elements our bodies need, apart from carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. People whon take a well balanced diet will, in most cases, obtain all their minerals from what they eat.

Experts say that 16 key minerals are essential for human biochemical processes by serving structural and functional roles, as well as electrolytes:

Potassium

  • What it does – a systemic (affects entire body) electrolyte, essential in co-regulating ATP (an important carrier of energy in cells in the body, also key in making RNA) with sodium.
  • Deficiency – hypokalemia (can profoundly affect the nervous system and heart).
  • Excess – hyperkalemia (can also profoundly affect the nervous system and heart).

Chloride

  • What it does – key for hydrochloric acid production in the stomach, also important for cellular pump functions.
  • Deficiency – hypochleremia (low salt levels, which if severe can be very dangerous for health).
  • Excess – hyperchloremia (usually no symptoms, linked to excessive fluid loss).

Sodium

  • What it does – a systemic electrolyte, and essential in regulating ATP with potassium.
  • Deficiency – hyponatremia (cause cells to malfunction; extremely low sodium can be fatal).
  • Excess – hypernatremia (can also cause cells to malfunction, extremely high levels can be fatal).

Calcium

  • What it does – important for muscle, heart and digestive health. Builds bone, assists in the synthesis and function of blood cells.
  • Deficiency – hypocalcaemia (muscle cramps, abdominal cramps, spasms, and hyperactive deep tendon reflexes).
  • Excess – hypercalcaemia (muscle weakness, constipation, undermined conduction of electrical impulses in the heart, calcium stones in urinary tract, impaired kidney function, and impaired absorption of iron leading to iron deficiency).

Phosphorus

  • What it does – component of bones and energy processing.
  • Deficiency – hypophosphatemia, an example is rickets.
  • Excess – hyperphosphatemia, often a result of kidney failure.

Magnesium

  • What it does – processes ATP and required for good bones.
  • Deficiency – hypomagnesemia (irritability of the nervous system with spasms of the hands and feet, muscular twitching and cramps, and larynx spasms).
  • Excess – hypermagnesemia (nausea, vomiting, impaired breathing, low blood pressure). Very rare, and may occur if patient has renal problems.

Zinc

  • What it does – required by several enzymes.
  • Deficiency – short stature, anemia, increased pigmentation of skin, enlarged liver and spleen, impaired gonadal function, impaired wound healing, and immune deficiency.
  • Excess – suppresses copper and iron absorption.

Iron

  • What it does – required for proteins and enzymes, especially hemoglobin.
  • Deficiency – anemia.
  • Excess – iron overload disorder; iron deposits can form in organs, particularly the heart.

Manganese

  • What it does – a cofactor in enzyme functions.
  • Deficiency – wobbliness, fainting, hearing loss, weak tendons and ligaments. Less commonly, can be cause of diabetes.
  • Excess – interferes with the absorption of dietary iron.

Copper

  • What it does – component of many redox (reduction and oxidation) enzymes.
  • Deficiency – anemia or pancytopenia (reduction in the number of red and white blood cells, as well as platelets) and a neurodegeneration.
  • Excess – can interfere with body’s formation of blood cellular components; in severe cases convulsions, palsy, and insensibility and eventually death (similar to arsenic poisoning).

Iodine

  • What it does – required for the biosynthesis of thyroxine (a form of thyroid hormone).
  • Deficiency – developmental delays, among other problems.
  • Excess – can affect functioning of thyroid gland.

Selenium

  • What it does – cofactor essential to activity of antioxidant enzymes.
  • Deficiency – Keshan disease (myocardial necrosis leading to weakening of the heart), Kashing-Beck disease (atrophy degeneration and necrosis of cartilage tissue).
  • Excess – garlic-smelling breath, gastrointestinal disorders, hair loss, sloughing of nails, fatigue, irritability, and neurological damage.

Molybdenum

  • What it does – vital part of three important enzyme systems, xanthine oxidase, aldehyde oxidase, and sulfite oxidase. It has a vital role in uric acid formation and iron utilization, in carbohydrate metabolism, and sulfite detoxification.
  • Deficiency – may affect metabolism and blood counts, but as this deficiency is often alongside other mineral deficiencies, such as copper, it is hard to say which one was the cause of the health problem.

Excess – there is very little data on toxicity, therefore excess is probably not an issue.

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