Major Minerals: Seven Things You Canít Live Without
The earth has an abundance of minerals. However, people donít eat dirt, so we must get our minerals elsewhere. Plants, or the animals that eat them, take minerals from the earth and transform them into forms that can be utilized by human bodies to help maintain the intricate functions that sustain life.
Nutritionally speaking, there are two groups of minerals: major minerals (macrominerals) and trace minerals (microminerals). They are so-named because of the daily requirements: more than 100 mg for macrominerals and less than 100 mg for microminerals. Note that trace minerals can also refer to the dozens of other minerals, like vanadium and germanium, that we need in extremely minute amounts (generally less than 1-10 parts per million).
Electrolytes: The Body Electric
Of the seven major minerals ó calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride and sulfur ó all but sulfur function as electrolytes. Electrolytes conduct electricity when dissolved in water or bodily fluids. These ions help maintain the delicate balance of vital fluids within and between our cells and to control pH, blood chemistry, muscle and nerve function, and much more. Although sulfur is not an electrolyte, it also plays an important role in keeping us alive and well.
Most people are familiar with the essential role calcium plays in bone health, but it has many other functions. Calcium is involved in kidney, muscle and nerve function and its cardiovascular benefits are many. For example, it helps maintain normal heart rhythm and may protect against stroke. A dose of 2,200 mg daily can lower total serum cholesterol, increase HDL (good) and lower LDL (bad) cholesterols. Calcium imbalance contributes to hypertension, but 500-1,500 mg a day can lower elevated blood pressure. In addition, calcium improves the permeability of cell membranes and facilitates apoptosis (normal cell death) which cancer cells do not experience.
Calcium also has digestive benefits (for constipation, gastric ulcer and heartburn) and it helps regulate electrolyte balance. Calcium deficiency can cause hyperhidrosis (excessive perspiration) leading to further depletion of this important mineral via sweat. (For more information on calcium see our newsletters.)
Dietary sources of calcium include dairy, fish (with bones), seafood, broccoli and green leafy veggies.
Best forms include plant-sourced calcium, calcium bisglycinate, malate, citrate, lactate and orotate. Calcium carbonate requires hydrochloric acid for absorption.
According to the American Osteopathic Association, up to half of Americans do not get enough magnesium. Since this mineral helps activate Vitamin D which aids calcium absorption, half of us may be lacking in those nutrients as well. Magnesium is involved in over 300 enzymatic processes and is necessary for synthesis of DNA, RNA and glutathione, an important detoxifying antioxidant. Magnesium is also important for cardiovascular heath, relaxing blood vessels and lowering blood pressure. It allows muscles to relax and is useful for treating menstrual cramps, spasms and tremors. Magnesium malate, in particular, can decrease muscle pain associated with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Continued low magnesium levels can lead to depression and migraines for which magnesium L-threonate may be most useful since it is the only form that crosses the blood-brain barrier. (For more information on magnesium see our newsletter.)
Dietary sources of magnesium include dairy, fish, meat, legumes and whole grains. In addition, magnesium can be absorbed via the skin as with magnesium oil or epsom salt soaks.
Best forms include glycinate, malate, lactate, citrate and aspartate. Magnesium oxide is not well absorbed, but can be useful as a laxative.
Although we use most (80% to 90%) of our phosphorus for maintaining teeth and bones, it has many other important functions. For example, phosphorus combines with fat to make our phospholipid membranes ó the permeable barrier that controls the transport of substances into and out of our cells. In addition, phosphorous is involved in muscle and nerve function, synthesis of DNA and RNA as well as energy production. It also combines with oxygen to make the electrolyte phosphate and, like many major minerals, phosphorous helps maintain pH levels ó the balance of acidity and alkalinity in our various tissues.
Phosphorous is abundant in most diets, in fact excessive phosphorus is more common. Those who consume soft drinks may be getting way too much.
Potassium & Sodium
Potassium and sodium are necessary for the balance between intracellular and extracellular fluids. Fluid exchange across cell membranes brings nourishment into and removes waste from our cells. The potassium-sodium exchange also allows our nerve cells to communicate via the transmission of electrical impulses. Both of these major minerals are necessary for normal functioning of muscles (including the heart) and the nervous system as well as maintaining healthy blood pressure.
Although potassium is a necessary nutrient, most supplements have no more than 99 mg (2% of the daily value) because it is so abundant in food. Potassium helps to maintain a proper balance between potassium and sodium, but too much potassium can cause muscle weakness and irregular heartbeat or even heart failure. Excess sodium negatively impacts kidney function which is detrimental to cardiovascular function.
Dietary sources of potassium include dairy (but not cheese), legumes, vegetables and fruits such as apricots, avocados and bananas. Sodium can be found in virtually all foods, but sea salt is a good source.
Best form: potassium citrate.
Chloride is necessary to maintain the pH of bodily fluids, for fluid balance both inside and outside of cells and to maintain proper blood pressure and volume. High fever, diarrhea, vomiting or sweating can cause dehydration resulting in low levels of chloride (and other electrolytes) so it is crucial to take electrolytes when dehydrated. Hydrochloric acid (HCl), which is necessary for digestive function, is made from hydrogen and chloride.
Seaweed, salt, olives and vegetables such as celery are natural sources of chloride.
Sulfur is present in all living tissues and is abundant in skin, muscle, bone and connective tissues. It is involved in enzyme reactions and protein synthesis and is part of several amino acids, including methionine and cysteine, as well as MSM (methylsulfonylmethane). Sulfur, as a component of glutathione, protects our cells from free-radical damage and plays an important role in the liverís detoxification processes. (For more information on sulfur see our newsletter.)
Dietary sources of sulfur include eggs, garlic, onions and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.
Best form: MSM, a non-toxic, physiologically active form of sulfur.
Because minerals serve so many important functions in our bodies, it is important to get them in adequate amounts. Eating a varied, whole-food diet rich in vegetables is a good start. However, the mineral content of food depends on the minerals in the soil in which the food is grown or where the animals graze. So consider focusing on eating organic food since organic farming returns nutrients, including minerals, to the soil.
DISCLAIMER: If you have a medical condition or are taking prescription drugs, consult your doctor before taking mineral supplements.
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