Source: Dutchen, Stephanie. (2012, Feb. 1) National Institutes of Health. Metals: In Sickness and in Health. Retrieved from: https://www.livescience.com/18247-metals-human-body-health-nigms.html
Have you ever ordered a meal at a restaurant, anxiously waiting to eat it, you try it and find out that its bland? I have – it’s so disappointing. So, I often find myself reaching for some salt, pepper and chili flakes or even the beloved Sriracha sauce.
Think about it, when we make dinner for ourselves too, we usually add flavour by adding herbs and spices. They are not the main ingredients in the meal like the vegetables and meats might be but they sure hold the power of making or breaking how appetizing the meal is.
This is how I like to think of trace minerals. Unlike the main building blocks elements that make up more than 99% of our bodies, trace minerals are needed in much lower concentrations but are essential for necessary metabolic processes that keep us alive, much like spices that are an important ingredient in making our food flavourful. These trace minerals are defined as essential because their deficiency impairs bodily functions and directly results in diseases that can be fatal.
What are they?
There are 19 trace minerals that have been confirmed to be essential for our growth and development, with others still being researched. They are as follows: Iron, Zinc, Copper, Fluoride, Iodine, Selenium, Silica, Arsenic, Boron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Cobalt, Chromium, Vanadium, Nickle, Cadmium, Tin, Lead and maybe lithium. (1)
Source: Davis, Metcalfe, Williams, Castka. (1999). Modern Chemistry. Page 748
These minerals are all listed in the periodic table (yes, its useful for something!) – meaning that they are all naturally available and present all around us, in the earth’s crust, rivers, oceans, soil.
In fact, the ratio of trace minerals in our body in comparison to the other building block minerals is similar to the ratio present in the earth’s oceans – tying back to the theory that life originated in the water or close to shore. (1,2)
What do they do?
These minerals are intriguing because they are multitalented. They work as oxidants catalyzing reactions in the body responsible for breaking down carbohydrates into energy (cellular respiration) and also work as antioxidants when they combine with proteins to create enzymes.3 In both cases, they are catalysts, meaning that they cause a reaction to occur. Reactions that are necessary for our survival.
The trace minerals are useable in ionic states where they are “unstable” (negatively or positively charged) and ready to bond for them to stabilize. These ionic minerals love water, which also happens to make 70% of our bodies and are easily carried through our blood stream.3They fit into a protein enzyme like a key that unlocks their purpose. Without certain minerals required for co-enzymes, the enzyme will not be capable of starting chemical reactions that power our bodies. (3)
What are some examples?
Humans are aerobic species, which is a fancy way of saying we need oxygen to survive. When we use the oxygen, this inevitably leads to harmful by-products in our body like hydrogen peroxide. This is where enzymes like catalase come in, whose job is to break up the toxic hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. Thus, catalase is an anti-oxidant enzyme and it is made from iron, a trace mineral. (1)
Copper, another trace mineral, however is needed for our bodies to be able to utilize and absorb iron – a mineral that we just learned is needed to break up toxic oxygen by-products in our bodies and as most of us know, is vital in creating the hemoglobin in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout our body. (1)
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN? It means trace minerals not only work on their own, but are needed in relation to one another as well. Too much or too little of one can imbalance the other.
Source: National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from: https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/hypochromic-microcytic-anemia-with-iron-overload
The functional uses of trace minerals are too many to count. From transporting neural messages to our brains to pump the heart, maintaining strong bones, muscles and tissues, transporting oxygen throughout our body, and preventing oxidative stress, they are undercover superheros that we all need AND deserve! (1,3,4)
How much to intake?
Although your body can produce some vitamins, it cannot produce any minerals – they have to come from your diet.
If you eat a balanced and varied diet of colourful fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, nuts, seeds and oils, you should have a sufficient amount of the trace mineral medley.
However, it sucks to know now that the soils in which most of our food is grown today, or food grown to feed animals has been depleted of essential minerals. Today’s vegetables might be larger but have a diluted amount of minerals because of industrialized farming. (6) A study has shown that you now need to eat EIGHT oranges (yes, 8!) to gain the equivalent amount of Vitamin A from ONE orange grown in the 1950s. (5)
Organic food is better for that reason and other methods such as using cast iron cooking tools or copper bottles, and supplements to ensure your intake is adequate.
Here is a list of recommended daily intake values for some of the 19 essential trace minerals. (1)
As always, please consult your medical doctor before taking any supplements and do your research!
We have posted our sources below for you to do further research:
1. Friedan, Earl. (Nov 1985). New Perspectives on the Essential Trace Minerals. Retrieved from: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1021/ed062p917
2. Princeton. Iron II vs Iron III. Retrieved from: https://www.princeton.edu/~cebic/ironIIvsIII.html
3. Government of Canada. Minerals and Trace Element Research. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/research-programs-analytical-methods/research-programs/toxicology-research/minerals-trace-element-research-micronutrients-nutrition-research.html
4. Hukisson, E. &Maggini, S. &Ruf, M. (2007). The Role of Vitamins and Minerals in Energy Metabolism and Well-Being. The Journal Of International Medical Research, 35, 277-289. Retrieved from:http://www.nanotechnologystore.com/(14)The-role-of-vitamins-and-minerals-in-energy-metabolism-and-well-being.pdf
5. Dirt Poor: Have Fruits and Vegetables Become Less Nutritious? Scientific American. Retrieved from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/soil-depletion-and-nutrition-loss/