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The Mighty Minerals

We all have heard about nutrients – proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, vitamins. But do we know what they really are? What these tiny molecules do in our bodies? How do we depend on them? And why we should be careful when choosing our food based on that knowledge? Knowledge about the nutrients in our food is fundamental for our health, for how we feel and look, for our wellbeing and quality of life. We can use this knowledge to grow healthier and happier children and make them individuals that are informed and responsible for the food choices they make.

Humans ingest minerals in a number of different forms. Minerals are usually absorbed in ionic form. If they are not in ionic form when consumed, they are ionized in the gut, with salts dissolving into their two components or chelates releasing their key elements. Examples include chlorophyll (which chelates a magnesium atom), hemoglobin (which chelates an iron atom) and enzymes that chelate copper, iron, zinc and manganese.

Factors that can prevent the uptake of minerals

There are a number of factors that can prevent the uptake of minerals, even when they are available in our food.

  • Not enough fat soluble vitamins A, D, E or K - the glandular system that regulates the messages sent to the intestinal mucosa require plentiful fat-soluble vitamins in the diet to work properly
  • Damaged intestinal lining - the intestinal mucosa requires fat-soluble vitamins and adequate dietary cholesterol to maintain proper integrity so that it passes only those nutrients the body needs, while at the same time keeping out toxins and large, undigested proteins that can cause allergic reactions
  • Minerals may “compete” for receptor sites. Excess calcium may impede the absorption of iron, for example
  • Lack of hydrochloric acid in the stomach which creates an over-alkaline environment in the upper intestine
  • Deficiencies in certain enzymes, vitamin C and other nutrients may prevent chelates from releasing their minerals
  • Phytic acid in grains, oxalic acid in green leafy vegetables and tannins in tea may bind with ionized minerals in the digestive tract and prevent them from being absorbed

The proper way to take in minerals is:

  • through mineral-rich water
  • through fresh, organic and locally produced nutrient-dense foods and beverages
  • through mineral-rich bone broths in which all of the macrominerals–sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur–are available in ready-to-use ionized form as a true electrolyte solution
  • through the use of unrefined sea salt

The seven macrominerals

Calcium: Not only vital for strong bones and teeth, calcium is also needed for the heart and nervous system and for muscle growth and contraction, blood clotting, blood pressure regulation, immune system health. Good calcium status prevents acid-alkaline imbalances in the blood. Best sources of usable calcium are free-range dairy products, bone broth, canned wild fish with bones (salmon, sardines), greens (broccoli, mustard greens). Both iron and zinc can inhibit calcium absorption as well as excess phosphorus and magnesium. Sufficient vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption as well as proper potassium/calcium ratio in the blood. Sugar consumption and stress both pull calcium from the bones.

Chloride: Helps regulate the correct acid-alkaline balance in the blood and the passage of fluids across cell membranes. It is needed for the production of hydrochloric acid which is necessary for protein digestion. It also activates the production of amylase enzymes needed for carbohydrate digestion. Chloride is also essential to proper growth and functioning of the brain. The most important source of chloride is natural mineral salt. Lacto-fermented beverages and bone broths both provide easily assimilated chloride. Other sources include celery and coconut.

Magnesium: This mineral is essential for enzyme activity, calcium and potassium assimilation, nerve transmission, bone formation and metabolism of carbohydrates and minerals. It is magnesium, not calcium, that helps form hard tooth enamel, resistant to decay. Like calcium and chloride, magnesium also plays a role in regulating the acid-alkaline balance in the body. High magnesium levels in drinking water have been linked to resistance to heart disease. Magnesium deficiencies in people are common due to soil depletion, poor absorption and lack of minerals in drinking water. A diet high in carbohydrates, oxalic acid in foods like raw spinach and phytic acid found in whole grains can cause deficiencies. An excellent source of usable magnesium is beef, chicken or fish broth, nuts and seeds, legumes, leafy, green vegetables, seafood, dark chocolate, artichokes, "hard" drinking water. High amounts of zinc and vitamin D increase magnesium requirements. Magnesium deficiency can result in coronary heart disease, chronic weight loss, obesity, fatigue, epilepsy and impaired brain function. Chocolate cravings are a sign of magnesium deficiency.

Phosphorus: The second most abundant mineral in the body, phosphorus is needed for bone growth, kidney function and cell growth. It also plays a role in maintaining the body’s acid-alkaline balance. Phosphorus is found in many foods, but in order to be properly utilized, it must be in proper balance with magnesium and calcium in the blood. Excessive levels of phosphorus in the blood, often due to the consumption of soft drinks containing phosphoric acid, can lead to calcium loss and to cravings for sugar and alcohol. Too little phosphorus inhibits calcium absorption and can lead to osteoporosis. Best sources are animal products, whole grains, legumes and nuts.

Potassium: Potassium and sodium work together–inner cell fluids are high in potassium while fluids outside the cell are high in sodium. Thus, potassium is important for many chemical reactions within the cells. Potassium is helpful in treating high blood pressure. It is found in a wide variety of foods - meats, milk, white beans, dark leafy greens, baked potatoes, dried apricots, baked acorn squash, fish. Excessive use of salt along can result in a potassium deficiency.

Sodium: It is needed for many biochemical processes including water balance regulation, fluid distribution on each side of the cell walls, muscle contraction and expansion, nerve stimulation and acid-alkaline balance. Sodium is very important to the proper function of the adrenal glands. However, excessive sodium may result in high blood pressure, potassium deficiency and liver, kidney and heart disease. Symptoms of deficiency include confusion, low blood sugar, weakness, lethargy and heart palpitations. Meat broths, yogurt, seafood, zucchini, natural mineral salt are excellent sources.

Sulphur: It helps protect the body from infection, blocks the harmful effects of radiation and pollution and slows down the aging process. Sulphur-containing proteins are the building blocks of cell membranes and sulphur is a major component of the gel-like connective tissue in cartilage and skin. Sulphur is found in cruciferous vegetables, eggs, milk and animal products.

The microminerals

Boron: Needed for healthy bones, boron is found in fruits, especially apples, leafy green vegetables, nuts and grains.

Chromium: Essential for glucose metabolism, chromium is needed for blood sugar regulation as well as for the synthesis of cholesterol, fats and protein. People who eat many refined carbohydrates are deficient in chromium. Best sources are animal products, molasses, nuts, whole wheat, eggs and vegetables.

Cobalt: This mineral works with copper to promote assimilation of iron. A cobalt atom resides in the center of the vitamin B12 molecule. As the best sources are animal products, cobalt deficiency occurs most frequently in vegetarians and vegans.

Copper: Needed for the formation of bone, hemoglobin and red blood cells, copper also promotes healthy nerves, a healthy immune system and collagen formation. Copper works in balance with zinc and vitamin C. Along with manganese, magnesium and iodine, copper plays an important role in memory and brain function. Nuts, molasses and oats contain copper but liver is the best and most easily assimilated source.

Germanium: Germanium-rich foods help combat rheumatoid arthritis, food allergies, fungal overgrowth, viral infections and cancer. Certain foods will concentrate germanium if it is found in the soil–garlic, ginseng, mushrooms, onions and the herbs aloe vera, comfrey and suma.

Iodine: Although it is needed in only small amounts, iodine is essential for numerous biochemical processes, such as fat metabolism, thyroid function and the production of sex hormones. Muscle cramps are a sign of deficiency as are cold hands and feet, tendency to weight gain, poor memory, constipation, depression and headaches. It seems to be essential for mental development. Iodine deficiency has been linked to mental retardation, coronary heart disease, susceptibility to polio and breast cancer. Sources include most sea foods, unrefined sea salt, kelp and other sea weeds, fish broth, butter, pineapple, artichokes, asparagus and dark green vegetables. Certain vegetables, such as cabbage and spinach, can block iodine absorption when eaten raw or unfermented. Proper iodine utilization requires sufficient levels of vitamin A. In excess, iodine can be toxic. Consumption of high amounts of inorganic iodine (as in iodized salt or iodine-fortified bread) as well as of organic iodine (as in kelp) can cause thyroid problems similar to those of iodine deficiency, including goiter.

Iron: As part of the hemoglobin molecule, iron is vital for healthy blood. Iron also forms an essential part of many enzymes. Iron deficiency is associated with poor mental development and problems with the immune system. It is found in eggs, fish, liver, meat, some legumes and green leafy vegetables. Iron from animal protein is more readily absorbed than iron from vegetable foods. The addition of fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) found in butter and cod liver oil to the diet often results in an improvement in iron status.

Manganese: Needed for healthy nerves, a healthy immune system and blood sugar regulation. It also plays a part in the formation of mother’s milk and in the growth of healthy bones. Deficiency may lead to trembling hands, seizures and lack of coordination. Excessive milk consumption may cause manganese deficiency as calcium can interfere with manganese absorption. Phosphorus antagonizes manganese as well. Best sources are nuts (especially pecans), seeds, whole grains and butterfat.

Molybdenum: This mineral is needed in small amounts for nitrogen metabolism, iron absorption, fat oxidation and normal cell function. Best sources are lentils, liver, grains, legumes and dark green leafy vegetables.

Selenium: A vital antioxidant, selenium acts with vitamin E to protect the immune system and maintain healthy heart function. It is needed for pancreatic function and tissue elasticity and has been shown to protect against radiation and toxic minerals. Best sources are butter, Brazil nuts, seafood and grains grown in selenium-rich soil.

Silicon: This element is needed for strong yet flexible bones and healthy cartilage, connective tissue, skin, hair and nails. In the blood vessels, the presence of adequate silicon helps prevent atherosclerosis. Silicon also protects against toxic aluminum. Good sources are grains with shiny surfaces, such as millet, corn and flax, the stems of green vegetables and homemade bone broths in which chicken feet have been included.

Vanadium: Needed for cellular metabolism and the formation of bones and teeth, vanadium also plays a role in growth and reproduction and helps control cholesterol levels in the blood. Deficiency has been linked to cardiovascular and kidney disease. Buckwheat, unrefined vegetable oils, grains and olives are the best sources. Vanadium is difficult to absorb.

Zinc: Called the intelligence mineral, zinc is required for mental development, for healthy reproductive organs (particularly the prostate gland), for protein synthesis and collagen formation. Zinc is also involved in the blood sugar control mechanism and thus protects against diabetes. Zinc is needed to maintain proper levels of vitamin E in the blood. Inability to taste or smell and loss of appetite are signs of zinc deficiency. High levels of phytic acid in cereal grains and legumes block zinc absorption. Zinc deficiency during pregnancy can cause birth defects. As oral contraceptives diminish zinc levels, it is important for women to wait at least six months after discontinuing the pill before becoming pregnant. Best sources include red meat, oysters, fish, nuts, seeds and ginger.

Not all minerals are beneficial. Lead, cadmium, mercury, aluminum and arsenic are poisons to the body in large quantities. These come from polluted air, water, soil and food. Lead finds its way into the water supply through lead pipes. Sources of aluminum include processed soy products, aluminum cookware, refined table salt, deodorants and antacids. Baking powder can be another source of aluminum and should be avoided. Amalgam fillings are the source of toxic mercury in the system–linked to Alzheimer’s and a number of other disease conditions. Minerals like calcium and magnesium and the antioxidants–vitamin A, carotenes, vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium–all protect against these toxins and help the body to eliminate them. Adequate silicon protects against aluminum.

The mineral ratios

Mineral ratios are often more important in determining nutritional deficiencies and excesses than minerals alone. Mineral ratios are represent homeostatic balance. Balance or homeostasis is key to health. Mineral ratios are indicative of disease trends. They are predictive of future metabolic dysfunctions. The following 5 ratios are the most important for evaluation purposes:

Calcium/Potassium (Ca/K): This ratio is called thyroid ratio. It is used to help assess thyroid activity and helps determine the metabolic or oxidation rate.

Calcium/Magnesium ratio (Ca/Mg): This is called the blood sugar or sugar tolerance ratio.

Sodium/Magnesium (Na/Mg): This is called the adrenal ratio. It is helpful to assess adrenal gland activity and it is used to determine the metabolic or oxidation rate.

Sodium/Potassium (Na/K): This is called the vitality ratio. It is helpful to assess the immune system. Adrenal activity and to assess various health conditions.

Zinc/Copper (Zn/Cu): This ratio offers information about thyroid activity and about zinc and copper status.

How to test your mineral status?

Providing a window into the cells, hair makes an excellent biopsy material and reveals a clear record of mineral metabolism. Hair, like other body tissues, contains minerals that are deposited as the hair grows. A sample of hair cut close to the scalp provides information about the mineral activity in the hair that took place over the past three to four months, depending on the rate of hair growth.

The hair tissue mineral analysis is a screening test for the level of 16 minerals (including Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc and others) and 5 toxic metals (Mercury, Lead, Aluminum, Arsenic, Candimum) in a sample of hair. A hair tissue mineral analysis can provide information about one's metabolic rate, energy levels, sugar and carbohydrate tolerance, stage of stress, immune system and glandular activity.

From the results of this test you can find out your mineral levels and mineral ratios, your metabolic oxidation rate (slow oxidizer, fast oxidizer, mixed oxidizer), toxic metal levels and their effect on the nervous, endrocrine, cardiovascular, digestive systems. 

To find out your mineral status and mineral ratios by hair mineral testing please click here