Biological roles of trace minerals in Nutrition

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Here at Dr. Willard’s® we’re passionate about health and we love to read articles about a variety of ways to maintain good health.  To that end we’ve begun asking writers to submit blogs that our followers might find interesting.  This blog is about trace minerals and the role they play in our overall health.  It was written by Ukranian writer Veniamin Osypov and is only available on the Dr. Willard’s® social media pages.  We hope you enjoy it!

Biological roles of trace minerals in Nutrition.

How often did you hear noisy talks about nutrition, healthy foods, vitamins and particularly trace minerals? I mean a lot. But what do we really know about trace minerals and their biological roles within the body?  Let’s take a short excursion into the subject.

Firstly, how many trace elements or minerals do we know? Usually official biochemistry assigns 12 chemical elements to a group of trace minerals regarding their biological functions and occurrence within the body. Seven of them are the most important because their deficiency is crucial for many metabolic pathways.  Let’s have a look at their roles in details.

Iron is the most known micro element because its deficiency has most apparent symptoms.  It’s an essential part of hemoglobin, an erythrocyte protein that transfers oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. Being a component of myoglobin, a protein that provides muscles with oxygen, iron supports their metabolism. So Iron plays a key role in cell respiration by transporting oxygen from the air we breathe to most distant parts of our body. Iron is also necessary for growth, development, normal cellular functioning, and synthesis of some hormones and connective tissue. According to U.S. Department of Health adequate intake of iron for men is about 8 mg/day whereas for women 18 mg/day.

Zinc is an important trace mineral that people need to stay healthy. Of the trace minerals, this element is second only to iron in its concentration in the body and is found throughout all cells. It is needed for the body’s defensive (immune) system to properly work. It plays a role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates.

Zinc is also needed for the senses of smell and taste. During pregnancy, infancy, and childhood the body needs zinc to grow and develop properly. Zinc also enhances the action of insulin. Having catalytic, structural, and regulatory functions zinc is unique in that it is the only trace element with essential actions in all six enzyme classes being required for catalytic activity of >300 enzymes. Deficiency of zinc may lead to retarded growth, anorexia, skin lesions and impaired immune function. Adequate intake for adult men is about 11 mg/day and 8 mg/day for women.  Increased daily intake ranging from 20 to 150 mg/day may be beneficial for prevention of colds and to patients with diarrhea.  

Copper is an essential trace mineral present in all body tissues. It’s involved in a range of important processes like energy generation via oxidation, neurotransmission, provision strength to bones and arteries, assurance of competence of the immune system, and stabilization matrices of connective tissues. Copper works with iron to help the body form red blood cells. It also helps keep the blood vessels, nerves, immune system, and bones healthy. Copper also aids in iron absorption.  Although copper’s practical nutritional importance is well established, however its dietary requirements still is debated. It’s deemed adequate intake for adults is about 0.9 mg/day. Increased intakes of copper, e.g. 3 mg/day, may be beneficial for preventing osteoporosis.

Manganese is well-known mostly for its role in prevention of osteoporosis, brittle bones formation and impaired growth.  But according to modern nutritional investigations manganese is an essential nutrient involved in many chemical processes in the body including processing of cholesterol, carbohydrates, and protein. It takes a part in prevention of fleeting dermatitis, diabetes, epilepsy, atherosclerosis, cataracts, and impaired wound healing. Manganese is an essential component of various enzymes and shows antioxidant activity by participating free radical detoxifying processes. Descriptions of manganese deficiency in humans are very limited because it’s quite abundant in conventional daily diets. That’s why it is generally not considered to be a great nutritional concern. But nevertheless high dietary intakes of calcium along with iron or zinc as well as high phytate consumption can decrease the amount of manganese that the body can absorb. Adequate intake of manganese for adults lies in the range of 1.8-2.0 mg/day.

Iodine along with cobalt and selenium belongs to so-called group of ultra-trace elements. It means their daily requirements are quantified by micrograms per day. Humans need iodine for normal thyroid function, and for the production of thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid hormones regulate many important biochemical reactions, including protein synthesis and enzymatic activity, and are critical in metabolic activity. They are also required for the cells to convert food into energy as well as for proper skeletal and central nervous system development in fetuses and infants. Recognition of its important nutritional role began in the 1920s when it was found that iodine prevented goiter. Recommended adult daily allowance of iodine is defined by U.S. Food and Nutrition Board as 150 micrograms a day for both sexes. Iodine deficiency is one of the largest public health problems in the world today. That’s why more than 70 countries, including the United States and Canada, have salt iodization programs.

Cobalt is a naturally occurring element in the earth’s crust. It presents a very small part of our environment and very small amounts are needed for many animals and humans to stay healthy. Ionic cobalt itself is not an essential nutrient; however it is an integral component of vitamin B12 which is indispensible for humans. Vitamin B12 is necessary for fat and protein catabolism, hemoglobin and DNA synthesis. Cobalt deficiency, and hence deficiency of vitamin B12, causes different types of fatal anemia and may lead to some irreversible neurological diseases of spinal cord. Those who are on vegetarian diets must pay an increased attention to adequate vitamin B12 supplementation and thus cobalt intake. Because of its ultra-low requirement there is no recommended daily allowance data for cobalt itself whereas it was established for vitamin B12 being about 2.4 mcg/day for adult men and women as well.   

Selenium is a trace element that is naturally present in many foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. Selenium is nutritionally essential for humans, so it means your body must get this mineral in the food you eat. Small amounts of selenium are good for your health as it helps your body to synthesize more than two dozen various special selenoproteins called antioxidant enzymes. These proteins play critical roles in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, protection cells from oxidative damage and infection. It is also suggested selenium may be beneficial in prevention of certain cancers and may protect the body from poisonous effects of heavy metals and other harmful substances. About 55 mcg/day of selenium represent the recommended daily allowance for adults whereas children should consume about 20-30 mcg/day.

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