The Role of Minerals in the Body

by lydia on May 17, 2012

Minerals are basically the spark plugs of life, or keystones to our health. Minerals are the catalysts that keep our ‘battery‘ going and hold it’s ‘charge.’  Minerals compose about 4% of the human body. We cannot produce minerals within our bodies, so we must obtain them through our food. They ultimately come from the earth. Good soil is 45% minerals, yet our soils today are quite lacking due to synthetic fertilizers, mono-cropping and more. In the US our soils contain 86% less minerals than they did 100 years ago (based on a study done in 1992). Minerals are what remain as ash when plant or animal tissues are burned (approximately 5 pounds from a cremated body). They come from the earth and will eventually return to the earth.

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There are 103 known minerals, at least 18 of these are necessary for good health. Mineral imbalance is epidemic. Osteoporosis is on the rise in our nation, 30 million people in the US over 50 are susceptible to fractures caused by mineral deficiencies in their bones. Over 1/3 of the women in America will have diagnosable osteoporosis in their lifetime. Osteoporosis isn’t even diagnosed until you’ve lost 30% of your bone mass. Nearly 100% of Americans have some type of joint degeneration by the time they are 40 years old.  Zinc deficiency is very common, evidenced by such health issues as; prostate cancer, breast cancer, hormonal imbalances, hydrochloric acid deficiency, skin cancer. Magnesium is a key element to keeping the cells metabolizing, involved in at least 300 functions in the body. It is particularly sensitive to stress, and can easily be lost. Most everyone is deficient in magnesium anymore, along will all of the main minerals of the body. It can take several years to re-mineralize the body. It can take 12 months to replace one mineral such as iron, so to replace more can take awhile.

Role of Minerals in the Body

•    Minerals act as co-factors for enzyme reactions. Enzymes don’t work without minerals. All cells require enzymes to work & function. They give us our vitality.
•    They maintain the pH balance within the body.
•    Minerals actually facilitate the transfer of nutrients across cell membranes.
•    They maintain proper nerve conduction
•    Minerals help to contract and relax muscles.
•    They help to regulate our bodies tissue growth.
•    Minerals provide structural and functional support for the body.

There are two categories of minerals essential within the body, macro-minerals & micro-minerals. There is no one mineral deficiency, they all must be maintained in balance within the body.

Macro-minerals
•    Calcium
•    Phosphorous
•    Potassium
•    Magnesium
•    Sulfur
•    Sodium
•    Chloride

Micro-minerals (or Trace Minerals)
•    Iron
•    Boron
•    Chromium
•    Iodine
•    Manganese
•    Molybdenum
•    Selenium
•    Silicon
•    Vanadium
•    Zinc
•    Lithium
•    Germanium
•    Rubidium
•    Cobalt
•    Copper

 

Calcium

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Of all of these minerals found in the body, calcium is the main mineral, it comprises almost half of the mineral content in the body. Just 1% of the calcium in the body is actually in the blood, so blood tests are not accurate answers to just how much calcium our body truly has. The other 99% is stored in the bone. In order for calcium to be absorbed and utilized by the body there are several factors to consider. For example, if the overall systemic pH is off, it will be difficult to utilize the calcium you eat.

Also, your hormonal function affects your ability to attain the calcium you consume, as well as whether or not you are adequately hydrated or if you digestion is impaired. Calcium also works in tandem with other minerals (particularly magnesium), vitamins and fatty acids. If you are not eating a properly prepared, whole foods, nutrient dense diet, staying hydrated and improving your over all digestion, you could be eating all the calcium in the world and not be able to retain it. Most everyone gets adequate calcium in their diet, but are missing some or all of the above co-factors in their lives to make it of use to the body in the way it is intended.

Having appropriate calcium homeostasis plays a significant role in bone remodeling. Old bone tissue is continually being destroyed and broken down and new bone is continually being created. Osteoblasts are bone-forming cells that convert cartilage to bone. Osteocytes  are our primary bone cells, and they maintain bone tissue. Osteoclasts are the bone-destroying cells that help with the function in resorption.

Calcium is only made available for other tissues in the body when the bone is broken down during remodeling. Bone helps to buffer the pH level of the blood through the release of calcium from the bone. (Bone is a major buffer of calcium and calcium is a major buffer of blood pH.) When blood is too acidic it will pull calcium from the tissues. And when the blood gets too alkaline, calcium can separate out and get deposited into the wrong tissues, thereby causing problems if an excess occurs in those tissues. Calcium is also needed for every nerve impulse.

In order for calcium to be absorbed it needs an acidic environment. If there is inadequate hydrochloric acid in the stomach you won’t be able to utilize the calcium you consume. Additionally, zinc is needed to help create the hydrochloric acid. Minerals are more difficult for the body to extract from the food. Absorption from the GI tract is the first step to getting the minerals into circulation, it can be a fairly complex process. If you see any aspect of undigested food in the stool, you can be sure you are not getting your minerals. Anyone with osteoporosis or osteopenia should check the pH of the stomach and check for adequate hydrochloric acid levels.

Hormones & Minerals

If certain hormones are dysfunctional in the body this will also affect our bodies ability to utilize calcium. Such as parathyroid, thyroid, adrenal and sex hormones. The parathyroid hormone is primary in regulating the blood calcium levels. The mineralcocoritcoids produced by the adrenals are very important in regulating minerals, particularly sodium/potassium homeostasis which has a role in calcium homeostasis as well. Women that go through menopause have a much greater risk of bone loss. Estrogen and progesterone need to be in balance at this time to help with osteoclastic activity.

Fatty Acids & Minerals

Appropriate fatty acid intake in the diet is necessary for the calcium to be transported through the cells walls. Fatty acids also help increase the calcium levels in the tissues. Weston Price and Royal Lee talked about the relationship between vitamin D and vitamin F (or fatty acids) through their studies. Vitamin D gets the calcium into the blood, fatty acids get it into the tissue. Without appropriate fatty acids you won’t get calcium into your tissues which is where a larger quantity of our body houses calcium. Vitamin D is necessary for calcium homeostasis and bone health. (if supplementing be sure it’s in the form of D3, not D2)

Hydration & Minerals

Additionally, we need good hydration to ensure that the  blood is fluid enough to efficiently transport calcium throughout the body to other tissues. We also need to get balanced electrolytes (electrically charged ions of calcium, sodium, potassium , chloride, bicarbonate) to ensure an appropriate transfer of calcium in and out of  the cells. This is only the beginning of understanding how just one mineral works within the body. However, they all work synergistically, so it is very important to consume a high quality real food diet based on the properly prepared foods paradigm discovered by Weston A. Price through his studies of indigenous people groups. We need a full spectrum approach to ensure we are getting adequate mineral intake, not just supplementing with some or one or two individual minerals, hat will always throw off the mineral balance in the body. Be sure to consume a wide array of fresh real whole foods in season and properly prepared.

Best Food Sources of Minerals

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By far the best and most ionic form of a full spectrum of minerals is bone broth. A full spectrum good quality sea salt is also a fabulous way to get in minerals and trace minerals. Also good mineral rich water from wells is a great option, but one that most of us no longer have access to. Animal proteins from well raised animal on pasture and grass-fed as well as wild seafood are another great source. Properly prepared nuts, seeds  and legumes are excellent as well.

Remember to pair these foods with good fatty acids to ensure you are actually utilizing them well. If you are not well versed on which fats are optimal, please read my post here on; ‘What Fats You Should Be Consuming.’  Raw milk dairy products (not pasteurized or homogenized), cultured dairy and cheeses are an excellent source. Pastured eggs are rich in a wide array of nutrients that all synergistically support each other.

Dark leafy greens, sea vegetables, oysters, even butter and liver. If you are familiar with the foods recommended in ‘Nourishing Traditions’ and make sure to get a balanced diet from them it is possible to obtain the minerals your body needs. Just remember that there are co-factors to consider when your body shows signs of deficiencies. (Source: my notes and studies from The Nutritional Therapy Association.)

 

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Mo Brock May 17, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Yay, minerals! A friend shared this on FB. So glad to see others out there, sharing the minerals message. The role of minerals is so underrated. We’ve all heard about “vitamins”. I mean “all”. But minerals? Not so much. Thank you!

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Wade Balsdon May 18, 2012 at 3:07 am

Yup totally agree with this post and with Mo. Minerals are so important. Now more than ever before, people need to ensure that they get the right balance of minerals and vitamins. It does mean that people should take supplements.

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Neil Butterfield May 18, 2012 at 3:24 am

Great post. It is sad that so few people understand the importance of minerals in their diets. Women, especially, should ensure that they get enough calcium in their diets to avoid osteoporosis.

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Wilma Rosters May 18, 2012 at 4:08 am

Zinc is a natural mineral that our body really needs and one of the major worries from people who have a zinc deficiency is how would they stay younger?

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Darlene May 18, 2012 at 8:32 am

I wanted to thank you for this great post and all the others you write! Your writing is very interesting and easy to understand. I keep learning so much and look forward to more. You make my journey to better health much easier.Thanks!

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lydia May 18, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Well thanks for saying so Darlene!

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Kate May 18, 2012 at 9:11 pm

My 11 year old son was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism yesterday. He’s lost 10% of his body weight and has a goiter. He’ll see an endocrinologist Monday but I read it could be a copper and zinc deficiency. I was already planning on the Gaps diet for him. Do you think I should take him to a nutritionist as well?

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lydia May 18, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Kate – with thyroid issues there are many minerals out of balance and deficient. GAPS would be amazing for him, or even just getting him to consume bone broth every day. Balancing minerals is tricky business and I would definetly work with someone qualified – though GAPS will take care of a lot it, you may want to supplement to help him therapeutically up front, and I would not do that at random. You can get hair tissue analysis if needed.

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Mo Brock May 19, 2012 at 7:29 am

I’ll just say that I was diagnosed with low thyroid around ten years ago. At that time my doctor wanted to put me on thyroxin. I said, let me try minerals on my own. She says that my thyroid is the only case she has seen where it is improved and leveled off without “replacing” thyroid hormone, either naturally or synthetically.

Minerals. With iodine. If I eat crap (sugar), I had ruin a good thing, and it is an ongoing regimen. I’ll never NOT take my minerals.

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Marlene May 19, 2012 at 10:10 am

Great article. I’d love a reference for the study saying we’ve got 85% less minerals in the soils from 100 years ago. Could you post that? Thanks.

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lydia May 19, 2012 at 10:30 am

Marlene,

That info. came from a study done in 1992 by The Earth Summit. I can’t find an exact document of the study online, but there are tons of sources online that quote this same information. If I find a link for the actual documented findings I will post it.

http://native-elements.co.uk/soil-depletion-facts/4548669199

http://www.sellersparadise.com/Soil%20Depletion.htm

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Maria May 21, 2012 at 2:24 am

Hi Mo Brock ,

Can you kindly tell me what minerals supplementation helped you with the thyroid.I too suffer from hypothyroidism and would like to know what worked for you so that i can try and see is it will work for me.I am fed up of having required to take medication for life.Please help

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Kate May 21, 2012 at 8:43 am

Which kind of doctor is best to do hair analysis with? Naturopath, nutritionist, aureyveda, homeopath, Chinese herbalist….

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Marlene May 21, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Hey – just so you know… I looked up The Earth Summit documents, and no where in that voluminous piece of work did I see those statistics. I just didn’t want you to be perpetetuating misinformation, since it seems like you’re pretty committed to being accurate. There ARE other references out there for statistics that say a lot of the same, just so you know.

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lydia May 21, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Marlene – The original source I heard it from was in a presentation through my school – I will contact them and see if I can get a direct source.

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Michele August 12, 2012 at 7:21 pm

What a great article! Thank you! I’m wondering – if you know you have mineral imbalances, what is the best way to go about diagnosing and rebalancing your minerals? I have been following GAPS for over a year and the bone broth and nourishing diet doesn’t seem to be enough for me. I have heard that blood tests do not give an accurate picture of the overall state of your minerals. I have also heard that hair analysis used alone cannot give an accurate picture of the imbalances. What would you recommend? And once you know what minerals you are deficient in or have too much of, how do you suggest rebalancing them? Tailored supplementation? IV treatments? Diet alone?

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lydia August 13, 2012 at 6:50 am

Hi Michele,

It can take years to remineralize the body. Hair tissue analysis can be helpful, but symptoms are often more telling. There are many reasons we are deficient and if you have any kind of adrenal fatigue that led to thyroid and other endocrine issues it really can take time. I do think nutritional therapy could help to pinpoint and support someone with mineral imbalance, including tailored supplementation with continued dietary minerals.

I do work with people through Nutrition & Wellness Coaching and this is an area we could address – contact me if you’d like further support with this; DIVINEHEALTHFROMTHEINSIDEOUT@GMAIL.COM

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Ahmer MALIK January 6, 2013 at 7:52 am

A got so much knowledge after reading tht info abt minerals.

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Morley Robbins June 21, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Lydia–
Excellent article on minerals, but a bit too heavy on Calcium (Ca++)…
There are three hormones that dictate the level and location of Ca++ in our body: PTH, Calcitonin and Hormone-D. ALL three are activated by Magnesium.
Maggie, as I like to call her, is Calcium’s antagonist, and is by far the more important metabolic mineral in the human body, as Mg’s required in 3,751 proteins, 700-800 enzymes (not the standard 300 you read in every internet article…), activates 149 Kinase enzymes that run our cells, and enables the production of Mg-ATP, the energy currency of all 100 Trillion cells in our body.
A refreshing way to think of it is that Calcium is “blind” inside our body — Mg is the “seeing-eye dog” that guides it to where it’s most needed. Can’t live without either one, but it’s time for Mg to get the recognition it justly deserves.
For those seeking more info re the metabolic miracles of Maggie, please head on over to http://www.gotmag.org
Well done and I look forward to reading more of your posts going forward.
A votre sante!

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daryl March 9, 2014 at 9:37 pm

Good to see minerals being addressed as important. I disagree though with getting all our minerals from food. You pointed out in the article that there are less minerals in the soil now. I agree with that statement that’s why I don’t think we can get all the minerals we need from food. Supplements must be taken to make up for the lack of minerals in our food. That is the only way to get all the minerals and vitamins and essential fatty acids our body needs.

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lydia March 10, 2014 at 8:48 am

Daryl,

I agree – I do not think most people will be able to get enough minerals from their food alone. I’ve written other posts about this as well. I think with a superior nutrient dense diet, like I mentioned above, it would be possible. However, most people won’t eat like that -not to mention most of us are burning through our minerals due to stress! (like me -so I supplement).

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