The Fascinating Trace Minerals
• Crucial To Blood Sugar Metabolism
• Overload = Chronic Tiredness
• Widespread Deficiency In U.S.
• Work Better When Chelated
What You Don’t Know About Minerals May Surprise You.
TOPIC: TRACE MINERALS, Part 1
Most of the 92 naturally occurring elements of the earth also exist in the human body. The healthy human body is a microcosm of the earth: a physical body composed of the elements of the earth and atmosphere, carrying within it an inner “sea”. Regular intake of many of these earthly elements is essential to life.
—Paul Bergner, The Healing Power Of Minerals
Amazingly, each minute, three billion of our cells die and three billion new ones are created. Our lives depend on the quality of our cells. In turn, that depends on the nutrients we take into our bodies. For the best result, we need the most nutritious sources of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, water, and absorbable vitamins and minerals.
Few people realize that minerals may be more essential to our well-being than vitamins. It’s a partnership: Without minerals, we can’t use vitamins. Minerals are required to support human biochemical processes. They serve structural and functional roles and form electrolytes. Our blood, bones, nervous system, cells, tissues, and immune integrity all rely on minerals to keep us thriving. Adequate mineral intake is the foundation of good health.
Although the total number of nutrient minerals that are absolutely necessary for life is not known for any organism, about twenty are necessary for mammals. Nutrient minerals are categorized as major or macro- and trace or micro-.1 In this issue, we begin our discussion of the trace minerals, covering chromium, copper, iodine, manganese, and fluoride.2
Our bodies are made up of two types of substances: organic and inorganic. Organic compounds are living and contain the element carbon. They are produced by plants and animals. (Think kale and rabbit.)
Inorganic substances occur alone or in compounds and are not produced by plants or animals but occur naturally on the planet.3 (Think rocks and stars.) Minerals are inorganic substances. They are absorbed by plants and eaten by animals.
Minerals form only 5 percent of the typical human diet. Macrominerals are those required by adults in amounts greater than 100 mg/day and make up less than 1% of total body weight. Trace minerals are those required in amounts of 1-100 mg/day and make up less than 0.01% of total body weight.
Ultra-trace minerals generally are defined as minerals that are required in amounts less than 1 mg/day. These are extremely minute amounts, far more tiny than a smidgen. For example, 1 gram (1000 mg/milligrams) = 1/4t. One milligram is 1/1000 of a gram or of 1/1000 of a quarter teaspoon!
Whether or not we need to supplement minerals depends not just on what we eat but on the quantity and balance of minerals that are in the soil and water, nurturing the plants we eat. (And, likewise, what the animals we eat, eat.)
Ready To Be Surprised?
1 There is a lot of discussion about naming the category of dietary minerals. Since minerals are actually elements, dietary elements is preferred. However, we use the idiomatic “nutrient minerals” or just “minerals”.
FYI: The macrominerals are calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulfur, and chlorine.
2 In Mighty Minis Part 2, we complete our topic, featuring iron, selenium, and zinc, plus covering boron, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, tin, and vanadium. (And, perhaps a few from the “maybe” pile.)
3 Inorganic substances are the basis of the physical/material universe and are called elements. This is because they are made up of only one type of atom.
For example, oxygen is two oxygen atoms. There are 92 known elements of which the nutrient minerals are one category.
Uranium, helium, and gold are among the 60-some remaining elements. The Periodic Table of the Elements shows the scientific abbreviations for the names of the elements (called symbols) and groups them in their ascending atomic weights. If you are interested go to
http://periodictable.com/, an engaging Table with photos of the elements.
Mighty Minis – Chromium
CHROMIUM (Cr)4: Chromium is the major molecule in a compound named glucose tolerance factor (GTF). GTF is involved in the regulation of insulin and glucose (blood sugar) levels.
Surprisingly, only 10 in 100 Americans get enough chromium. Why?
1) the mineral is scarce in our soil and water and
2) what little we do get disappears in the digestion of the huge amount of junk food we consume. Sugary and starchy foods become glucose during digestion.
This triggers the release of insulin, which carries the sugar into the cells where it is stored for fuel. The less chromium available, the more insulin is needed. High blood insulin levels are dangerous.5
Glucose intolerance is the main symptom of diabetes. Savvy people with diabetes supplement with chromium to support glucose metabolism, improve glucose tolerance, normalize insulin levels, and encourage the use of fat rather than carbohydrate as an energy source. In diabetic and overweight individuals, Cr supplements have been shown to reduce triglyceride (blood fat) levels by almost 20%. In addition, chromium lowers serum cholesterol and raises HDL (“good” cholesterol).
Because it is crucial to both blood sugar and cholesterol metabolism, chromium is used in weight loss programs. Supplements of 400 mcg have helped overweight women lose about 50% more fat in three months than the placebo group.
(Cr also helps those with hypoglycemia.) Although popular interest has developed in using Cr supplements to improve lean body mass, multiple studies have failed to show any clinically important changes.6
Since only 1:10 of us are getting adequate chromium, supplementing is a good idea. RDA: Adults, 50-200 mcg, although up to 600 mcg are frequently used for weight loss and blood sugar control. Vitamin C enhances the uptake of Cr. There are no reports of adverse effects.7
Sources: Brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast, and calves’ liver are the best sources. Oysters, whole grains, wheat bran, and potatoes with the skins are also helpful.
Mighty Minis – Chromium
4 All the elements have symbols. Cr is chromium. Others are: copper = cuprum=Cu; iron=ferrum=Fe. Plus, the symbols have different etymologies. Of interest? Check this site,
5 High blood insulin causes increased fat storage, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and overweight. All these symptoms lead to diabetes and heart disease. (From Nutrition News “Supplement Your Heart”.)
6 One typical study was undertaken by the US Navy at their Naval Health Research Center in San Diego, CA.
This 16 week study involved 95 personnel, each of whom took 400 mcg of Cr picolinate daily and performed 30+ minutes of aerobic exercise 3 times per week. No results could be attributed to the chromium supplementation.
7 Dietary chromium (trivalent Cr) differs from the toxic hexavalent chromium (CrO3), which is used to “chrome” items, like trailer hitches.
Mighty Minis – Copper
COPPER (Cu): Important to enzyme structure, copper is involved in processes from energy production (influencing thyroid and adrenal functions) to pigment formation.
It is used in building collagen, the matrix material for bones, joints, and connective tissue. Needed for forming red blood cells and for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, Cu also has a role in reproduction, including prostate health and pregnancy.
Copper interacts particularly with two other minerals: iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn). Cu interacts with iron in the synthesis of red blood cells. Because of this, a copper deficiency can look like iron deficiency anemia. Treating copper anemia with iron makes the condition worse, get a blood test to be sure.
Copper and zinc are antagonists. To function optimally, a balance of 1 part copper to 8 parts zinc is required. When copper has the upper hand, the main symptom is fatigue. Although many people suffer copper-based fatigue, it is seldom diagnosed. In her book Why Am I Always So Tired?, popular nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, presents case studies and a recovery program for copper overload.8
A final caution about copper. An article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science links copper accumulation in the brain with the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
The effect is interference with the removal of amyloid beta from the brain. Amyloid beta forms the plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s. Rashid Deane, PhD, lead author of the study, noted that in future, we may regulate our copper intake with diet.
RDA for copper is 340 mcg daily for young children, rising to 900 mcg for adults.
Sources: Whole grains, beans, including soy, nuts and seeds (with the exception of pepitas, rich in zinc), plus black tea and chocolate. If you don’t eat a lot of meat (zinc source) and you are suffering from fatigue, your copper to zinc ratios may be off. Check into Gittleman’s book. Copper free multis are available.
Mighty Minis – Copper
8 Siri Says: For two weeks while trying to get this issue written, I was plagued by tiredness that did not come from lack of sleep. When I read ALG’s book, I identified my symptoms in her quiz. Adding 25 mg of chelated zinc has helped greatly. Life long learning!
Mighty Minis – Iodnine
IODINE (I): The primary use of iodine is in the production of thyroid hormones. The hormones control metabolic rate and body temperature. Plus, iodine is crucial for brain development in children, making its deficiency the number one cause of preventable mental retardation worldwide.9
Abundant in seawater but rare in soil, goiter and mental retardation are the major iodine deficiency diseases.10 In 1924, iodine was added to table salt to remediate iodine deficiency in the US. This made salt the number one source of iodine.
However, according to the Salt Institute, iodine intake in the US is down nearly 40%; plus, an estimated 74% of “healthy” adults may no longer be getting adequate iodine, bringing us to the brink of an iodine deficiency epidemic. Writing for Life Extension, Nancy Piccone calls this “The Silent Epidemic”.
The major reasons for the decrease in iodized salt intake are:
1) Less iodine in table salt. A study analyzing 88 salt samples showed only half contained sufficient iodine.
2) There is no iodized salt in restaurant and processed foods.
3) People are limiting their salt intake for health reasons.
4) Perchlorate contamination inhibits the thyroid’s ability to utilize iodine.11
There are two adverse thyroid conditions; overactive and underactive. Overactive thyroid production causes hyperthyroidism. Conversely, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune condition in which swelling (inflammation) of the thyroid gland can result in reduced thyroid function (hypothyroidism). Oddly, iodine may induce or exacerbate thyroiditis.
RDA: 150-290 mcg for adults and 70-150 mcg for children were established only to prevent goiter. In comparison, the average daily Japanese consumption of iodine ranges from 5,280 to 13,800 mcg with no harmful effects and a host of benefits. Iodine can be supplemented.
Sources: Sea salt and sea foods, such as kelp, contain iodine naturally as do foods grown in soils with sufficient iodine and milk when cows are fed iodine enriched feed.
Mighty Minis – Iodnine
9 Kiwanis International has taken on eliminating iodine deficiency disorders in the developing world. Heralded as one of the most successful health initiatives ever launched, UNICEF has reported that the number of households estimated to be consuming iodized salt has jumped dramatically from 20 percent in 1990 to more than 70 percent today.
10 Goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland which causes affected individuals to appear as though a golf ball has been embedded in their necks.
11 Originally developed for explosives and rocket fuel, perchlorate now pervades ground water and food supplies throughout the US.
Mighty Minis – Manganese
Manganese (Mn): A key component in energy metabolism, manganese is found in the mitochondria (powerhouses of the cells). It is also important to many enzyme systems, one of which is the potent antioxidant, superoxide dismutase (SOD). SOD participates in the body’s anti-inflammatory reactions.
In addition, manganese is involved in the synthesis of bone, connective tissue, and cartilage. (One-quarter of the body’s Mn is found in the bones.) Mn helps the body utilize a number of vitamins, e.g., thiamine (vitamin B1), vitamin C, and choline, and helps with protein digestion and utilization.
Therapeutically, Mn is used to balance zinc and copper. It may help to prevent osteoarthritis, to balance blood sugar levels in diabetes, and to improve neurological disorders. Life Extension’s abstract on manganese lists 18 benefits of the mineral. Among these are
1) synthesizes cholesterol and fatty acids in the liver;
2) prevents the development of cancer in humans;
3) protects insulin secreting glands in the pancreas;
4) benefits sperm motility;
5) with chondroitin, hinders cartilage deterioration in osteoarthritis.
Toxicity: Not well absorbed except when administered intravenously, toxicity concerns the metal, not dietary Mn.
Dose: Because of the limited data available to determine the population needs, the tolerable upper limit for Mn is 2 mg daily in toddlers, and up to 11 mg daily for adults.
Sources: Meat, fish, poultry, dried fruit, and nuts are good sources of manganese, but absorption is very variable. Tea contains large amounts of manganese, but its bioavailability appears to be very low.
Mighty Minis – Flouride
FLUORIDE (F): We mention fluoride last because it is designated beneficial, not essential. Unlike the other minerals, our lives don’t depend on it. Fluoride protects the teeth by bonding with dental calcium.14
In fact, fluoridation of public water supplies has been endorsed by over 90 professional health organizations as the most effective dental public health measure in existence. Despite this, fluoridization of the water supply remains controversial.
A paper from the Program in Dental Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, recommends that infants and young children not be given fluoride.
Xylitol is a much safer and more effective choice. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 2,630 children compared a standard fluoride toothpaste with one that also contained 10% xylitol.
Over a three-year period, children given the xylitol-enriched toothpaste developed notably fewer cavities than those using the fluoride-only toothpaste.
America is the only industrialized country still fluoridating water. In spite of this, about half of the US population still fails to receive the maximum benefits possible from community water fluoridation and the use of fluoride products.
Supplements aren’t necessary. Adequate Intake: Men, 4 mg; women, 3 mg; children, 2 mg.
Sources: Seafood, tea, and foods cooked in fluoridated water.
Mighty Minis – Flouride
14 Although F also bonds with bone, the denser bone does not reduce fracture risk.
Mighty Minis &
Just take a look at minerals in their raw state. How in the world does our body use them?
Because minerals are inorganic, the body attempts to convert them into a biological (organic) compound through a process called chelation (key-lay-shen).
This is a specific molecular reaction called bonding that takes place between a molecule and a mineral, forming a new compound. When we eat, chelation happens during digestion to facilitate transportation of minerals across the intestinal wall. The end form is called a chelate (key’ late).
Most of us simply can’t consume the recommended daily allowance of minerals from food so we depend on supplements. Mineral supplements that are not chelated may not be absorbed. Fortunately, researchers have developed special organic forms known as mineral amino acid chelates. These allow our bodies to absorb the minerals.
The molecular compound making a mineral into a chelate is called a ligand. The choice of ligand used by a manufacturer is very important. Minerals can bond with many ligands. Some are so large that they are bigger than a cell and must be broken down to be used, a back-to-square-one scenario.
Recently, I listened to an arresting HealthQuest podcast called “The Truth About Minerals”.12 The featured guest was Max Motyka, RPh, of Albion Advanced Nutrition.13
Max used the amino acid glycine in talking about ligands. He noted that glycine produces a chelate that can be absorbed at a highly efficient rate. Going on to explained that Albion uses a “flash dry” process that results in a product with a guaranteed mineral content range.
Albion is so confident that its chelation process is 100% effective that they affix the Albion Gold Medallion seal on packages containing their product. Albion’s human mineral products are called glycinates.
Other forms of chelation are citrates, orotates, succinates, picolinates, and aspartates. To my knowledge, these forms have been serving the public well for many years. In particular, citrate is widely recommended as a carrier for calcium and magnesium (macrominerals).
Mighty Minis &
12 Steve Lankford is the host of HealthQuest a weekly podcast about the science of good health and nutrition.
13 Pharmacist Max Motyka has more than 25 years of experience in the field of nutrition. He has spent the last 15 years as the Director of Albion Advanced Nutrition’s Human Products Division. Albion is the world leader in chelated minerals and holds over 100 chelation patents.