All About Minerals
Minerals are micronutrients found in food that are necessary to ensure the development of many physiological reactions that take place in the body on a daily basis. Normally they appear in low quantities and both a deficit and an excess can cause negative consequences.
There are many different types of minerals, but we’re going to tell you which are the most important and their functions within the body. We’ll also tell you what kind of products contain them, to help you to ensure your daily intake.
The most abundant minerals
Even though you may think that mineral requirements are relatively high, if we compare them with the needs of other nutrients, the figures are actually quite low. We’re talking about milligrams and, on many occasions, even lower doses.
Calcium is a substance that plays an essential role in the transmission of the nerve impulse. It’s an important element in ensuring muscle contraction and, at the same time, it’s responsible for being part of our bones. An inefficient supply of it can create a greater risk of developing osteoporosis in the medium or long term, especially in women.
To prevent this situation, it’s essential to consume dairy products regularly, as well as nuts. Both foods have significant amounts of this element in their composition. On the other hand, it’s important to ensure the intake of vitamin D, as it has been shown to be capable of increasing the absorption of calcium, thus improving its bioavailability.
Iron is a key element to ensure the transport of oxygen through the blood. A deficiency of it can trigger anemia in the medium term, which causes chronic tiredness and fatigue. Although iron can be found in many meats or vegetables, it has a very low absorption rate, which is why intravenous administration is sometimes chosen to correct severe deficits.
It must be taken into account that iron of animal origin is used much more than vegetable iron. To maximize its absorption, it’s necessary to combine it with vitamin C, according to a study published in Food & Function.
However, even in these circumstances, the rate of usage is no more than 20%. For this reason, it’s necessary to ensure its daily consumption, since reversing anemia situations is sometimes complicated.
Zinc is a mineral whose requirements are scarce. It can be found in meats (the viscera is a major source) and nuts. It has a decisive influence on the functioning of the immune system, as well as being a fundamental cofactor to guarantee the synthesis of testosterone in men. It’s responsible for activating physiological pathways at a testicular level that ensure the formation of the hormone.
A zinc deficiency can be associated with a situation of tiredness and fatigue, as well as with a greater risk of developing infectious-type pathologies. Sometimes it may be advisable to include a supplement in order to prevent a deficit.
Sodium is involved in the transmission of the nerve impulse; without it life would be impossible. In addition, it controls various homeostatic processes related, for example, to blood pressure.
An excessive intake of the mineral can cause hypertension in susceptible people, which can translate into increased cardiovascular risk. This is evidenced by a study published in Nutrients.
It’s found in most foods, but those that have undergone some type of industrial processing are more likely to contain too much of the mineral. It’s also the major component of table salt.
Potassium is a mineral that also influences the transmission of nerve impulses. It also balances the homeostatic function of sodium related to blood pressure. A regular intake of this element is capable of lowering hypertension levels, thus resulting in a mineral that can be protective for cardiovascular health.
It’s found in many foods from the plant kingdom, bananas being one of the most representative in this regard. Its regular intake is recommended and a deficit can trigger a greater risk of suffering from muscle cramps during sports.
Magnesium is important when it comes to preventing muscle cramps, but also to improve sleep quality. It’s commonly combined with melatonin to help promote healthier sleep, as research published in the journal Nutrients shows.
It’s also possible to provide it together with metabolites such as 5-HTP, to improve sleep quality and reduce the risk of developing depressive processes. It’s found in several items from the plant kingdom, but above all, in nuts. Its daily consumption is considered beneficial.
Other less abundant minerals
In addition to those mentioned, it’s possible to find other important minerals in food, although in a much smaller proportion. An example would be selenium, another element that has been shown to be of key importance in the functioning of the immune system.
It’s also possible to find chromium, a mineral that is supplemented in the sports context to seek an increase in performance. Even in people with diabetes it could be advisable to increase the intake of the substance.
Is it possible to overdose on minerals?
Mineral overdose is possible, although this is a rare scenario. It’s difficult to reach such a situation through diet alone; it’s necessary to include a supplement in large quantities to generate an overdose.
In any case, these situations usually cause gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea or even nausea and vomiting. The effects aren’t really excessively dangerous to health. There’s even research on certain minerals to see if it would be beneficial to provide a greater amount than recommended. In some sporting situations, this could bring a competitive advantage.
The main problem with minerals is when their excessive intake is combined with a vitamin that enhances their absorption. The most typical case is that of iron with vitamin C, which would generate an increase in the presence of the mineral in the blood, and this situation isn’t at all recommended.
Mineral deficits lead to illnesses
A more worrisome condition than the excess of minerals is the deficit thereof. This situation isn’t only capable of causing severe problems, but it can also increase the propensity to develop pathologies of a complex nature.
Minerals related to immune function are vital in order to avoid the appearance of hypersensitivity problems, for example. They’re also important when it comes to modulating inflammation, which causes a reduction in the incidence of complex pathologies.
To avoid such a situation, it’s advisable to plan a balanced and varied diet, with an abundance of vegetables. It isn’t advisable to eliminate or restrict food groups, as this could limit the intake of certain minerals. In such cases, it would be necessary to resort to supplementation to avoid deficits that worsen the state of health.
Keep in mind that in the case of suspecting a low mineral intake, it may be an effective solution to include offal in the diet. These foods are very dense from a nutritional point of view and can help reverse this condition. Similarly, it’s advisable to visit a specialist to obtain an accurate diagnosis.
When choosing a mineral supplement, certain considerations must be taken into account. The first one is to require evidence of the quality of the product through international certification. In this way, we make sure that it contains what it really specifies and in the appropriate doses.
Furthermore, we avoid contamination with doping or prohibited substances, something rare but possible and harmful.
On the other hand, it’s worth noting the need to supplement with individual minerals according to requirements, instead of resorting to a micronutrient complex that contains high amounts of several of them. In these cases, the deficiency of a mineral could be corrected, but an overdose of a certain vitamin is produced. This is not a good situation to be in.
It should also be noted that these types of supplements shouldn’t be consumed without the approval of a professional, be it a doctor or a nutritionist. They’ll be able to advise us on which is the most suitable and its reasons.
Minerals, essential and necessary micronutrients
Minerals are essential micronutrients that have to be introduced on a daily basis through food, otherwise one could fall into a deficit that could affect health.
These elements are involved in many physiological processes in the body, which ensures the homeostasis of the human body and its proper functioning, and so it’s necessary to guarantee a constant supply. Each one has a specific purpose and participates in more than one physiological route, because a contribution from all of them means our bodies will function much more efficiently.
Fortunately, minerals can be found in many different foods. All contain some, to a greater or lesser extent. In any case, fresh foods have higher doses than industrial ultra-processed ones, which usually have excessive levels of sodium in their composition. That’s why the intake of the latter should always be limited.
Finally, don’t forget that there are minerals that interact with vitamins when they’re administered together. This can enhance its absorption, being separately not very easily metabolized.
You also need to be clear that deficits in these elements will produce a series of sequelae in the short and medium term, which must be identified by a specialist. When it comes to supplementing with minerals, turn to a nutrition professional to obtain the most recommended products.It might interest you...
- Zhao JG., Zeng XT., Wang J., Liu L., Association between calcium or vitamin D supplementation and fracture incidence in community dwelling older adults: a systematic review and meta analysis. JAMA, 2017. 318 (24): 2466-2482.
- He H., Qiao Y., Zhang Z., Wu Z., et al., Dual action of vitamin C in iron supplement therapeutics for iron deficiency anemia: prevention of liver damage induced by iron overload. Food Funct, 2018. 9 (10): 5390-5401.
- Grillo A., Salvi L., Coruzzi P., Salvi P., Parati G., Sodium intake and hypertension. Nutrients, 2019.
- Cao Y., Zhen S., Taylor AW., Appleton S., et al., Magnesium intake and sleep disorder symptoms: findings from the jiangsu nutrition study of chinese adutls at five year follow up. Nutrients, 2018.