Just like fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins, our bodies need small amounts of seven macrominerals and a gaggle of trace minerals to sustain life and forestall disease. These minerals may show up in our bodies as salts – i.e., molecules in which a negatively charged ion is bonded to a positive one (e.g., sodium chloride, calcium phosphate, zinc sulfate). Or, they may be held claw-like (chelated) by a larger molecule. For example, hemoglobin chelates iron atoms. Our guts extract minerals from what we eat and render them into a form we can use.
Here’s a bit of information about the seven macrominerals:
Calcium supports strong bones and teeth, the heart and nervous system, and muscle growth and contraction. Our blood and tissues need a steady supply of calcium. If they run short, they’ll tap into our bones to replenish. As such, a diet chronically low in calcium may contribute to faltering bone integrity (a.k.a., osteopenia and osteoporosis). Excess iron, zinc, phosphorous, and magnesium can inhibit calcium absorption.
Chloride helps regulate the blood’s acid-alkaline balance as well as the passage of fluids across cell membranes. It plays a substantive role in digestion. (You can’t get hydrochloric acid for the stomach without chloride!) It’s also vital for proper brain growth and functioning.
Magnesium supports enzyme activity, calcium and potassium uptake, nerve transmission, bone formation (including the hard enamel in teeth), and metabolism of carbohydrates. It also joins chloride in ensuring proper blood serum acid-alkaline balance. High carbohydrate diets and excess quantities of zinc and vitamin D increase magnesium requirements.
Phosphorous sustains bone growth, kidney function, cellular growth, and the body’s acid-alkaline balance, among other things. To be used properly, it needs to be absorbed with the right amounts of serum magnesium and calcium. Excess phosphorous leads to calcium loss, a condition that may arise due to high soft drink consumption. Too little calcium may impede calcium absorption by the bones.
Potassium and sodium work hand-in-hand at the cellular level. Sodium pumps water into the cell; potassium pumps waste products out. Potassium participates in many chemical reactions within the cell. Sodium supports a whole range of biochemical processes outside the cell, including water regulation, muscle contraction/expansion, nerve stimulation, and, yes, acid-alkaline balance in the blood. As a rule, Americans consume an excess of sodium by virtue of high-salt processed foods and canned goods as well as salt we add at the table. While the liver can rid the body of some excess, elevated levels can give rise to hypertension. Word to the wise: Eat fresh, whole foods, use other spices for taste, and read labels. You’d be surprised how much salt has been added to prepackaged foods!
Sulphur aids in many biochemical processes and finds its way into the structure of several amino acids. It helps protect the body from infection, blocks harmful effects of pollution, and slows down the aging process. (You’ve got to like that!) Sulphur-containing amino acids build cell walls. Sulphur also shows up in the gel-like connective tissue in cartilage and skin.
A partial list of required trace minerals includes Boron, Chromium, Cobalt, Copper, Germanium, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Selenium, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Not all minerals are beneficial; some are toxic in quantity. Fortunately, minerals like calcium and magnesium along with antioxidants (e.g., Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium) protect against toxins and help the body eliminate them.
A number of factors inhibit the absorption of minerals even when an adequate supply has been ingested. The glandular messenger system that helps direct our gut’s mineral processing function needs ready access to fat-soluble vitamins. The gut’s mucosal walls leverage fat-soluble vitamins and cholesterol to maintain structural integrity, thereby letting beneficial substances pass though and keeping toxins out. Overconsumption of one mineral may crowd out absorption of another given “competition” for receptor sites. Strong chelating substances may develop such tight binds with their mineral substrates that they prevent them from being absorbed.
Here’s the good news: We’ve evolved over thousands of years to extract what we require when we eat a balanced, healthy diet. We just need to feast upon nutrient-dense foods and beverages, including mineral-rich bones broths. (It’s really easy to make bone broth from chicken or turkey carcasses. You can often buy beef or pork bones at your local store or famer’s market.) And, of course, you can always add minerals to your diet naturally by letting a little dirt or clay filter into your meals! Be sure to tell your doctor if you are taking mineral supplements regularly.