Minerals

CALCIUM

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. Ninety-eight percent is found in the bones, 1% in teeth, and 1% in other tissues. When the body is at rest, calcium is pulled out of the bones to be used elsewhere, establishing the importance of daily adequate intake of the mineral and of exercise. Calcium helps regulate nerve transmissions and along with magnesium, is important for cardiovascular health. If muscles do not have enough calcium, they cannot contract or if contracted, do not relax, which results in cramps. The mineral is good for relaxation and improves the quality of sleep. During the hormonal shifts of menopause, the dominance of the parathyroid hormone causes calcium to be removed from bone resulting in osteoporosis.

Requirements for calcium may vary depending on how much each individual absorbs and retains. Pregnant women need to ingest at least 1200 mg a day, especially in the last two months because over half of the calcium in an infants body is deposited at that time. Moderate amounts of protein, lactose, and butterfat enhance absorption of calcium, therefore, low-fat rather than nonfat milk products should be part of the diet, especially for children.

Excess protein in the diet causes a urinary loss of calcium. High intakes of calcium interfere with the absorption of other minerals including iron, zinc, and manganese, disrupt the functioning of the nervous and muscular systems, and may prevent blood coagulation.

CHROMIUM

A trace element, chromium is essential in producing a substance called glucose tolerance factor (GTF) which is important in the utilization of insulin, a hormone that stabilizes blood sugar lev els. The mineral is also involved in the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol. Eating refined sugar can cause depletion of body chromium as sugar lacks sufficient amounts of the mineral for its own digestion. The chromium content of refined sugar is 0.02 parts per million (ppm) whereas the by-product, molasses, has 0.2 ppm; sugar cane juice has approximately 0.1 ppm.

COPPER

Copper assists in the formation of hemoglobin and red blood cells by facilitating the absorption of iron and may protect against atherosclerosis. Iron metabolism depends on copper. Zinc and copper have similar elemental properties and have a balancing effect on each other. Both are related to the functioning of the nervous system and compete in the intestinal tract for absorption. Excess zinc supplementation affects the absorption of copper. Too much vitamin C can impair its metabolism. Copper is a component of superoxide dismutase (SOD), an antioxidant enzyme; and it is necessary for the production of ATP, adenosine triphosphate, the body's energy source. Synthesis of collagen, certain hormones, and enzymes depend on copper.

High levels of copper may aggravate PMS and it can be increased by the use of birth control pills. Excess copper can cause mental and emotional problems and may be prominent in schizophrenia. Anemia not helped by iron may be an indication of elevated copper levels. Serum copper, elevated by estrogens, rises progressively during pregnancy and takes several months to return to normal after delivery, during which time the mineral could be a factor in the depression and psychosis women often experience right after giving birth. Excess copper may be getting into the diet from contaminated food and water and copper pipes through which drinking water flows.

IODINE

Iodine aids in the development and functioning of the thyroid gland and is an integral part of thy-roxine, a principal hormone produced by the thyroid gland. Thyroid hormones are important for normal cellular metabolism. Sea plants and animals absorb iodine from seawater and are good sources of the mineral.

IRON

At the center of a hemoglobin molecule is iron and when combined with oxygen, it gives arterial blood its bright red color. Hemoglobin transports oxygen in the blood from the lungs to the tissues which need oxygen to maintain basic life functions. Iron is also necessary for the formation of myoglobin, found only in muscle tissue, which supplies oxygen to the muscle cells.

Significant amounts of iron can be lost during menstruation and needs are higher for pregnant women. Protein and vitamin C aid in the absorption of iron by chelating or attaching onto the iron ion and carrying it across the intestinal walls. Excess iron can accumulate in the body to toxic levels. Take iron supplements only on the advice of a physician.

MAGNESIUM

Along with calcium, magnesium is found in bones and is important in the conduction of electrical impulses of the muscles and nerves. Magnesium, like calcium, is a relaxant yet either one in excess causes a malfunction of the nervous system. Keeping both minerals in balance is important. Most magnesium is found in the cell where it activates the enzymes necessary for the metabolism of carbohydrates and amino acids. It is involved in insulin secretion and function. Magnesium has been shown to reduce hyperactivity in children who had low magnesium levels. It may improve vision in glaucoma patients, lower blood pressure, and may be a factor in chronic fatigue syndrome. The mineral is refined out of many foods and amounts are lost during cooking of foods.

MANGANESE

Manganese plays a role in activating numerous enzymes and in skeletal development involving connective tissue which provides the framework for bone and its growth. Along with zinc, the mineral lowers serum copper levels and balances histamine levels, a substance that is released during allergic reaction. Manganese stimulates activity of the antioxidant enzyme SOD, or superoxide dismutase, and helps maintain glucose levels.

POTASSIUM AND SODIUM

Potassium and sodium exist in important ratios, potassium concentrated inside the cell and sodium remaining outside. They regulate water balance in the body and their equilibrium enables them to stimulate nerve impulses for the heart and other muscle contractions. Depletion of either element would depress cell response. The typical American diet of processed and convenience foods do not contain sufficient amounts of potassium creating an imbalance between the two minerals. Diuretics can cause an excessive urinary loss of potassium. An excess of sodium is related to high blood pressure and fluid retention which taxes the heart and kidneys.

SELENIUM

Selenium is a natural antioxidant and appears to preserve the elasticity of tissues by delaying oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids. It supports the immune system, protects against cancer, is a factor in fertility, and is necessary for the production of prostaglandin, a substance that affects blood pressure.

Selenium content of foods depends on the extent of its presence in soil whether directly as plant food or indirectly as animal products when selenium levels are derived from feed. Sulfur content in commercial fertilizers inhibits plant absorption of the mineral. Refining, processing, and cooking of foods reduce selenium levels. High doses are toxic and no more than 300 mcg a day are recommended.

ZINC

Zinc is a constituent of at least 25 enzymes involved in digestion and metabolism. It is a component of insulin and essential in the synthesis of nucleic acids which control the formation of different proteins in the cell. Zinc is important for the proper development of the reproductive organs and normal functioning of the prostate gland. The mineral speeds the healing of wounds and bone fractures, keeps the skin healthy, and is involved in the formation of keratin, a substance in hair and nails. It supports the immune system and protects against free radicals.

Zinc content of foods depends on soil content. Chemical fertilizers impair its absorption into plants. The milling process removes substantial amounts of the mineral. Although moderate doses enhance immunity, excessive amounts depress it. It is recommended that no more than 100 mg be taken daily.

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