Maybe you take a multivitamin pill everyday – in which case, good for you! But does your pill also contain good levels of minerals? Why does our body need minerals? Are they important? How can you tell if you have mineral deficiencies?
Like vitamins, minerals are essential for our health. We are unable to make any minerals in our body so we have no choice but to get them from our diet and/or supplements. Some minerals – like magnesium and calcium – are needed in relatively large quantities, whereas others like selenium, we need in only very small amounts (these are known as trace minerals).
Which minerals do we need?
The minerals our body needs include:
There are also a few that we are unsure whether we actually need or not – so the following might be essential, but we don’t know yet: boron, nickel, lithium, vanadium, strontium.
What do minerals do?
Minerals are critical because they fulfill a wide variety of functions in the body, such as:
- helping muscles to contract and relax
- producing stomach acid
- regulating blood pressure
- transporting oxygen to cells
- making hormones
- maintaining healthy bones and teeth
- and many, many more.
Sadly, many of us are deficient/low in minerals. There might be different reasons for this. Deficiencies could be due to inadequate diet and intake, poor mineral levels in our food supplies, maldigestion, or malabsorption. Also, when we are under stress or are ill, we might need more than the usual amount of minerals.
Certain populations tend to have relatively high incidence of deficiencies. This includes pregnant women, children, adolescents, the elderly, and those who are immunocompromised. However, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for magnesium, calcium, and potassium is not met by diet for most population groups in the US.
It might surprise you to know that mineral deficiencies are associated with the top causes of death. In the text Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine, the authors report that magnesium deficiency alone is associated with 7 of the top 9 causes of death. This includes heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular diseases, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and essential hypertension. Selenium insufficiency is associated with all 9 top causes of death. This illustrates the importance of maintaining sufficient levels in the body.
It isn’t good to be deficient in minerals – but it isn’t good to have too much either, because levels of minerals that are too high have the potential for toxicity. This means that you shouldn’t just take high levels of minerals if you think you are deficient. The best approach is to measure your levels, supplement as needed, and then monitor those levels and the symptoms associated with deficiency and toxicity.
To further complicate matters, not only is the actual level of a mineral important, in some cases the ratio of one mineral to another is important, such as the ratio between zinc and copper, and between sodium and potassium. Again, this highlights the importance of knowing your levels.
How to test your levels of minerals
There are several ways to test your levels, depending on the mineral you are looking at. Tests often use blood (red blood cells, not plasma), hair, or urine.
If you suspect you might be deficient in one or more minerals, you can ask your doctor to test your levels or you can work with a nutritionist or other healthcare practitioner. Laboratories like Spectracell offer a micronutrient test that looks at both vitamin and mineral levels. (You will need to work with a nutritionist to get this test; you can’t order it for yourself.) An organic acids test will also provide information on some mineral levels. Life Extension offers individual mineral tests or panels of tests that you can order yourself.
As we have seen, minerals are essential for our health. But they have a “goldilocks effect ” – we don’t want too much, we don’t want too little, we want levels to be just right.
Over the next few blog posts, we’ll take a look at a few individual minerals. I’ll examine:
- what they do
- symptoms of deficiency
- food sources of the mineral
- the best form to use to supplement
- what nutrients work well together
- special populations
In the meantime, take a look at your multivitamin bottle and see which minerals, if any, it contains and at what dose levels.