All life on Earth (including us) is fueled by chemical reactions between different elements. The chemical elements vital for our survival are more commonly known as trace minerals, which form part of a broader category of essential nutrients.
Without trace minerals and other essential nutrients, our cells would not be able to grow, function or produce any of the enzymes or hormones we need to sustain everyday living. Even creation itself would likely not have been possible!
The planet is a rich source of all these nutrients, being loaded with carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, metals and other life essential mineral ores. Our bodies do not make these minerals, so we have to extract them from our environment.
|Approximate Daily Value (Men)||Approximate Daily Value (Women)||Importance||Most Important Functions||Availability in Modern Diet||Best Dietary Sources|
|Potassium||>4700mg||>4700mg||high||Electrolyte, Heart Beat, Nerve Signaling||low||bananas, leafy greens, potatoes|
|Sodium||1500-2300mg||1500-2300mg||high||Electrolyte, Nerve Signaling, Cell Function||high||table salt, pink salt, seafood|
|Calcium||1000-2500mg||1000-2500mg||high||Cell Function, bone health, enzymes and hormones||high||dairy, fish, leafy greens|
|Magnesium||>420||>320***||high||Cell Function, DNA synthesis, Biochemical reactions||low||dark chocolate, leafy greens|
|Phosphorus||700-4000mg||700-4000mg||high||Energy, fat metabolism, DNA synthesis||high||eggs, red meat, dairy|
|Iron||8-45mg||18-45mg||medium||blood cell function, protein and enzyme synthesis||high||meat, legumes, spinach|
|Zinc||11-40mg||8-40mg||high||Detox, Immune Function, growth, development, healing, DNA synthesis||medium||oysters, red meat, legumes, dairy|
|Manganese||2.3-11mg||1.8-11mg||medium||Enzyme and hormone production, energy, antioxidant||low||nuts, ginger, tea|
|Copper||0.9-10mg||0.9-10mg||medium||Biochemical reactions, blood cell function, nutrient transport||medium||organ meats, leafy greens, shellfish|
|Iodine||150-1100mcg||150-1100mcg||high||thyroid hormone synthesis||medium||iodated table salt, seafood, whey, eggs|
|Chromium||35mcg(ULU)**||25mcg(ULU)**||low||metabolism, blood sugar control||low||spices, mushrooms, asparagus|
|Molybdenum||45-2000mcg||45-2000mcg||medium||enzyme production, detoxification, metabolism||low||legumes, garlic, leafy greens|
|Selenium||55-400mcg||55-400mcg||medium||Reproduction, DNA synthesis, immune function||medium||mushrooms, seafood, brazil nuts|
|Cobalt||5-8mcg**||5-8mcg**||medium||red blood and nerve cell function, enzyme activation||high||meat, dairy, eggs, algae|
|Bromine||1500mg(ULU)**||1500mg(ULU)**||low||fortifying cell walls||high||fish, nuts, drinking water|
|Nickel||0.2-1mg**||0.2-1mg**||low||fat metabolism, hormonal activity, urea synthesis||high||all wholefoods|
|Boron||0.8-20mg**||0.8-20mg**||low||hormone activation, nutrient absorption, bone regeneration||low||legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables|
|Silicon||40mg(ULU)**||19mg(ULU)**||low||collagen link formation, toned muscles, bone health||high||beetroot, legumes, high-fiber foods|
|Vanadium||6-1800mcg**||6-1800mcg**||low||hormone fucntion, cholesterol production, sugar metabolism||low||olives, parsley, nuts|
|Lithium||1mg(ULU)**||1mg(ULU)**||low||Biochemical reactions, B Vitamin Uptake, Brain Health||medium||drinking water, vegetables, meat|
|Aluminum||0.1-71mg(ULU)**||0.1-71mg(ULU)**||unknown||unknown||high||processed foods, antiperspirants, pharmaceuticals|
|Arsenic||0.5-0.81mcg(ULU)**||0.5-0.81mcg(ULU)**||unknown||unknown||medium||fish, meat, grains|
|Strontium||0.5-5mg(ULU)**||0.5-5mg(ULU)**||low||unknown||low||air, water, food|
|Germanium||0.4-3.4mg(ULU)**||0.4-3.4mg(ULU)**||unknown||Possibly enhances bile secretion and immune function||low||garlic, green tea, herbs|
|Lead||0.07-4.41mg**(UL=0.25mg)||0.07-4.41mg**(UL=0.25mg)||unknown||unknown||high||water, tinned foods, lead-containing petrol|
|Rubidium||1-5mg(ULU)**||1-5mg(ULU)**||unknown||unknown||medium||coffee, tea, raw fruits and vegetables, asparagus|
All the above values approximate a safe range of daily nutrients to meet health requirements in 97.5% individuals53.
Some minerals have no known upper limits and can be eaten in larger amounts, like potassium.
***The tolerable upper limit for magnesium supplements is 350mg but it can be eaten in much larger doses from food sources.
**Estimated Average Daily Intakes (Not necessarily the average health requirement)
UL = Upper Limit
ULU = Upper Limit Unknown
However, most minerals come in an inert or inorganic form, which our bodies cannot absorb – such as metal ores.
What is the difference between organic and inorganic trace minerals?
Technically, all trace minerals are inorganic by definition. The term "organic trace minerals" or fulvic minerals is used to describe plant-based trace minerals that have been converted into readily absorbable forms by plants or bound together by natural substances such as fulvic acid. Trace minerals in this form are far more compatible with our chemistry as organic life-forms and are thus referred to as organic minerals. Inorganic trace minerals may contribute to digestive problems and tend to be less bioavailable to us than organic trace minerals.
In spite of these facts, no pure trace minerals supplements can ever be labeled as 'certified organic' (unless they contain organic plant additives), as they are not deemed to be organic.
We typically get these trace minerals in the form of food, after plants or other organisms have broken them down, converting them into an organic form.
If this were not the case, survival could be as simple as sucking on some rocks!
The story is more complicated than that however.
Where have all the trace minerals gone?
Many people worldwide are highly deficient in trace minerals due to poor quality of soils, overexposure to pollution, and an unhealthy lifestyle riddled with stress and many other considerations that detract from our body’s nutritional resources.
These are all factors that prevent us from accessing or absorbing the trace minerals we need.
If you feel like you have lost your affinity with the stars, the key lies in consuming a healthy balance of trace minerals to unlock your inner shine!
How Essential Nutrients Are Classified & Why We Need Them
Life-giving nutrients have been divided into macro and micro nutrients.
We need macronutrients in sizeable amounts for energy.
Basic elements such as oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen also fall under this category. These are often dismissed as they are catered for automatically (through breathing, for example).
However, no matter how much of these you eat, your body cannot absorb, process or metabolize them without adequate micronutrients!
The other macronutrients include fats, proteins and carbs, which constitute primarily what we eat. We use all of these to repair bodily tissues, make hormones and neurotransmitters, form DNA and to promote healthy digestion.
This is the part of our diet that is often neglected the most.
Micronutrients consist of trace minerals and vitamins, and are found in microscopic amounts in a well-balanced diet.
Just because we need these compounds in small amounts does not make them less important.
In fact, the reality is quite the opposite.
Without trace minerals and vitamins, you would not be able to use any macronutrients, and your immune system (plus many bodily functions) would suffer. It’s not news that depriving oneself of nutrition promotes an ill sense of well-being and tends to degrade one’s quality of life dramatically. A rainbow diet loaded with nutrients is key to colouring our worlds happy!
Trace Minerals vs Vitamins
Many people focus on getting enough Vitamins in their diet with a multivitamin, while the majority do not know why trace minerals are important. Without trace minerals, multiple vitamins would not be effectively metabolized by our bodies and vice versa47. These compounds both work together to achieve a harmonious balance within all our cells.
Moreover, plants and bacteria need trace minerals from the soil in a special form to produce enzymes, DNA and catalyze reactions, which in turn allow them to synthesize vitamins. Animals ingest trace minerals from plant-based sources, also using them to produce certain vitamins in the same fashion. In other words, vitamins could not exist without trace minerals!
What is the difference between trace minerals and vitamins?
The difference is that vitamins are organic compounds, only synthesized by animals and plants. Trace minerals are inorganic elements that are absorbed by living organisms through their diet or environment48.
Traditionally, vitamins are more sensitive to heat, light or oxygen exposure than minerals. However, trace minerals can lose their high bioavailability if exposed to these factors too due to the destruction of chemical bonds. Plant-based trace minerals that are bound to organic salts or fulvic acid, for example, will have a higher bioavailability which can be destroyed when in contact with heat or exposed to light or air.
A Brief Word on Trace Mineral Absorption
Why is trace mineral absorption so important? If we do not absorb the minerals we ingest, then they do not access the majority of our cells and therefore contribute no benefits to our well-being; aside from possibly aiding digestion, depending on the mineral. Malabsorption of trace minerals results in a body that functions at a much reduced capacity. It is important to opt for trace minerals in an absorbable form that offers a good bioavailability - such as plant-based trace minerals - so that the body can actually benefit.
What is bioavailability?
Bioavailability is the proportion or percentage of a substance that enters bodily circulation from the digestive tract and is therefore the amount of the substance that has an active effect on us.
There are also certain nutrients that either inhibit or enhance the absorption of trace minerals, making it slightly more complicated than simply ingesting plant-based trace minerals. In the sections below, we will elaborate on that under each specific mineral so you can successfully optimize your diet!
Is it easier to absorb plant based minerals?
The answer is yes. We are far more compatible with ingesting our trace minerals from plants and other dietary sources as these forms of minerals are bound to organic acids, salts and other substances that allow for easier absorption. Furthermore, the size of plant-based trace mineral particles are usually much smaller than that of inorganic trace minerals, adding to their high bioavailability.
Let’s take a deeper look at precisely why trace minerals are so important for healthy living!
Trace Minerals That We Need Every Day & Their Health Benefits
There are close to 30 trace minerals essential to our diet. Very few trace minerals are consumed in the right proportions and much of their diversity is left out of a modern diet.
Let’s take a look at what each of these essential minerals does in our bodies, how to keep each of them in balance and where we can get more of them!
Macro Trace Minerals
The first six trace minerals in this list (potassium, chlorine, sodium, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium) are classified as macro minerals, while the rest are micro minerals.
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We need relatively more macro minerals than micro minerals, but the quantities are still thought of as trace amounts when compared to other essential nutrients.
Are trace minerals electrolytes?
Electrolytes are trace minerals that maintain fluid balance and electrochemical status in our bodies and cells. Not all trace minerals can function as electrolytes.
What trace minerals function as electrolytes?
There are five trace minerals that constitute our body's electrolytes: potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium and calcium. Read more about them below!
Potassium is one of the trace minerals that your body needs in substantial amounts to maintain optimal health and well-being 1.
It is regarded as one of the primary electrolytes. Potassium is used to maintain fluid balance, kidney function, proper nerve function, muscle contraction (including our heart beat), as well as encourage transportation of compounds in and out of cells 2.
This trace mineral is also very important for retaining calcium in bones and for converting blood sugar into glycogen, which is the form we store and use it in.
Mild potassium deficiencies are common and are associated with elevated blood pressure, as well as unbalanced kidney and heart function. You can experience a deficiency from time to time when having diarrhea, vomiting, heavy sweats, overusing laxatives or diuretics, and over-ingesting clay.
Severe potassium depletion is known as hypokalemia and can be fatal. Symptoms include paralysis, decreased cognition, high blood pressure, difficulty breathing, weak bones, joint stiffness and an irregular heartbeat.
Getting too much potassium can result in hyperkalemia, which is an equally life threatening condition. This usually only affects people who have abnormally high levels of potassium, such as those with kidney disease or who overuse certain medications.
Most people do not consume adequate amounts of potassium and consume far too much sodium, promoting elevated blood pressure and erratic spikes in blood sugar levels. One should be eating double the amount of potassium to sodium.
To counter this, a potassium supplement or potassium salt substitute may be effective.
However, we still need some sodium to function and using potassium salts may not be useful for those with kidney problems. They may also have unwarranted side effects such as promoting gut discomfort in sensitive individuals. Ultimately it is still best to get your trace mineral potassium requirements from whole food sources.
Sodium and potassium need one another to remain in balance. Sodium diminishes potassium’s content when added to food 3 and vice versa.
Aside from this, little is known about potassium’s bioavailability. One very recent study has shown that potassium absorption from potatoes was higher than from supplements 4, suggesting that we absorb it best from natural sources.
- Citrus and vine fruits.
- Root and bulb vegetables.
- Leafy green vegetables.
Sodium works together with chlorine and potassium to keep fluids, acids, bases and ions balanced in the body 5.
You need some sodium to ensure all cells are performing properly 6, for optimal kidney function, nerve synapses and muscle contractions.
Excessive amounts of sodium tend to be problematic, particularly in a Western diet. Sodium is tricky as the body can easily adjust between high or low daily amounts without having any immediate consequences 7.
High sodium intake generally contributes to elevated blood pressure. It also may interfere with glucose metabolism and heart function, which is why those with hypertension, diabetes, obesity and heart disease are often advised to cut down their sodium intake. However, we should all be making sure we are not overdoing it, regardless of our health status!
Most people are consuming roughly 30-60% more sodium per day than they ought to be and this may be one reason we are seeing a general rise in blood pressure issues around the globe. Clinical trials have also linked excess sodium with an under-functioning heart and kidneys as it detracts from bodily potassium stores.
Potassium appears to block the absorption of sodium, along with acids or a decrease in pH 8. Corticosteroids and antidiuretic hormone appear to enhance sodium absorption 9, which probably explains why stress can elevate blood pressure!
- Dietary salts (all salt contains sodium or it can’t be defined as a salt).
Chlorine is a substance that is present in all fluids the body makes, such as stomach acid (hydrochloric acid). Like sodium and potassium, chlorine is also responsible for fluid balance, electrical neutrality and balancing acids and bases 10.
Chlorine imbalances generally come hand-in-hand with imbalances in sodium or potassium. Too much chlorine can result in hyperchloremia; too little, in hypochloremia.
Excessive chlorine is more common and tends to come with high sodium levels, as many people take chlorine in the form of sodium chloride (table salt).
Dehydration, lesser kidney function, too much table salt, diuretics or electrolyte imbalances (such as diarrhea) can cause a chlorine imbalance 11.
Chlorine (in the form of chloride) is a negatively charged ion which is used by the body to balance potassium and sodium, both of which have a positive charge. The three work together to pump fluids in and out of cells (the ‘sodium-potassium pump’) and this motion is also largely involved in muscle contractions.
Similarly to sodium, and slightly counterintuitive, eating acidic foods appears to inhibit the absorption of chlorine.
- Table Salt.
Calcium is required for healthy bones, teeth and nails. This is hence the “trace mineral” that constitutes the largest percentage of your body weight.
It is also used by muscles, blood vessels, nerve cells, and in glands to make enzymes and hormones 12.
On average, calcium is over consumed in the form of dairy products and calcium-enriched foods – yet most people are deficient in it or have excessive amounts in the wrong bodily tissues.
Calcium deficiency results in brittle bones, increasing the risk of fractures and the severity of bone-related injuries.
Having moderate amounts of calcium on a daily basis encourages the thyroid to increase parathyroid hormone. This in turn heightens the body’s production of Vitamin D3, which allows for more calcium to be absorbed through the intestinal tract.
Calcium absorption 13 is impaired through oxalates, phytates, troubles absorbing fats, and ingesting too much calcium on a daily basis.
Vitamin D3 (which is generally converted from D2 through sunlight) is necessary for the absorption of calcium. Additionally, Vitamin K2 is required to ensure our bones retain calcium and a lack thereof results in calcium loss.
Many people are calcium deficient as a result of over-consumption as well as Vitamin D3 and K2 deficiencies.
Magnesium and phosphorus are also required to effectively absorb calcium, other trace minerals we need to ensure we get enough of to maintain our inner radiance!
Aluminium prevents the absorption of calcium 14.
- Organic natural dairy products, particularly natural yoghurts and those cultured with whey proteins for easy digestion.
- Fish such as sardines and salmon.
- Leafy green vegetables low in oxalates such as cooked kale, spinach and watercress.
- Avoid “calcium-enriched” foods as these will likely be enriched with a form of calcium that is not bioavailable (inorganic).
We use it mainly for muscle and nerve function, regulating blood pressure and glucose levels, and for maintaining protein, bones and DNA.
The majority of people are not getting enough daily magnesium in their diets. The symptoms of mild magnesium deficiency are not obvious until long periods of time have passed.
Magnesium deficiency can cause nausea, appetite loss, fatigue, weakness, stiffness and enhanced pain perception. In extreme cases, one can experience numbness, cramps, nerve tingling, abnormal heart beats and even seizures!
Those with alcoholism, diabetes, metabolic disorders, gastrointestinal diseases and the elderly are the most at risk.
Magnesium in combination with Vitamin C, acts as an effective natural laxative and often provides immediate relief. Consuming adequate amounts of each on a daily basis helps to maintain regularity.
This trace mineral also facilitates muscle relaxation, which may be helpful for lessening the intensity of stress, migraines, PMS and cramps.
While calcium requires magnesium for absorption, if the intake of calcium is too high, one will absorb neither calcium or magnesium!
Boron is another essential trace mineral that appears to enhance magnesium absorption.
Alcohol, diuretics and contraceptives all hinder the absorption of magnesium from our diets.
- Green leafy vegetables.
- Cacao (dark chocolate).
- Nuts and seeds.
- Natural organic yoghurt, whey and similar dairy products.
Phosphorus is another acidic trace mineral that the body needs for healthy bones, nerve cells, muscles, DNA production, and fat metabolism.
It is the main component of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy storage molecule and is thus important for energy production and a working immune system.
It comes second to calcium in terms of total body mass, making up a large portion of the nucleus and cytoplasm of most cells in the body 16.
The biggest health impact of phosphorus is an excess, which is commonly coupled with calcium deficiency.
Phosphorus is found in large amounts in high protein foods, but without the calcium to balance it out, it leads to osteoporosis. One should ingest (and absorb) double amounts of calcium to phosphorus to maintain a healthy ratio.
Soft drinks contain about 500 milligrams of phosphorus per serving without any calcium, making this one of the leading contributors to poor bone health worldwide.
Phytates found in grains, nuts and seeds tends to bind to phosphorus, preventing us from absorbing up to 50%. Fermenting these foods or cooking them can enhance bioavailability.
- Natural Milk and dairy.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Whole grains.
Micro Trace Minerals
While the following trace minerals are needed in relatively smaller amounts, they more than make up for quantity in terms of the diversity required!
Iron is primarily needed for transporting oxygen around the body (in the form of blood) and making red blood cells. Many important proteins and enzymes are created from iron too.
A deficiency in trace amounts of iron is relatively common and results in anemia, reduced oxygen, stiff muscles, reduced cognition and more 17.
Iron deficiency is usually a result of poor soils, malnutrition or trace mineral malabsorption, but losing blood will also do it. Menstruation and pregnancy are also causes for concern.
Many people think that supplementing with iron or using iron pots and pans is a good idea – however, these sources of iron are usually in an inorganic form and are thus difficult to absorb. This may cause iron poisoning and does not help with deficiency.
Our required daily iron intake is almost insignificant, as 95% of the iron used to create hemoglobin actually comes from recycling dead red blood cells. The last 5% should come from dietary sources in trace amounts or one could contract iron poisoning.
Phytic acid found in cereal bran and plant polyphenols, such as tannins, block the uptake of iron. Other substances that hamper iron absorption include calcium and phosphorus.
Vitamin C enhances iron absorption.
- Meat, especially red meat and organ meats.
- Fermented grains and cereals (which have reduced phytic acid).
Another “universal” trace mineral, Zinc is found literally everywhere in the human body 18.
It plays a huge role in maintaining your immune system, facilitating toxin elimination, and providing antioxidant protection. The body uses zinc to make DNA and other proteins, to grow, develop, repair tissues and heal wounds.
Most people get adequate zinc from their diets, although could use a zinc boost when sick.
Zinc deficiency is common in vegetarians, as animal products tend to contain more zinc than plant products. Others who may suffer from deficiency include alcoholics, those with metabolic or gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s Disease and those with sickle cell anemia.
Extreme deficiency in this trace mineral generally results in hair loss, sexual impotence, diarrhea, appetite loss, rapid weight loss, slow regeneration, dermatitis, loss of taste or smell and a drop in mental alertness.
Zinc lozenges exist because the mineral is known to potentially soothe a sore throat and give our immunes a boost.
Phytates, iron, and tin tend to negatively intervene with zinc absorption, while animal proteins increase it’s uptake.
- Lean red meat.
- Natural dairy products and whey.
Manganese is a trace mineral that is intimately involved with how enzymes interact in the body.
Other roles of Manganese include energy metabolism, thyroid hormone potency, blood sugar regulation, cerebral performance, and keeping free radicals in check.
Manganese deficiency is rarely recorded and tends to occur in countries that have a poor soil quality with severe malnutrition.
Infants in these areas tend to have a deficiency unless mothers take care to supplement more Manganese in their diets.
Manganese deficiency can result in a compromised immune system, epilepsy, weight loss, skin rashes, slow hair and nail growth, reddening of darker hail and a decline of blood lipids.
Manganese supplementation has been clinically used to treat sports injuries, as it directly interacts with the immune system and boosts the level of bodily antioxidants.
Teas have the best form of Manganese for absorption.
High amounts of iron, calcium, phosphorus, phytate and insoluble fiber appear to inhibit absorption.
- Cereals and wholegrains.
- Ginger, cinnamon, turmeric and other spices.
Copper is used in many bodily processes, but it is most important in blood where it works with iron to bind to oxygen.
Iron and copper work hand-in-hand to make haemoglobin, the red component in blood. Without one, the other is missing, therefore those who suffer from copper deficiency tend to be depleted in iron and possibly anemic.
Those with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease 21, obesity, and Alzheimer’s Disease 22 appear to be at a higher risk for copper deficiency. Bariatric surgery has the potential to worsen a lack of copper, as observed in some individuals during the recovery period 23.
Poisoning due to consuming large amounts of copper is another problem, especially for those who have copper pipes in their homes.
Even though severe copper deficiency is rare, studies reveal that the majority of individuals do not meet their daily dietary needs for copper consumption 24.
Fruit sugars appear to enhance the absorption of copper more than starch, along with iron, manganese, zinc, calcium and magnesium.
Overdosing on zinc supplements may cause a serious copper deficiency.
Cadmium and other heavy metals inhibit the absorption of copper.
Copper is found in most fruits and vegetables in trace amounts. Foods with high levels of copper include:
- Liver, Kidney and other organ meats.
- Green, leafy vegetables (copper is a main component of Chlorophyll).
- Unrefined wholegrain cereals.
Iodine is primarily used to create thyroid hormones, which in turn regulates metabolism and overall homeostasis in the body 25.
Those who do not get enough iodine in their diets do not produce enough thyroid hormone for optimal well-being. Those with hypothyroidism are at risk of having a severe iodine deficiency.
Deficiency is also common in breast-feeding mothers who need at least 50% more iodine than usual to ensure their newborns develop properly.
Ingesting too much iodine is also not recommended as this may over-stimulate the thyroid. Similarly with a deficiency, an iodine excess is commonly observed in those with hyperthyroidism (the opposite condition).
A goiter (an enlarged thyroid often sticking out the throat) may be a sign of iodine imbalance. Consult with a doctor to find out what you can do to help. Those who consume large amounts of iodated salt should moderate their intake to ensure their thyroid maintains optimal function.
Iodine is also used by the body to combat the effects of radiation. In this day and age, electronic devices, cellphone masts and gaping holes in the ozone layer have contributed to an increased level of planetary radiation.
If you battle to sleep, experience hair loss, are sensitive to spending long hours on a screen, you may want to up your natural iodine intake by consuming sea vegetables - particularly if you consume a non-iodated salt!
Eating too many brassica vegetables can deplete iodine as they contain ‘goitrogens’. High levels of dietary arsenic, potassium, bromine, fluorine and calcium can also lower iodine absorption, as can low levels of manganese and selenium.
- Seafood such as fish, cod liver oil, seaweed, sea salt and algae.
- Many vegetables contain trace amounts of iodine from the soil.
- Ordinary table salt is iodized to combat deficiency. However, it is also bleached and often contains Aluminium-based additives, which can interfere with trace mineral absorption.
Chromium is a trace mineral widely found in both plant and animal dietary sources.
This trace mineral is primarily used to maintain blood sugar levels and it is noted that less insulin is needed by the body when higher levels of Chromium are present 26. It’s also needed in tiny amounts for the metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates 27.
A recent study has shown that Chromium is found in the bone of hip joints, but was reported to be significantly lower in those with frail bones 28. This suggests that it may play a role in maintaining bone vitality as well!
Severe chromium deficiency is rare, however the elderly, malnourished and those with problems regulating their blood sugar levels are at the highest risk. It is noted that our bodily stores of chromium deplete as we age, making it harder to digest carbs and regulate our blood sugar levels.Since chromium enhances sugar metabolism, it makes sense that the body uses more when one consumes larger amounts of carbohydrates (sugars). Those who consume lots of processed carbohydrates and high glycemic foods on a daily basis may also be depleted.
Chromium is commonly added to diabetic drips in hospitals to aid sugar metabolism. It does this by enhancing the action of insulin.
Antacid and phytates can prevent the absorption of Chromium. Excessive amounts of Zinc or Iron may deplete Chromium as they compete during metabolism.
Vitamin C and certain amino acids enhance the absorption of Chromium.
Many grains, fruits and vegetables contain Chromium in trace amounts. The below foods have higher amounts.
- Black Pepper and other spices.
- Brewer’s Yeast.
- Raisins (grapes).
- Prunes (Plums).
- Stainless Steel cooking equipment and containers may provide extra dietary Chromium when in contact with acidic substances.
Molybdenum is a crucial component of enzymes that the body needs to metabolize or detox chemical compounds with.
For example, this trace mineral forms a part of sulphite oxidase, which is necessary to break down all sulfur containing components within the body.
Molybdenum excess or deficiency is rarely reported and has in fact only been documented in genetic enzyme-production defects or severe malnutrition.
In the case where one does not receive adequate amounts of this trace element, severe toxicity as well as malabsorption of nutrients would occur.
Ingesting too much molybdenum results in highly acidic joints and muscles, but has no other known toxic side effects 29.
There is little information on Molybdenum’s absorption as it’s required in microscopic amounts. Most people receive adequate doses from their diets.
Many foods contain this trace element, however these foods are some of the richest sources:
Selenium is required by our bodies for reproduction, DNA production, thyroid function, bone health, reducing free radical activity and fighting off infections 30.
Selenium deficiency is incredibly rare, but those who are undergoing kidney dialysis, who have HIV or live in areas with poor soils are at risk.
Symptoms include infertility, thyroid imbalances, a severely compromised immune system, brittle bones, and heart problems. Some research correlates low Selenium levels with reduced cognition as well.
Eating too much Selenium can happen if you indulge in too many Brazil nuts, which possibly contains the most known to man. You would have to eat a near impossible amount though!
Excess Selenium results in brittle hair and nails, nausea, irritability, discolored teeth, dermatitis, hair and nail loss, nervous system problems, diarrhea and sometimes a metallic taste in the mouth.
Selenium appears to play a key role in sustaining our overall youth and vitality. Given that it decreases as we grow older, that deficiencies promote sexual impotence and that the body needs it to protect against free radical damage; maintaining adequate levels of Selenium may be a requirement for longevity!
Consuming lower amounts of Selenium daily results in better absorption of this trace mineral. In a diet rich in the amino acid Methionine, less Selenium is required and thus less is absorbed.
Vitamin C tends to enhance it’s absorption when Selenium is consumed in an organic form.
Heavy metals reduce it’s bioavailability by binding to Selenium before the body can absorb it. Soluble fiber also inhibits the absorption of Selenium.
Most foods contain Selenium, but the amounts vary depending on the quality of the soil. The below foods are rich in Selenium:
- Brazil nuts.
- Specific Selenium-containing Yeasts.
- Meat, poultry and natural dairy products.
- Cereals and wholegrains.
Cobalt is a trace mineral that forms a part of vitamin B-12 after being digested by organisms.
Our bodies need it for making red blood cells, maintaining neuronal health, metabolizing sugar and activating enzymes. It can be used to replace zinc or manganese in certain chemical reactions 31.
Cobalt or B12 deficiency is one of the leading causes of pernicious anemia. Further symptoms include numbness, fatigue, tingling sensations and impaired neuronal ability.
Too much inorganic cobalt in your system is toxic to your heart and will interfere with thyroid performance. Some experts claim that excess cobalt may increase blood sugar levels.
Vegetarians may be deficient in B12 as animal products appear to be the only food source for it.
However this is not necessarily the case. Recent research on the gut microbiome has revealed that our friendly probiotic bacteria are also capable of producing this vitamin, if fed with enough soluble fiber and nutrients to sustain a healthy colony in there!
Although cobalt is found in many foods, we can only absorb it in the form of B-12. Some probiotic bacteria convert it into B-12 in our guts, which means that probiotics enhance absorption of cobalt from foods.
Impaired thyroid function, a lack of saliva or ‘R Protein’ can result in malabsorption of B12 32.
- Natural dairy products.
- Whey protein.
- Red meat.
- Root and bulb vegetables (taken with probiotics).
Bromine was originally considered non-essential, but it was recently discovered to have an important function.
It’s needed in microscopic amounts for the utilization of collagen and for enhancing the integrity of specific cellular membranes in the body 33.
Bromine is actually quite toxic and tends to replace chlorine in the body in chemical reactions. It can pass the blood brain barrier and has many harmful effects in large quantities.
Acute exposure has been known to irritate the skin and eyes, destroy tissues, as well as result in neurological problems, skin reactions, and thyroid imbalances 34.
While toxicity is common, deficiency is exceedingly rare and has never been reported.
Many are exposed to toxic levels of Bromine in their drinking water and ought to filter their water to ensure optimal health and well-being.
Bromine is readily absorbed through inhalation, the skin and the gut. Iodine appears to replace bromine in the body and promotes better excretion of excess bromine 35.
- Drinking water.
Nickel is another new essential trace mineral discovery in the human body. We use it in minute quantities for hormonal activity, urea production and metabolism of fats 36.
Excessive amounts of nickel (in the form of pollution and pesticides) is a common concern, which may contribute to skin outbreaks and induce nickel toxicity. This mineral is one of the most common metal allergens amongst sensitive individuals.
Nickel deficiency is incredibly rare and if often a result of malnutrition or starvation. Treating malnutrition would restore the natural balance of Nickel.
Some electronic devices are coated with nickel, which may be absorbed through the skin. Exposure to large amounts of this mineral should be taken into consideration, as it is known to accumulate in bodily tissues, theoretically capable of inducing toxicity and potential liver damage when concentrations reach a high enough level.
Nickel is readily absorbed through respiration, the skin and gut. Not much is known on what inhibits or enhances it’s uptake, although in large doses it appears to interfere with the uptake of Magnesium and Zinc 37.
All wholefoods contain trace amounts of nickel in enough quantities that satisfy daily needs.
Boron is necessary for healthy bones and plays an important role in bone tissue regeneration. It is also utilized by the body for hormone activation and regulation, such as estrogen and vitamin D.
Other bodily functions that make use of Boron include wound healing, nutrient absorption, antioxidant production, and heavy metal detoxification 38.
More common than an excess is a Boron deficiency, which affects hormonal balance as well as bone integrity. Our hormones regulate sleep, metabolism and many other body functions; thus a boron deficiency may have far reaching consequences.
Since Boron plays such a significant role in making antioxidants and therefore indirectly reducing free radical damage, a deficiency is linked to a lesser immune function and loss of vitality.
Further research shows that severe Boron deficiency seems to be related to impaired electrical activity in the brain. This could be due to increased toxicity, hormonal imbalances or impaired magnesium absorption, however more research needs to be done before we can say precisely why.
Boron is one of the main reasons why those who eat a plant-based diet appear to have stronger healthier bones than those who don’t. A lack of green foods in your diet will increase your risk for boron deficiency.
Little is known about Boron absorption, although Boron appears to enhance the absorption of Magnesium. Current research reveals that it may enhance the uptake of several other trace minerals too 39!
- Most Fruits and Vegetables.
Silicon is needed in trace amounts by the body to cross-link collagen, which in turn makes for firmly toned skin and muscles, as well as healthy bone formation 40.
Without this trace mineral, building strong healthy bones would be difficult and deficiency results in skeletal weakness. Not surprisingly, those who have bone regeneration problems, such as osteoporosis, are at the highest risk for silicon deficiency.
Since Silicon is needed to form collagen and elastin, a deficiency may also promote more rapid aging and wrinkles or rather a lack of skin regeneration 41.
Silicon happens to be the main component of clays and sands!
However, we cannot eat sand or absorb silicon from it in this form. Instead, the body readily absorbs silicon in it’s organic form, known as silicic acid.
Little has been investigated regarding silicon absorption, aside from the fact that it cannot be absorbed in its inorganic form. Interestingly, it seems that men absorb more of it than women 42.
Many foods are high in silicon as it is so abundant in nature. The below foods contained higher amounts of silicon when tested:
- Unrefined wholegrains.
- Bananas and fiber-rich foods.
Little is known about vanadium as a trace mineral. Researchers believe that it plays a role in hormonal function, cholesterol regulation, and sugar metabolism, but are still in two minds about whether it is essential or not.
Vanadium is found in micro amounts throughout our diets and we need just as little of it to benefit, assuming we need it at all.
It’s speculated that deficiencies in Vanadium may theoretically contribute to faulty sugar metabolism and reduced hormonal function. There have never been reported deficiencies in this trace mineral - if it’s even essential - although there does seem to be an excess of it documented in some cases of manic depression.
Severe excesses of Vanadium are highly toxic as they inhibit the transporting abilities of sodium and potassium, meaning that fluids will stop moving in and out of cells efficiently. This is potentially fatal!
Vanadium was actually named after the Scandinavian Goddess of beauty, youth and luster. Since it is speculated to be linked to hormone function and sugar metabolism, this may hold a gem of truth to it!
Very little vanadium is absorbed through our diet and not much research has gone into what enhances or inhibits it.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Root vegetables.
Possibly Essential (& Highly Controversial) Trace Minerals
The following trace minerals have a high affinity within our bodies, but their essentiality has not been confirmed.
Most of them are capable of interacting in chemical processes or are found to accumulate in our bones and muscles. However, since no side effects of deficiency have been observed, researchers are uncertain about whether we need them or not.
In some cases, deficiencies in these trace minerals have correlated with growth abnormalities and weaknesses in animals, such as goats, cows and chickens. This has made scientists hesitant to classify them as non-essential to humans.
In spite of that, all of them are toxic in large quantities and tend to accumulate in our systems over time, acquiring the status of being known as a ‘heavy metals’.
Are trace minerals safe?
If taken in the right form and in balanced amounts, the answer is yes. Too little or too much of any essential trace mineral can significantly hamper our well-being and is even potentially fatal, depending on the severity! Trace minerals that are not essential tend to be dangerous in large amounts, however in ultra trace amounts, none of them appear to be harmful. For example, minute quantities of these trace minerals are floating around in the dust we breathe, in the oceans and other areas, yet they do not have harmful side effects. These minerals are also in a chelated form, rendering them more or less inert.
10 Strategies For Improving Your Trace Mineral Balance & Fighting Off Poor Nutrition
Eating a highly refined diet with excessive amounts of sodium, transfats, sugar and starch will often result in nutritional deficiencies, a lesser quality of life and reduced overall well-being.
Even just small lifestyle changes can result in better nutrition, enhanced absorption and less trace mineral loss. Get back in touch with your inner star stuff by implementing the strategies below!
#1 Eat More Raw Wholefoods
Over-cooking many kinds of food tends to deplete the nutritional value, particularly the trace mineral content.
Not all foods should be consumed raw, but many foods could be to increase the level of nutrition in one’s diet.
Include a larger variety of raw foods into your diet, such as salads, whole fruits, smoothies, sprouted nuts and seeds to boost your trace mineral count. Get creative with carrot tops, beet greens, olives, berries, unusually colored fruits, onions, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower and more, as these are all viable sources of raw food goodness!
Leafy, green vegetables such as kale and spinach should also be ingested raw from time to time. These contain some of the highest sources of trace minerals and yet heating them depletes this.
On the other hand, leafy greens are also high in oxalic acid which can deplete calcium stores from your body. One should consume a balance of both raw and cooked leafy green vegetables to reap the full benefits.
#2 Focus On How You Eat (Literally!)
Interestingly, some studies have confirmed that what you eat is not the full story – how you eat is also important for better digestion and absorption of nutrients!
People who take more time chewing their foods and who chew foods with a tougher texture (like raw foods) proved to extract more from their meals than those who didn’t.
Many people in today’s world eat on the go, not taking the time to sit down and enjoy a proper meal.
Science proves that this does impact our nutritional status. Sitting down at a table has shown to be better for digestion, than standing or walking around.
In both instances, more attention is given to the food. The body pays attention and signals for more stomach acids to be released to digest tougher foods. If one is busy with other things or on the go, less energy is expended on digestion.
#3 A Paleo ‘Hunter Gatherer’ Diet
In response to nutritional deficiency and the emerging unhealthy modern lifestyle, the Paleo Movement was started 43.
The paleo diet focuses on consuming foods that were common to Paleolithic man. It’s high in healthy proteins and fats, while being low in refined carbohydrates with a much larger variety of natural fruits and vegetables.
This diet contains far more trace minerals and nutrients than what the average American eats. It also includes a far more balanced healthful fat profile, which allows for a much larger intake of these valuable nutrients.
#4 Super Foods
Super foods are highly effective when in need of a quick trace mineral boost!
These are natural foods that contain ridiculously large amounts of vitamins, antioxidants and trace minerals, such as raw pure cacao. Other examples include:
- Blue-green algae
- Ecklonia Cava
- Acai Berries
- Chia Seeds
One can usually purchase them in powdered form and add them to smoothies and other raw foods with ease.
#5 Intensive Supplementation
Consult a healthcare practitioner before going on any intensive supplementation.
Another way to go about boosting trace minerals is by taking supplements. Most supplements offer trace minerals in a synthetic inorganic form as opposed to an organic plant-based form.
It's not recommended to take trace minerals in a synthetic form, as in most cases more is absorbed from natural sources. Not to mention, synthetic minerals are known to generate free radicals in the gut, potentially promoting discomfort and bowel issues.
Does food cover our daily requirements for trace minerals or do we need a trace minerals supplement?
It depends on the source of your food, however most research in the last couple of decades is pointing to the fact that the modern diet does not adequately cover our needs.
Most foods are not sufficient to cover our trace mineral requirements due to poor farming practices and other modern lifestyle choices which inhibit absorption of nutrients, like pharmaceuticals and lots of coffee. Processed food is often stripped of minerals too and does little for our trace mineral count.
If you have a very clean diet of only non-GMO, organic and free range foods with a larger emphasis on greens, then you will likely fulfill your nutritional requirements better. However, this kind of food is pricey and access is limited for the majority of people. So for the most part, neither a trace minerals supplement or a healthy diet alone is enough to cover nutritional requirements, and as such the two should be done together for the best results.
The best trace mineral supplements use minerals in their organic ionic form, either derived from plants, sea water or natural peat deposits in the earth. These supplements offer trace minerals complexes that tend to give you everything you need in balanced proportions.
What is the difference between ionic trace minerals, colloidal trace minerals, chelated trace minerals and angstroms?
- Ionic trace minerals are minerals in the form of ions, which means that they carry an electric charge49. Ions can be the size of either atoms or molecules.
- Colloids are substances that are substantially larger than atoms or molecules in size, yet still too small to see with the naked eye50. Colloidal trace minerals are larger sized particles than ionic trace minerals, which are typically harder to absorb.
- Chelated trace minerals are minerals which have undergone chelation. This means that ions form bonds around a central atom, which is usually an elemental metal ion51. Chelated trace minerals can also be referred to as trace mineral complexes52. This is a very stable form of minerals found throughout nature (in soil, clays, peat, etc), with heavy metals or destructive ions being rendered inert.
- Angstroms are units of atomic measurement used to describe wavelengths, atomic particles or distances between atoms.
Are water-soluble minerals better than pill, tablet or capsule forms?
Water-soluble minerals are easier for the body to absorb as pills, tablets and capsules require further digestion to break them down into their trace mineral components. These other forms also tend to include additives, binders, and fillers which can inhibit absorption or cause bowel upsets.
Numerous essential short-chain fatty acids are manufactured by the probiotic bacteria in the gut.
These bacteria break down the contents of our food to extract more trace minerals and nutrients, synergistically converting them to a bioavailable form for both themselves and us.
Through the use of antibiotics, disinfectants, consuming too many refined foods and not enough prebiotic fibers, the integrity of our microbiome is often compromised, resulting in less nutritional absorption.
You can bolster your gut health by increasing your fiber and probiotic food intake, which our gut bugs need to flourish. Probiotic supplements and foods such as sauerkraut, whey and other natural fermented foods are good places to start.
#7 Mindfulness Meditation
You’re probably wondering what meditation has to do at all with nutrition. You would be surprised.
When we get stressed, the body depletes its stores of trace minerals at a much faster rate to produce stress hormones and to give us enough energy for a fight-or-flight response. Free radicals are also often released. These tend to damage bodily tissues they come into contact with, which also causes the body to use more of it’s trace minerals in order to repair and protect itself.
Stress also inhibits the absorption of trace minerals. So on top of depleting them rapidly, we are impaired in our ability to absorb more of them from our food precisely when we need them the most!
Mindfulness meditation comes in handy as a technique to lower our overall stress levels. This in turn keeps our trace mineral levels balanced, optimizing their absorption and preventing their rapid depletion.
#8 Regular Exercise
Exercising regularly helps in many of the same ways that mindfulness meditation does, by protecting against free radicals and lowering stress.
Certain weight-bearing exercise can help to increase bone strength and integrity in those who have weaker bones. The research suggests that it does not build bone, but helps maintain balanced bone mineral levels 44.
Studies show that frequent exercise yields more health benefits than irregular or intensive exercise. The latter tends to have a negative impact on nutrition as it suppresses the immune system, resulting in free radical release.
#9 Fulvic Acid Liquid Extract
Fulvic acids form a group of natural by-products from a healthy soil ecology, produced by billions of bacteria.
These by-products are extracted from humus (decomposing organic soil matter) along with humic acids. It’s also found in natural bodies of water, rock sediments and in trace amounts on root and bulb vegetables.
Fulvic acid has a high affinity for trace minerals and supplementing with fulvic acid can enhance the absorption of these minerals in the gut. It also encourages a healthy microbiome for intestinal flora to flourish by setting the right pH.
Fulvic acid may also be able to enhance our cognition, which is not surprising if it helps boost our nutrient intake 45!
Shilajit is an ancient Ayurvedic medicine that is composed of fulvic acid which is ionically blended with many other humic substances. These are all loaded with essential trace minerals and nutrients 46.
Unlike pure fulvic acid, Shilajit contains a wealth of trace minerals in the exact proportions the body needs for maintaining optimal health and well-being. The fulvic acid component of this medicine provides instant easy absorption and encourages gut flora to thrive.
What is the difference between humic and fulvic acid and trace minerals?
Humic and fulvic acids are organic acids that chelate trace minerals or bind them together to form stable molecular structures known as trace mineral complexes. Trace minerals are inorganic elements found throughout nature.
Scientifically, the organic components of Shilajit actually play an intimate role in transporting trace minerals to their precise destinations on a cellular level!
Interestingly, consuming Shilajit is able to correct any trace mineral imbalance without causing an excess in any of them – a common problem when minerals are taken in isolation.
Distinct from many other trace mineral products, Shilajit is virtually untouched by mankind. That is to say it has not been manufactured or extracted and refined under industrial conditions. Instead this powerful substance is harvested directly from nature itself, making it one of the purest wholesome mineral supplements on the planet.
This traditional medicine originates in the Himalayas and North India, but other similar trace mineral deposits have been discovered in the Andes Mountains and in Venezuela.
It has a long history in traditional medicine, being used by ancient practitioners to ward off jaundice, malnutrition, anorexia, obesity, metabolic disorders, digestive problems, anemia, respiratory disorders like bronchitis or asthma, dermatitis, epilepsy, heart diseases, kidney problems, and brain disorders.
While this is an impressive list of ailments, there is not enough scientific evidence as of yet to prove that Shilajit can actually treat any of these conditions.
Here are a few amazing benefits of ingesting Shilajit on a daily basis:* results may vary
- Enhanced longevity.
- Faster wound healing and regeneration.
- Improved energy levels.
- Increased cognition.
- Better mood.
- Replenished bodily mineral stores.