Minerals

June 29, 2008

Minerals, like vitamins, are essential for the optimal functioning of a healthy body. They have a wide-range of functions, from the maintenance of strong bones to the regulation of hormone levels, muscle contractions and fluid balance in the body. Minerals are not formed in the body and must be ingested as part of our diets. Mineral depletion in soils has led to a decrease in the minerals available in our foods, particularly fruits and vegetables. An understanding of what minerals are critical along with a good daily mineral supplement is important for anyone wishing to keep their body functioning optimally.

SodiumSodium is an important mineral, especially for athletes, because it is necessary for the body to release energy from foods and vital for the proper functioning of muscular contractions and nerve message relay. In addition, it helps in the regulation and balance of fluids in the body and increases blood pressure, both of which have both positive and negative effects on optimal functioning. Salt is lost during physical activity, used by the body and excreted in perspiration, so an awareness of sodium levels is important.

Salt is the most common source of sodium and it is found (often in unnecessarily high quantities) in almost all commercially bought prepared and processed foods. Foods that have been preserved using salt might offer better sources, without other unwanted additives. These include bacon, ham and smoked fish. Soy sauce and some breads also deliver adequate amounts of sodium. Hydrating drinks, or sports drinks, are a common source of sodium for athletes. Studies show that post-activity, adults should aim for 80- 100 mg of sodium per hour in drink form and up to 300 mg from other sources. Monitor your blood pressure to ensure your sodium intake is not excessive.

Potassium is also important for the body to maintain a balance of fluids. It is involved in optimal muscle functioning and adequate levels can prevent cramping during physical activity. The function and strengthening of membranes throughout the body is also related to potassium levels. Unlike sodium, potassium reduces blood pressure and a balance of the two minerals is ideal to keep optimal blood pressure, reducing stress on the heart and vessels and allowing for maximum oxygen circulation to the body tissues. This can help in the quick recovery of the body after intense physical exertion.

Fruit (especially bananas) and vegetables (especially potatoes and greens) are very good sources of potassium in the diet. Dairy products and juices, as well as pork also provide the mineral. Potassium is lost quickly during exercise and can be supplemented in relatively high doses post-activity to aid in recovery. Up to 150 mg per hour can be tolerated for a short time, however, care should be taken not to over-supplement as this can lead to an increased chance of heart attack.

CalciumCalcium is well known for its important function in the composition and strengthening of bones and teeth. It is particularly critical for older active adults because of the body’s natural tendency to lose bone mass over the lifetime. In addition, calcium plays a vital role in the production of hormones as well as the optimal functioning of muscles and nerves. It also helps the blood to coagulate or clot after an injury.

Dairy products like milk and cheese are well known sources of calcium. Green leafy vegetables are also rich in this mineral. Bread and small fish (like anchovies and sardines) that are eaten with the bones left in are also good sources of calcium. Because this mineral is so important for athletes, it is often supplemented at high levels. Total recommended calcium intake (from food and supplements together) for an active adult is 1500 mg daily.

Magnesium is the “on switch” for many of the body’s vital processes. It activates the enzymes that control many of the chemical reactions that allow the body to function normally. Importantly for athletes, magnesium is also critically involved in muscle tone and its ability to maintain growth and strength. Lack of magnesium can lead to cramping and accelerated muscle fatigue.

Magnesium is widely found in a variety of foods. Vegetables, especially those that grow under the ground like potatoes, are good sources of this mineral. Milk and bread also contain healthy levels of magnesium. Because a significant amount of magnesium is lost during perspiration, many athletes supplement with up to 800 mg a day. Higher doses may cause diarrhea and are not thought to provide additional benefits.

Iron is vital for the successful circulation of oxygen around the body and to the tissues. It performs a critical function in the body’s production of hemoglobin found in red blood cells that carry this oxygen. In addition to the production, iron also allows for the transfer of the oxygen to muscles and other tissues. The activation of important bodily enzymes also depends on iron levels in the body.

Red meat, including liver, is a common source of iron. Cereals and grains, in addition to potatoes and many vegetables (spinach, for example), also contain substantial amounts of iron. Blackstrap molasses and raisins are also iron-rich. It is not recommended to take iron supplements since most people can get the recommended 15 mg a day from their diet. Many studies have shown that too much iron is harmful to the body and can even lead to certain cancers, heart disease and even early death in some cases.

Zinc works in collaboration with other vitamins and minerals to maintain health and strength in many bodily systems. It allows vitamin A to be released from the liver and activates other enzymatic processes in the body. Zinc is also important for the overall growth of the body and for maintaining healthy bone integrity. It also helps to regulate blood sugar levels by working to effectively activate the insulin storage system. Many studies have also shown that elevated zinc levels act as an immune system booster.

Good sources of dietary zinc include meats, liver and seafood (oysters particularly). Bread and cereals, as well as milk, are also high in this mineral. Supplementing with higher doses of zinc than can be easily ingested in foods is increasingly popular for those suffering from colds and other mild conditions. Athletes can benefit from up to 60 mg of zinc each day and over-supplementation is not well tolerated by the body.

CopperCopper, like zinc, also has a wide variety of important functions that make it important to maintain in the body at adequate levels. It plays a critical role in the formation of blood as well as in the production of bone and the functioning of enzymes. Copper is also important for the processing and release of energy in the body and functions in the immune system and nervous system, working in conjunction with vitamin C.

Shellfish like oysters and mussels are good sources of copper. Whole grains, nuts, liver and cocoa also supply copper and brewer’s yeast is also copper-rich. Using copper cooking pots can also supply the body with copper. The body requires 900 mcg daily for optimal functioning but it can become toxic at high levels (above 10 mg daily).

Manganese is necessary for the body to activate its many enzymatic processes. It is also used for the maintenance of the structure of cells, working in conjunction with iron and calcium. Maintaining cell structure and integrity is vital to athletes concerned with building strong muscle tissue and maximizing endurance. The healing of muscle strain and sprains is helped by healthy manganese levels and studies show positive effects from those suffering with arthritis symptoms also.

Manganese is available in several foods including nuts and peas. Avocados, whole grain breads, dried fruit and wheat germ also are high in this mineral. Drinking tea is another way to ingest manganese. The daily requirement is 5 mg a day, usually acquired through the diet. Manganese supplements are available and toxicity is rare but possible if excessive amounts are taken.

Molybdenum also plays a role in vital chemical processes in the body by helping to regulate the functions of enzymes in the body. The regulation of pH levels, the ability to eliminate toxins and the potential to burn fat are all thought to be related to molybdenum levels. General feelings of well being have also been reported by those supplementing with this mineral.

Lentils and sunflower seeds are rich in molybdenum. Other sources include eggs, beans, liver and wheat germ. Green leafy vegetable and some tap waters provide this mineral. Doses up to 250 mcg daily are safe and effective for active adults. Research shows that higher doses do not lead to greater effects.

Selenium works in conjunction with vitamin E and has antioxidant properties, protecting cell membranes and important fats from damage caused by free radical molecules. It acts as an enzyme, activating the vitamin and encouraging its beneficial effects on the body.

Many nuts, particularly brazil nuts, and seeds are high in selenium and are easy for active adults to eat conveniently. Bread, fish and meat (especially pork) are also good sources of selenium. Supplementation with up to 200 mcg of selenium daily can be beneficial and safe.

Chromium’s most important function in the body is to regulate blood sugar levels. Vital for energy regulation and balance in the body, this mineral acts with insulin to monitor glucose taken into the cells of the body. Sugars are vital to everyone concerned with maximizing a healthy energy release in the body, especially for stamina.

Like other important minerals, chromium is found in many whole grain products. Cheese, egg yolk and liver are also good sources. Molasses and brewer’s yeast can be added to foods for an increased chromium intake. Drinking water also often has added chromium. Chromium can become dangerous at high levels and should only be supplemented up to 200 mcg daily, the average requirement being only 30 mcg per day for an active adult male.

Iodine is the most critical element for healthy thyroid function. Hormones secreted by a healthy thyroid gland affect many aspects of overall physical health, including weight gain and loss. Depression can result from low levels of iodine and mental sharpness is often also compromised.

Most table salt is iodized, or has added iodine. This mineral is also found in meat, milk, oily fish and seaweed. 150 mcg of iodine daily is recommended to maintain healthy thyroid function and hormone balance in the body. Iodine can become toxic and can be fatal at high doses so should not be supplemented in large amounts.

Phosphorus plays an important role in several body processes. It assists in storing energy for later release, a function critical for energy-intense activities. It also serves a function in the growth of bones and membranes throughout the body.

Soy products are rich in phosphorus. Dairy products and eggs also contain good amounts of this mineral. Meat, fish, peas, beans and wheat bran are also phosphorus-rich. There is some concern about high levels of phosphorus additives in soft drinks and prepared foods due to negative effects on bone health. Maintaining high levels of calcium (substituting milk for soft drinks, for example) is a good way to keep a mineral balance in the body. About 700mg of phosphorus daily is optimal; however, no serious side effects have been reported from higher levels of supplementation.

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