When you think of minerals you probably think of geology, precious stones, and the occasional iron supplement. What might not come to mind is your health. Vitamins, step aside, you’re not the only essential nutrient when it comes to the human body. Minerals play a critical role in our health and well-being. Let’s take a look at just what minerals do in the body, what a deficiency looks like, and how to boost your intake!
Minerals’ Role in The Human Body
Minerals can be found everywhere, not just in the form of a rock. They are in the food we eat, and we depend on them to function normally and continue developing. Minerals play many key roles in the body, helping to support our bones and soft tissues. That’s not their only job. They also help maintain neuromuscular function, enzymatic activity, oxygen transport, blood clotting, and much more!
What Does a Mineral Deficiency Look Like?
Because minerals play so many different roles in the body, the effects vary depending on what kind of deficiency someone has. While some deficiencies are caused by diet, they can also happen if someone has difficulty absorbing minerals from food, are on certain medications such as antacids and antibiotics, or has other health issues that can impair mineral function. People who are vegetarian or vegan may be more likely to experience mineral deficiencies. The main minerals that people tend to be deficient in are calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium, and iron.
This is what their deficiencies may look like:
Magnesium: Fatigue, nausea and vomiting, seizures, and muscle cramps.
Calcium: Fatigue, muscle cramps, numbness, and irregular heart rhythms.
Zinc: Decreased immune system, slowed growth, loss of smell, taste, or appetite.
Iron: Weakness and fatigue, as well as slow cognition – especially in children.
On the other hand, some people may need to limit their intake of certain minerals. Like in the case of people with chronic kidney disease who need to limit their potassium consumption.
What Minerals Do We Need Most?
There are many minerals that we need to survive. Some of them may look more familiar than others.
Another electrolyte, potassium helps to regulate heart rhythm, blood pressure, digestion, and water content in cells.
Probably the most well-known mineral out there, it is also an essential electrolyte and helps with hydration thanks to its ability to balance fluids in the body and help with nerve and muscle function.
The most abundant mineral in the body, making up 1.5 to 2% of a person’s body weight, 99% of that is found in our bones. Calcium is essential for bone formation while someone is growing, and continues to keep bones and teeth strong throughout our lifetimes. It also helps muscles and blood vessels contract and expand, as well as help with hormone function.
Trusty magnesium helps to regulate nerve and muscular function, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
Plays a crucial role in maintaining blood health. It is a part of hemoglobin, a protein that moves oxygen from the lungs to tissues in the body. It also helps with normal body functions, hormone health, cell growth, and development.
Zinc is crucial to making proteins and DNA, especially during pregnancy and development. It also is key for the immune system and healing wounds.
Phosphorus helps with metabolism, keeping our blood vessels happy, and our bones healthy.
Manganese helps the body regulate sex hormones, and blood clotting, and form connective tissues and bones.
Selenium helps protect the body from infections and damage caused by free radicals. It also helps with reproduction, DNA production, and thyroid function.
Iodine is essential for thyroid function so that the body can maintain metabolism and energy levels.
Copper helps to keep nerves and blood vessels happy by helping to form red blood cells. It also helps support the immune system and bone health.
You’ve probably heard of it in the context of toothpaste and dental health. Fluoride helps in bone and teeth formation and to strengthen tooth enamel. It’s not however required for growth or sustaining life, and having added amounts in your toothpaste probably isn’t necessary.
Chloride helps our nervous system relay messages between the brain and body, as well as helping your heart and other muscles contract.
These are minerals that we only need a small amount of. Most people who eat a balanced diet can meet these requirements through food. These trace minerals include iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride, selenium, iron, copper, and manganese.
How to Increase Your Mineral Intake
As we mentioned, most mineral requirements can be met through a balanced diet. While different minerals can be found in different foods, here are some of the best foods to increase your overall mineral intake:
- Seafood, especially shellfish like oysters
- Nuts and seeds
- Ancient grains
- Leafy greens
- Dairy products like yogurt and cheese
- Starchy vegetables like parsnips, potatoes, and squash
- Berries, tropical fruits, and avocado
- Algae and seaweed
- Organ meats
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts
While eating a balanced diet is the best way to increase your mineral intake, if needed you can also take mineral supplements to help with any deficiencies. You can also apply certain minerals topically like magnesium, which can help relax you and ease muscle aches and cramps. Jumping in the ocean is probably the most fun way to get a mineral boost thanks to its high content of calcium, sulfate, sodium, chloride, and magnesium.