Supplement Basics: Minerals

Why does the body require minerals?

  • The body cannot make minerals, so it relies on dietary or supplemental sources.
  • Minerals work with vitamins, enzymes, and hormones to keep the body healthy.
  • Minerals can either work together to enhance their functions or against each other by competing for absorption.
  • Minerals should be consumed in the proper ratio to each other to ensure a healthy balance.
  • The 20 minerals the body requires are divided into two classes: major and trace.
  • Major and trace minerals are both important; a deficiency of either type leads to health problems. 

What are the major minerals?

  • A mineral is classified as “major” if the body contains more than a teaspoon of it.
  • The major minerals are calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur.
  • One of the important functions of calcium is to build strong bones that resist osteoporosis.
  • The body needs magnesium to help convert food into energy and to ensure a steady heartbeat. 

What are the trace minerals?

  • All of the trace minerals together add up to less than a teaspoon in the body.
  • The trace minerals include boron, chromium, cobalt, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, silicon, vanadium, and zinc.
  • Trace minerals affect every body function. For instance, zinc is needed for a strong immune system, chromium helps regulate blood sugar and insulin, and selenium is needed in the antioxidant defense system.
  • Many of the trace minerals, including iron, copper, and selenium, are needed to prevent anemia.

The bone-building mineral

  • Calcium, an essential mineral, is needed to form bones and teeth. It is also a key messenger that helps the body's cells communicate with one another.
  • Recommended intakes for calcium are 1,000 mg per day for adults ages 19–50 and 1,200 mg per day for adults over age 51. Taking into account the typical amount of calcium consumed in the diet, the most common supplemental amount recommended for adults is 800–1,000 mg per day.
  • A glass of milk contains about 300 mg of calcium. A serving of tofu contains about 258 mg of calcium.
  • Calcium is considered quite safe. However, side effects of constipation, bloating, and gas are sometimes reported with the use of calcium supplements.
  • Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium; it can be beneficial to take 400 IU of vitamin D per day when supplementing with calcium.
  • Dairy products, sardines, green leafy vegetables, and tofu are all dietary sources of calcium.

Keeping bones strong and healthy

  • Inadequate dietary calcium, especially in white and Asian women, increases the risk of osteoporosis (brittle bone disease).
  • Most doctors recommend calcium supplements as a way to partially reduce the risk of osteoporosis and to help people already diagnosed with the condition.

Other health benefits of calcium

  • Calcium deficiency has been associated with preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension). Calcium supplementation during pregnancy can reduce the incidence of this condition. The National Institutes of Health recommends an intake of 1,200–1,500 mg of elemental calcium daily (from all sources) during normal pregnancy.
  • Calcium supplementation—typically 800–1,500 mg per day—has been shown to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension.
  • Women who consume more calcium from their diets are less likely to suffer severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Chromium: Blood-sugar-balancing trace mineral

  • Chromium is an essential trace mineral that helps the body maintain normal blood sugar levels.
  • The recommended range of dietary intake for chromium is 50–200 mcg per day.
  • As a supplement, 200 mcg per day is a typical amount, although up to 1,000 mcg is sometimes recommended by healthcare professionals for the treatment of specific health concerns.
  • Supplemental amounts up to 300 mcg per day are generally considered safe.
  • Brewer's yeast is the best dietary source of chromium. Brewer's yeast should not be confused with nutritional yeast or torula yeast, which do not contain significant amounts of chromium. Brewer's yeast contains up to 60 mcg of chromium per tablespoon.
  • Grains and cereals also provide chromium.

Roles in diabetes and cholesterol management

  • Chromium supplements increase sensitivity to insulin (the hormone that carries glucose into the body's tissues), thereby improving glucose tolerance in people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
  • This benefit of chromium also occurs in those with pre-diabetic glucose intolerance, in women with gestational (pregnancy-related) diabetes, and even in healthy people.
  • Chromium has been shown to lower total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol), and triglycerides (all of which are risk factors for heart disease) in people with elevated levels.

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Information expires June 2015.