5 Minerals for Better Health: Minerals


Many minerals play major roles in the body. Those that are needed in trace amounts are called microminerals. Macrominerals, also called bulk minerals, are needed in larger amounts. Both are necessary for good health and vitality.



: A body builder
As the most abundant mineral in the body, calcium regulates heartbeat, normalizes nerve and muscle function, and assists in blood clotting. Calcium is required for production and activity of enzymes and hormones that regulate digestion, fat metabolism, and energy release; it’s also nature’s skin tonic and sedative, helping cells regenerate and soothing nerves. Calcium’s sedative effects may also calm some hyperactive children, according to Lendon H. Smith, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the University of Oregon.

But many Americans don’t get enough. In 1997, The National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine issued new recommendations, suggesting between 1,000 and 1,200 mg of calcium per day. Yet according to a nutrition survey published in 1995 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average daily calcium intake ranges from only 600 to 800 mg for women and 800 to 1,000 mg for men.

In 1991, researchers at the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Tokyo reported in the International Journal of Vitamin and Nutrition Research that calcium losses were higher in both men and women who ingested a diet high in salty (sodium-rich) foods. Key features of the standard American diet are high-salt foods such as prepared snacks, processed canned and frozen foods, and soft drinks.

Vitamin D, which our skin produces with sun exposure, helps us absorb calcium. According to a 1995 British study reported in The Lancet, a combination of vitamin D and calcium have been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer in families with a predisposition to this disease.

Symptoms of calcium deficiency
Nervousness, muscle aches, leg cramps, recurring cold sores and mouth blisters, and excessive menstrual flow are common symptoms of calcium deficiency. A series of studies conducted by Susan Thys-Jacobs, a gynecologist at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York, indicates that there may also be a link between PMS and calcium deficiency. More extreme deficiencies can result in tooth decay, weight loss, impaired growth (in children), and brittle bones.

Calcium is available in tablets, capsules, flavored chewables, and liquids. The most common forms are calcium aspartate, calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, calcium gluconate, and calcium lactate. For people in good general health, a combination of calcium carbonate and calcium lactate is often recommended. Older people may prefer calcium citrate for easy absorption.

Calcium supplements work in conjunction with magnesium and vitamin D. Calcium taken alone may result in a magnesium deficiency—a factor in osteoporosis. The calcium-to-magnesium ratio should be about 2:1.

Some health experts say that antacids commonly promoted as calcium supplements are a poor choice because they tend to contain aluminum, a toxic mineral that also minimizes absorption of calcium, according to Robert Crayhon, M.S., C.N.

Food sources
Dairy products, calcium-fortified soy milk and/or orange juice, sesame seeds (especially in the form of tahini), soybeans, tofu, green leafy vegetables, ­walnuts, sunflower seeds, and soup stock made from bones. Canned sardines, salmon with bones, clams, oysters, and shrimp are also good sources.

Daily intake for optimum health
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 1200 mg for women and 800 mg for men.

: Calcium’s companion
Phosphorus is found in every cell and fluid of the body. Muscle contraction, nerve impulses, protein absorption, and hormone secretion would be diminished without adequate phosphorus. However, deficiencies are extremely rare; phosphorus is so prevalent in the American diet that near starvation or a metabolic disorder is required to produce a deficiency.

Both calcium and phosphorus ideally should be consumed in roughly equal amounts. An abnormal ratio—usually created by consuming processed foods and carbonated drinks—disrupts the absorption of both minerals, possibly resulting in a calcium deficiency. Vitamin D enhances the optimization of calcium and phosphorus, and the B vitamins depend on phosphorus for complete absorption. Preliminary research published in the mid-1980s indicates that soft drinks may affect phosphorus absorption. For older adults, aging kidneys may be unable to excrete the buildup of phosphorus, tipping the calcium-phosphorus balance. Some nutritionists recommend lowering phosphorus intake after age forty to maintain strong bones and teeth, improve metabolism of carbohydrates and fats, and boost cell regeneration.

Symptoms of deficiency
Deficiency is rare, but people at risk include premature infants, vegans, alcoholics, and elderly people consuming nutrient-poor diets. People who ingest aluminum-containing antacids daily also are at risk. Symptoms include gum infections and bleeding, weak bones, muscles, and teeth, rickets, arthritis, and loss of appetite.

Phosphorus is available in tablets for the treatment of certain kidney malfunctions, diabetic ketoacidosis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and related gastrointestinal malabsorption conditions. Consult your health-care practitioner before self-treating any of these conditions.

Food sources
Dairy products, processed foods, raw wheat germ, seeds, meat, eggs, poultry, fish, and whole grains.

: For kidneys and clear thinking
The third most abundant mineral in the body after calcium and phosphorus is potassium. Potassium is present in the fluids inside the cells in a ratio of 1:1 with sodium. Without the sodium-potassium balance in the body, the kidneys cannot operate properly to maintain pH or eliminate waste products. The sodium-potassium combination is responsible for insulin secretion and smooth transmission of nerve impulses so that muscles can contract on cue.

People most at risk of deficiency are those who use potassium-depleting diuretics or who have poor diets. But low levels of potassium are showing up in some individuals with high blood pressure due to heavy salt intake. Athletes are also prone to potassium loss after intense exercise in the summer months.

Symptoms of deficiency
Irregular heartbeat, loss of appetite, muscle cramps, and fatigue. Some people report feelings of apprehension.

Potassium supplements are available in tablet and­ ­liquid form. They’re best taken on the rec­ommendation of a health-care practitioner, especially by people who are using prescription diuretics for high blood pressure.

Food sources
Bananas, oranges, lemons, limes, prune juice, avocado, cantaloupe, watermelon, raisins, dates, steamed green leafy vegetables, winter squash, steamed potatoes, tomatoes and pineapple, to name just a few.

When mineral balance is off, supplementation or dietary changes may help restore health.

Daily intake for optimum health
The recommended Daily Value for adults is 3,500 mg.

Maligned fluid regulator
Despite its tainted reputation, salt was as valuable as gold in ancient times. Roman soldiers received it as part of their pay, hence the word salary (sal is Latin for salt). Most farmers worldwide would never be without a slab of salt for their animals to lick. Equatorial animals travel hundreds of miles in search of water and salt.

Sodium is present in the fluids that envelop cells. Combined with equal amounts of potassium, sodium chloride (common salt) is what the body needs to maintain pH balance. The sodium-potassium balance also enables the movement of intracellular fluids so that oxygen and digested nutrients can pass in and out of cells. Without this duo, the transmission of nerve impulses would be disrupted. A portion of the chloride that is ­usually bonded to sodium is used in the body to form ­hydrochloric acid in the stomach.

People most at risk for sodium deficiency are those who severely restrict sodium to lower their blood pressure. In susceptible people, too much sodium may cause high blood pressure and increase the loss of calcium through urination.

Symptoms of deficiency
The primary symptom is muscle cramps, but others may include fatigue, intestinal gas, and excessive perspiration.

Supplements are unnecessary for most people—alternatives to common table salt include sea salt and mined mineral-rich rock salt, both available in health-food stores and some supermarkets.

Food sources
Kelp, beets and beet greens, celery, dandelion greens, kale, spinach, chard, watercress, and beef.

Daily intake for optimum health
No less than 500 mg unless directed otherwise by your physician. The recommended Daily Value for sodium is 2,400 mg (one teaspoon equals about 2,000 mg).

: A friend to muscles
Before tablets and formulations in pretty packaging, people sought out the curative powers of mineral springs or added Epsom salts to a bath to get more of this mineral, which can be absorbed through the skin. Magnesium—combined with sodium, potassium, and calcium—dictates the quality of muscle tone in the blood vessels, which in turn affects blood pressure.

Magnesium and calcium also play a role in the relaxation and contraction of muscles. Muscles contract when calcium flows into the cells; as it flows back out, magnesium takes its place, which makes the muscles relax. The process is similar to a breath taken in and gently released.

People with cardiovascular disease may benefit from magnesium supplementation, which has been shown to improve blood pressure readings in some studies. Other findings, reported in a 1984 study published in Magnesium, have shown that spasms of the blood vessels serving the heart occur among individuals with angina who tend to have low levels of ­magnesium. A 1992 study in Diabetologia found that Type II diabetics, who have a poor response to insulin, also have significantly lower levels of magnesium.

Blood readings may not provide a true indication of magnesium levels; a magnesium deficiency can be present at the cellular level, even if the blood readings show adequate or elevated levels.

Symptoms of Deficiency
Fatigue, weak muscles, poor heart function. More extreme cases can lead to convulsions and seizures, heart attacks, and irregular heartbeat with nervousness.

Available as tablets, capsules, and in liquid form combined with calcium. Most common forms are magnesium oxide or magnesium carbonate, magnesium citrate, magnesium malate, and magnesium aspartate. Magnesium should be taken with calcium—the generally accepted ratio is 1:2. Some researchers recommend a ratio of 1:1, but more studies are needed at this time.

Food sources
Soybeans, soybean flour, almonds, cashews, filberts, walnuts, brazil nuts, seafood, blackstrap molasses, seeds, wheat germ, figs, lemons, grapefruit, yellow corn, and green vegetables.

Daily intake for optimum health
The RDA is 280 mg for women and 350 mg for men.

in spinach may help protect eyesight in elderly
Carotenoids, especially lutein and its isomer zeaxanthin, are key to reducing risk of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in people over sixty-five, according to an article in the August 1998 issue of Review of Ophthalmology.

“The conventional wisdom among the U.S. population at large has been that eating carrots will protect your vision. However, the better food may very well be spinach,” says Steven G. Pratt, M.D., an ophthalmologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, California, in a press release.

According to Pratt, compelling evidence suggests that the lutein and zeaxanthin abundant in spinach may significantly reduce the risk of de­veloping age-related macular degeneration.

Researchers from the USDA Research Center at Tufts University in Boston showed for the first time in 1995 that lutein and zeaxanthin are found in the lens of the human eye. Their study, ­published in Vision Science, confirmed that no other carotenoids are present in the eye, including beta-carotene, lycopene, and other carotenoids.

In another study, researcher Johanna M. Seddon, M.D., and her collegues at Harvard University found that 6 mg of lutein per day resulted in a 43 percent lower risk of macular degeneration compared to a control group of people who did not take this level of lutein. Seddon’s study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1994, examined foods such as kale and collard greens and found that people who eat large amounts of these greens are less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration.

Mustard greens and turnip greens are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein is found in marigolds and it’s the substance that makes corn yellow. Supplements of easily absorbed, purified lutein in crystalline form from marigolds are widely available.

In a warmed teapot or glass measuring cup, pour the boiling water over the spices, tea , and bay leaf; steep, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain the tea into a blender jar; rinse the ginger slices and return to the tea with the almonds and optional sugar. Process until smooth. Blend in tofu quickly. Drink at room temperature or process four or five ice cubes and serve icy cold.

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