If you’re struggling with a general sense of not being well, or you have poor health and it has not specifically been diagnosed as an underlying medical condition, you should read on. One of the potential contributing factors to why you may not feel at the top of your game has to do with mineral deficiencies.
Mineral deficiencies affect every system in the body and it’s important because it is actually rather common. We’ll be exploring the top six mineral deficiencies, seeing how and why those deficiencies can contribute to poor health, and the basic steps to take to correct mineral deficiencies.
What are minerals?
When we think about nutrition, there are basically two categories:
- Macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fiber
- Micronutrients: vitamins, minerals
When we think about micronutrients, we tend to think about the importance of vitamins. Whilst vitamins are critically important for the body to work well, minerals are equally important and frankly, often overlooked and underappreciated.
Minerals are coenzymes required for your body to work. Enzymes basically control everything in every system in your body, from hormones to neurotransmitters, muscles and heart health to blood pressure. Every system in your body basically runs and churns on enzymes, and nearly all enzymes require minerals to work. If enzymes are deficient in those minerals, they do not work properly.
How to spot mineral deficiencies
How do you diagnose a mineral deficiency? The first step is just to learn about what the symptoms of deficiencies are. The second step is to get some laboratory testing to confirm those deficiencies.
Some mineral deficiencies are fairly straightforward and easy to diagnose. Examples include deficiencies in iron, iodine, calcium, and potassium. These minerals are tightly regulated in the body, and there are conventional standard lab testing that can help you find out the levels of these minerals in your body.
Other mineral deficiencies are more difficult to diagnose because they’re within the cells. They’re not freely floating around in the bloodstream so a typical phlebotomy or blood test may not pick them up as easily. There are specialty labs which take samples of your cells and grow them in a lab to help determine if you have micronutrient deficiencies of minerals, specifically minerals like magnesium and zinc. Micronutrient testing measures how micronutrients are actually functioning within your cells. These tests allow nutritional assessments for clinical conditions, general wellness, and the prevention of chronic diseases like arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular risk, diabetes, immune system health, and metabolic disorder.
The top 6 minerals
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. It affects more than 25% of the world population, which is approximately 1.6 billion people worldwide. This figure rises to about 47% in preschool children. 30% of menstruating women may be deficient as well due to monthly blood loss, and up to 42% of young pregnant women may also suffer from iron deficiency.
Iron is an essential mineral. It’s the main component of red blood cells which binds with hemoglobin and transports oxygen to every cell in your body. It’s important for the electron transport chain (which involves energy production in the body), the production of thyroid hormones, and the production of dopamine in the brain.
There are two sources of dietary iron. The first is heme iron. This is very well-absorbed and it’s only found in animal foods. Red meat, in particular, contains high amounts of heme iron. The second source is non-heme iron. This type of iron is much more prevalent and common in our food chain, however, it is not as well absorbed as heme iron. Non-heme iron is found in vegetables and fruits.
The most common consequence of iron deficiency is anemia. The quantity of red blood cells is decreased and the blood becomes less able to carry oxygen to every cell in the body. Symptoms of anemia are fairly well known. They include tiredness, weakness, a weakened immune system, impaired brain function, and blue sclera.
Contributing factors of iron deficiency
- Hypochlorhydria: Also known as having low stomach acid. Stomach acid is required to absorb iron.
- Medications: Certain medications can inhibit the absorption of iron.
- Over-supplementation: Over supplementation of other minerals like zinc, copper, or manganese can also inhibit the absorption of iron.
- Large intake of various foods: A large intake of beans, legumes or grains can inhibit iron absorption due to phytates and lignans found in these foods. Hence, vegetarians and vegans have an increased risk of iron deficiency.
- Beeturia: If you’re an individual that consumes beets, have a look at your urine the next time you pee. If it has a red tint to it, it may be a sign of iron deficiency.
Best sources of iron
The best dietary sources of heme iron include meats, organ meats, fish, shellfish, canned tuna, and canned sardines. The best sources of non-heme iron include beans and legumes. However, note that if you over-consume beans and legumes, the phytates and lignans found in beans can inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron.
Vegetarian sources include broccoli, kale, and spinach. In fact, one ounce of kale provides about 5-6% of your recommended dietary intake. However, you should never supplement with iron unless you truly need it. Too much iron can be pro-inflammatory for the body and frankly, may increase your risk factor for cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, and other health conditions. Additionally, vitamin C can enhance the absorption of iron, so eating vitamin C rich foods like oranges and kale and bell peppers during the consumption of iron-rich foods can be beneficial.
The best way to take iron is in small doses throughout the day. The recommendation is 30 milligrams, three times a day. It may take six to nine weeks before you see improvements within your body.
Iodine is an essential mineral for normal thyroid function and the production of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones are involved in many processes in the body, such as growth, brain development, metabolic rate regulation, and bone maintenance. Think of the thyroid as the accelerator in your car. If you’re pushing the accelerator too much, you reach that red line and the engine (i.e. your body) will be running too fast. If you press too little on the accelerator, you don’t go anywhere. Physically, your body will feel fatigued and possibly see weight gain.
Iodine deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. It affects nearly one-third of the world’s population. The most common symptoms of iodine deficiency is an enlarged thyroid gland, also known as “goiter”. It contributes to an increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and weight gain. Severe iodine deficiency may also include serious adverse effects, especially in children.
Deficiencies can result in dry mouth, dry skin, lack of sweating, weight gain, enlarged thyroid gland, increased heart rate, shortness of breath.
Contributing factors of iodine deficiency
- Excess intake of selenium, calcium, and vitamin A may inhibit the intestinal absorption of iodine.
Best sources of iodine
- Dietary sources include eggs, fish, dairy, spirulina and sea vegetables such as kelp, kombucha and other seaweeds.
- Iodized salt
Be aware of the potential serious side effects or risk factors of taking too much iodine. The recommendations for iodine intake tend to be in the range of about 75 to 150 micrograms per day. It’s a mineral that you have to supplement with caution because too much can cause problems.
Calcium is essential for every cell in the body. It mineralizes bone and teeth, especially during times of rapid growth and development. It’s also helpful for the maintenance of heart health, immune health, and insulin control.
One survey in the US found that less than 15% of teenage girls and less than 10% of women over the age of 50 met the recommended daily intake of calcium. In the same survey, less than 22% of young or teenage boys and men over 50 met the recommended intake. Symptoms of severe deficiencies in calcium include osteoporosis and rickets.
Contributing factors of calcium deficiency
- Lack of vitamin D
- Certain medications
- Over-intake of phosphorous can inhibit calcium intake. Phosphorous is found in canned soda, bottled soda, and cola products.
Best sources of calcium
The effectiveness and safety of calcium supplements have been somewhat debated in the last few years. Some studies have found that over-intake of calcium can lead to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. It is still recommended to get your calcium intake from foods rather than supplements.
Dietary sources of calcium include boned fish, dairy products, dark lean, dark leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, bok choy, and broccoli. Vitamin D and magnesium are required for good calcium absorption so make sure you have a healthy intake of these.
If you’re over the age of 50, the recommended total intake of calcium daily is about 1,200 milligrams.
Between 2004-2007, it was found that 48% of the US population consumed less than the required amount of magnesium. Low intake of magnesium has been associated with several diseases including diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Low magnesium is particularly common among hospital patients and individuals over the age of 50.
Magnesium is a key mineral in the body. It’s essential for bone and teeth structure, and it’s also involved in more than 300 enzyme reactions. It is also important for muscles, nerves, and for activating ATP or adenosine triphosphate (which is basically the energy producer in the body). Furthermore, magnesium helps digest proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. It also serves as a building block for RNA and DNA synthesis, and it acts as a precursor for many neurotransmitters such as serotonin.
Because magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, a deficiency can wreak havoc on your entire system. The fact that researchers have detected more than 3,750 magnesium-binding sites on human proteins should give you a sense of how important the mineral is for your body’s optimal functioning.
Contributing factors of magnesium deficiency
- Certain prescription medications
- Low levels of stomach acid
- Processed foods
- Fertilizers in the production of produce
Deficiencies of magnesium can cause constipation, eye twitches, muscle spasm, headaches and migraines, high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, irregular heartbeats, coronary spasms, low energy, fatigue and loss of appetite. More subtle long-term symptoms that you may not notice include insulin resistance and high blood pressure.
Best sources of magnesium
The best source of magnesium happens to be the magnesium salt, magnesium aspartate. Other dietary sources of magnesium include avocados, nuts and seeds, brown rice, dark leafy green vegetables, oily fish, raw cocoa, and seaweed. Include these as part of your healthy diet.
Intake over the age of 40 is suspected and recommended to be above 420 milligrams for males and 320 milligrams for females. What seems to help magnesium absorption is calcium, potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin B1, also known as thiamine.
Potassium is mostly inside cells. Sodium is mostly outside cells. Now the ratio of sodium to potassium has changed dramatically since the hunter-gatherer days because potassium is mostly in hunter-gatherer Paleo-type foods. Recent research shows that about a third to as much as half of individuals presently are consuming far less potassium than they need to be.
Contributing factors of potassium deficiency
- Certain prescription medications like antibiotics and diuretics
Potassium deficiency can contribute to cardiovascular disease, fatigue, muscle cramps.
Best sources of magnesium
The best source is potassium aspartate, however food sources are always the best for these minerals. There are high levels of potassium in veggies, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, meats, and dairy. An interesting fact about potassium is that there is a difference in potassium levels between boiled and steamed foods. With boiled foods, about 10 to 50% of potassium is lost compared to steamed foods where only three to 6% of potassium is lost.
The FDA has limited the potassium of supplements to 99 milligrams per serving.
At least two billion people worldwide are thought to be zinc deficient. It’s due to a number of reasons, our processes of farming and our changes in dietary habits.
Zinc is important for DNA and protein synthesis, vision, hearing, taste, sexual development, wound healing, immune function, and skin health.
Zinc is thought to be an aphrodisiac and help sperm production in men, but it will only raise testosterone levels if the user is deficient in zinc. In very high doses zinc can act as an aromatase inhibitor in females and reduce estrogen levels, so use with caution if you’re menopausal or postmenopausal.
Contributing factors of zinc deficiency
- If you’re an alcoholic, vegetarian, pregnant, or lactating
- If you have a digestive disorder
- High levels of sweat (athletes should be cautious)
Best sources of zinc
Dietary sources of zinc include dairy products, nuts, red meat, eggs, and seafood. Plant sources of zinc are slightly less well absorbed than animal sources.
If you’re over the age of 20, the recommended daily intake for males is about 11 milligrams, and 8 milligrams for females. The maximum daily dose of zinc supplementation is around 40 milligrams per day and it’s actually important to take copper along with zinc because excess intake of zinc can actually cause copper deficiency.
When you’re taking a mineral, it’s important to look at what salt it is. It’s always zinc with a salt. So it may be zinc sulfate, zinc gluconate, zinc methylthionine, or elemental zinc. All of these are absorbed very differently and affects the quantities you should take. Some examples:
- Zinc sulfate – as much as 220 milligrams
- Zinc gluconate – as much as 380 milligrams
- Zinc methylthionine – 230 milligrams
It’s important to note that supplementation and recommended dosages should be considered on a case-by-case basis, based on pre-existing medical conditions and other minerals you might be taking. As you’ve learned, if you take too much of any one mineral, you can disrupt the absorption of other minerals.
The team at Zenith Labs have created a supplement called Pure Greens, which is a green powder high in minerals but well-absorbed because they’re complexed with their original foods. It’s a safer way than taking mega doses of individual minerals so do check it out and let us know what you think!
If you liked this video/article, do share it with your friends and loved ones. Subscribe to the Youtube channel for weekly tips on new tools and techniques to improve your health and well-being.
I believe in the original meaning of the word doctor, ‘docere’, which means teacher. I’m here to help educate you on how to take care of yourself in ways that you may not have heard of before, but that are effective. I always want to hear your ideas and feedback so be sure to leave me comments below!