By Joan Ebsworth, guest writer for sense*, biologist and mother of sense* Founder, Jonathan on part 2 of the Miracle of Minerals. In this article Joan explains the benefits of 2 fashionable and 2 not so fashionable minerals.
Minerals are fastinating and complex
Having taken on this discussion topic I am now finding it to be quite fascinating. It has made me dig deep into my understanding of a variety of processes in the body. Deep into my biology.
As I said in my first article (part 1), it seems that there are around 20 minerals that our bodies require to function. I then go on to name the top 10.
The fashionable vs unfashionable minerals
Why do we pick these out? I feel that maybe that is because we know more about them.
However, the other 10 minerals are equally as important even though less fashionable.
In this article, I am going to tell you about 2 of the more fashionable (iron and magnesium) and 2 of the less fashionable (copper and selenium).
You can then make up your own minds as to whether we should focus just on the top 10 or the whole lot.
Are all the nutrients equally important?
I know sense* holds a lot of store in the fact that they provide ALL the nutrients needed for a particular need such as energy or gut health.
So they include a number of the less fashionable minerals in their products. Whether “rightly so” we can explore.
Recap on the Miracle of Minerals
First a short recap if you missed the first article with my starting point.
Do we get enought minerals?
I just accept that I eat reasonably well and I assumed that I would be getting enough minerals and vitamins. Along with the macronutrients such as my proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
Maybe I am but, maybe I’m not. The reality is that I don’t really know.
Minerals start as rocks in the Earth
All of these minerals originate in the soil, the rivers and seas. The planet is made of rocks, ores, clays, sands etc– and they all contain minerals.
Plants need them to grow and function. Somehow those minerals have to get into the plants – usually via the soil.
Then we eat those plants or we eat animals that have eaten those plants.
Sounds easy – but as with all things biological – it isn’t always as easy as it seems.
What are minerals used for?
We need sufficient intake of minerals for so many metabolic pathways in the body e.g. the production of energy; the synthesis of blood, bone, and hormones; the immune system; enzyme function; and reproduction.
Furthermore, balance or the ratio of one mineral to another is key to mineral uptake or absorption.
Too little magnesium and calcium can be deposited in places where you don’t want it to be deposited – like heart valves.
If you have too little then your health is compromised but if you have too much then many minerals can be toxic too.
So why are they not tested for more regularly? They are so important.
Which minerals are important?
Let us start with one of the Top 10 – IRON.
This is one that we are all familiar with.
Iron is central to the molecule haemoglobin in our blood. I mentioned this in my last article.
Iron central to energy production
Red blood cells carry the haemoglobin and it carries oxygen to every cell in the body. It picks it up and becomes oxy-haemoglobin.
Then it drops it off where needed providing energy production and becomes haemoglobin again.
Our blood can be tested in a number of ways to assess our iron and haemoglobin levels.
Deficiency in iron causes anaemia
Anaemia is one symptom of low iron and low haemoglobin. Resulting in extreme fatigue as we just do not have enough oxygen to release energy from our food.
Anaemia can also deplete our immune systems so iron is important for that too.
However iron is extremely toxic in high amounts and its absorption by our gut is highly regulated. We only need “enough” to do the jobs that need doing.
We do not need to worry too much about this though because we have extremely clever bodies.
Blood tests include iron…must be important
But the medical profession does test for this mineral every time that you have a blood test. Because too much can damage organs and a few people do have a genetic pre-disposition for this to happen.
However, the levels that the medical profession use to spot amaemia are far too low so don’t necessarily rely on the doctor’s report if it says no anaemia is found.
Try taking iron supplements or a multivitamin with iron in it to see how you feel.
Iron as used by plants
In manufacture of chlorophyll
What I didn’t know was just how important iron is in the manufacture of chlorophyll. The green plant pigment needed for photosynthesis.
Too little iron and your plant will suffer chlorosis and they will turn a sickly yellow colour and possibly die.
Within the plant, iron is also involved in its respiration, photosynthesis, nitrogen uptake, enzyme manufacture and lots more.
Absorption of iron by humans
It exists as non-heme iron in plants and we humans do find this more difficult to absorb.
So far though – on a plant only diet – I have not suffered any anaemia in 50 plus years. So I must be absorbing it somehow.
In the animals we eat the iron is in a heme form which is apparently more easily absorbed by humans.
A cow will get its non-heme iron directly from the green grass that it eats. And grass fed animals rarely suffer any deficiencies of iron.
Animals that are industrially fed do suffer deficiencies and need their diets supplemented because they are fed foods that are not normal for them to eat.
Will we continue to get enough iron from the soil?
Soil is “alive” but it is being denatured by pesticides , herbicides, mono-cropping etc. The soil microbiome is being destroyed and so the iron might be available but just cannot get into the plants.
So if you have extremely low energy levels –then it might just be a deficiency in this mineral.
Supplementation might do the trick –but it could be that you are unable to absorb it and the reasons for that would need to be explored eg low stomach acid could be a reason.
Then there is MAGNESIUM- another Top 10 mineral!
Doctors can test for this but rarely do.
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the body, yet it is one of the most overlooked.
It is involved in over 300 biochemical processes in the body and deficiencies have been found to play a role in the development of numerous diseases.
Roles that magnesium plays in the body
Below are just a few roles magnesium plays in the body:
- Stress reduction and muscle relaxation—which helps sleep too
- Maintaining healthy blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels
- Increasing the number of and maintaining healthy function of mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell
- Regulating appropriate insulin and blood sugar levels
- Assisting in the conversion of vitamin D to its active form
For blood pressure
So if your blood pressure is up then why not try magnesium first?
If you are depressed or anxious –why not test for a magnesium deficiency?
Magnesium is central to plants
This mineral is central to the chlorophyll molecule in every green plant – so if you eat plenty of green plants you should not be deficient.
Sadly though as a whole population we are extremely deficient – so I am told by the experts – so absorption again is an issue.
I like to err on the side of caution here and I supplement with 400mg per day because it is so important.
Safety of magnesium
If I take in too much then the body has ways of eliminating the excess. In your urine and via your gut.
Unlike iron it will not harm you and as most people are very deficient then overdosing is unlikely.
Testing for magnesium
Blood tests are available but blood serum levels are unreliable and red blood cell magnesium levels are a better bet to test.
The unfashionable minerals
What about the other 10 minerals? Why aren’t they as important?
Maybe because we just don’t know enough about them. Maybe they are difficult to detect. Often being found in trace or very small amounts,
I would say that they must all have a role to play even if they are truly micro in our diets. So I’ve picked out 2 unfashionable minerals.
Today I want to look at COPPER and SELENIUM.
Copper as a miracle mineral
We all know what a copper kettle looks like. What colour it is. And we know that it can become green when the copper reacts with oxygen to make copper oxide.
We call it verdigris. But why do we need copper in our diets?
Like iron, copper is involved in many processes e.g. enzyme production.
Copper and enzymes
Enzymes are needed for just about everything that happens inside us such as:
- Regulation of gene expression
- Creation of red blood cells
- Bone health
- Blood vessel health
- Nerve functioning
- Immune modulation
I am sure that there are more but I think that that gets the point across. It’s quite important it would seem.
Where does copper in our diet come from?
Where do we get it from? Initially from the soil like iron. And then in certain foods:
- mushrooms (shiitake in particular),
- dark chocolate,
- oysters and
- organ meats
Copper in the environment
However, excess copper gets into the environment too.
Industry releases large amounts – via the air, water and foods. There are also copper water pipes (better than lead I suppose).
What are the signs of copper deficiency?
Deficiencies in copper show up via
- weak or brittle bones,
- prematurely grey hair,
- cognitive issues,
- poor vision
to name a few.
Things that you might take little notice of unless severe.
What happens if you get too much copper?
As with most things excess can cause problems too.
In the case of copper, long term excess could affect the liver and kidneys causing abdominal pain and nausea. This would be extremely rare however.
Normally the wonderful liver detoxifies us via bile production and we just eliminate it from our bodies.
Copper in contraception devices
I only recently discovered that IUD contraceptive devices use copper – to kill sperm (and possibly ova too).
Testing for copper levels
We can have our copper levels tested for in our blood without difficulty.
Connection between copper and zinc
Copper’s ratio to zinc is extremely important. Much more than I thought.
Role of copper and zinc in brain function
They both play a role in brain function and neuronal homeostasis (that balance word again).
Any long term imbalance with these two has been shown to cause neurodegeneration possibly caused by increased oxidative stress.
Leading to cell damage and the up-regulation of inflammation.
This balance between zinc and copper seems to be of some importance therefore.
Importance of zinc and copper in ageing
We already know just how important zinc is for so many bio-chemical and molecular processes related to our survival but unlike copper it has a low toxicity level.
Ageing is associated with a decrease in zinc and a consequent increase in copper.
This zinc/copper relationship has been observed in people with dementia.
Therefore I feel that anyone who shows symptoms of dementia should be tested routinely for these minerals.
They might only need to rebalance them and their cognition may be improved. It certainly won’t do that person any harm.
My 2nd unfashionable mineral is SELENIUM
An essential micronutrient – and an essential mineral for human metabolism. But only needed in miniscule amounts as it can be very toxic too.
Some plants store it as protection against some animals eating them. So pretty toxic😊
Selenium as an anti-oxidant
On the positive side, it increases the antioxidant capabilities throughout the entire body and improves blood flow, lowers inflammation and modulates immune function.
Selenium for thyroid function
It is vital for normal thyroid functioning too.
Selenium and mercury
One other useful function is that it has an affinity for heavy toxic metals particularly mercury.
Mercury in the environment
Mercury is everywhere – from fish in the sea to certain vaccines, processed foods, personal care products – even the air that we breathe.
If you eat fish, eat the smallest types of fish that you can find as they have the least amount of mercury contamination.
Mercury as dentist fillings
They used to use mercury amalgam fillings at dentists too. That was a dangerous dental practice.
Mercury infiltration to the human body
When we are trace mineral deficient i.e deficient in any of the minerals I’ve talked about, mercury is able to infiltrate.
It contaminates cells by shutting down their energy producing and antioxidant enzyme systems.
So it is quite useful to keep our selenium levels in balance to rid our bodies of these poisons.
Where do we find selenium in our diet?
When I think of this mineral then I always think Brazil nuts. They have one of the highest concentrations (well they should have) and eating 4 to 6 a day should meet your dietary needs of around 400mcg.
Testing for selenium
Your personal levels of this mineral can be calculated via a blood test but that would only provide the amount at that moment in time.
Hair or nail analysis provides a record of your more long term content – be it a deficiency or an excess.
General advice and summary
If you have symptoms of fatigue, inflammation or frequent infections then testing for:
- a deficiency in minerals and
- for a corresponding heavy metals toxicity
would be well advised and then follow a detox programme.
It can be done. All is possible. Eat real food preferably as organic as you can afford to. The better the soil the better the uptake of minerals.
Sadly doctors rarely think of mineral deficiency when diagnosing an illness.
What can also deplete minerals short term or long term– apart from a poor diet is:
- excessive exercise (and I mean excessive),
- vomiting a lot and diarrhea,
- low stomach acid,
- any digestive issue (which could reduce absorption) and
- heavy metal toxicity (see above).
I told you that it was complicated! Sometimes I wonder how we survive at all😊
Yet we do, hopefully a bit better informed and able to cope.
Good luck with it all.
This is not a sense* article. The views expressed in this article are those of the author so there may be opinions or statements in this article that are not approved by sense* and do not represent the views and opinions of the company.