Minerals: The Earth Inside Us

Minerals: The Earth Inside Us

Minerals: The Earth Inside Us


Before moving on to more technical stuff, let’s read these vivid, meaningful lyrics:

We have calcium in our bones, iron in our veins,
carbon in our souls, and nitrogen in our brains.
93 percent stardust, with souls made of flames,
we are all just stars that have people names.”

 -93 percent stardust, Nikita Grill


Minerals (from the song and elsewhere) participate in many biochemical processes and have an important role in the growth and development of the human organism.

According to the IMA Database of Mineral Properties, there are more than 5400 currently known minerals. However, only 19 of them are essential. This means that they should be consumed regularly through food, water, and dietary supplements because the human body cannot produce them.

Essential minerals can be classified into two groups:

  • Major minerals that we need in larger quantities – Sodium (Na), Potassium (K), Calcium (Ca), Phosphorus (P), Magnesium (Mg), Sulfur (S), Chloride (Cl).
  • Trace minerals as equally important but in a much smaller amount – Iron (Fe), Selenium (Se), Chromium (Cr), Copper (Cu), Iodine (I), Zink (Zn), Manganese (Mn).

*Nickel, vanadium, silicon, cobalt, and molybdenum are also considered as trace essential nutrients and are needed in very tiny amounts.

The food: Minerals can be found in food of plant and animal origin, in different quantities. The content and quantity of minerals in plants are affected by geochemical conditions and soil. 

Recommended daily intake (RDA) vs. adequate intake (AI)?

Don’t get confused by these terms. They are very similar. Recommended daily intake (RDA) is used to define a sufficient level of daily nutrient intake in order to meet all nutritional requirements.

Adequate intake (AI) is used when scientists don’t have enough data to determine RDA (for sulfur for instance).

RDA and AI may vary throughout the lifetime, depending on age, lactation, pregnancy, and menopause.

Important: Some supplemental nutrients also have a daily upper limit or tolerable upper intake level (UL) that is considered safe. However, the term applies only to supplements, it is practically impossible to overdose on natural vitamins and minerals from food.

1. Macrominerals

Na & K: The Most Popular Guys In The Hood

Both sodium (Na) and potassium (K) are very important in maintaining water and acid-base balance as well as for keeping permeability of cell walls. Also, both of them participate in the transmission of impulses through the nervous system and regulate muscle activity.

Sodium (Na)

The food high in sodium: Table salt, all processed foods (sausages, ham, bacon, processed cheese, frozen pizzas), most of the commercial bread, canned soups and vegetables, artichoke, asparagus.

RDA: Daily servings of salt should be approximately 0.75 g  (750 mg of Na) up to 1.5 g (1500 mg of Na), for healthy individuals. Consumption levels of sodium in sensitive populations should be minimal, not exceeding 1300 mg (1.3 g) per day. It includes adults over 50, patients with chronic kidney and cardiovascular diseases, and similar conditions.

Daily upper limit: 2.3 g (2300 mg)

Too much sodium retains fluid in the body thus increasing the blood volume which can cause a rise in high blood pressure. This can be particularly harmful to patients with chronic kidney and/or hearth conditions. Cutting down an excessive salt intake will significantly reduce high blood pressure.

Sodium deficiency: Symptoms may include weakness, nausea, and exhaustion as a result of rapid fluid loss, and can be compensated with intravenous fluids (electrolytes) to prevent more serious conditions.

Sodium drug interactions:

  • Both high and very low sodium intake interfere with Lithium (antipsychotic) and Tolvaptan (vasopressin receptor antagonist).

Potassium (K)

The food high in potassium: Green vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes, fruit (banana), rice, cereals, etc. Almost all food, except olive oil, contains potassium.

Adequate intake is about 4.7 g /day

Potassium deficiency: Rare in healthy individuals because almost all food contains potassium.

Too much potassium in the blood can be harmful and cause renal and heart failure!

Potassium drug interactions:

  • ACE inhibitors (Monopril, Vasotec, etc.) may increase the level of potassium in the blood.
  • Anticoagulant drug Heparin can increase the level of potassium in the blood.
  • Some diuretics may decrease the level of potassium in the blood.

Calcium (Ca): Bones’ Must-Have

The physiological role of Ca: Calcium makes 1.5-2% of the total body weight. It has an important role in the formation of bones and teeth, blood coagulation, muscle contraction and relaxation, transmission of nerve impulses, for the permeability of cell walls, and activation of some enzymes.

The food high in calcium: High in calcium is also leafy green vegetables (spinach), beans, nuts, and egg yolk. Some cereals, soy products, and fruit juices can be fortified with up to 1 g (1000 mg) of calcium per serving.

RDA: Approximately 1 g (1000 mg for adults) and 1.2 g (1200 mg for those over 51).

The daily upper limit for supplemental calcium intake: 2.5 g (2500 mg).

Too much calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia) may cause hyperthyroidism, primary hyperparathyroidism, acute kidney disease, benign breast dysplasia, and is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.

Calcium deficiency occurs because of the low calcium intake, food intolerance, or poor absorption, and can cause rickets in children, and osteomalacia in adults (bone pain, fracture, osteoporosis).

Calcium drug interactions:

Drugs that adversely affect the absorption of vitamin D activity reduce the level of calcium in the organism.

  • Barbiturates diminish the activity of vitamin D, and cholestyramine (bile acid sequestrant) reduces vitamin D absorption.
  • Tetracycline, H2 receptor blockers, and proton pump inhibitors reduce the absorption of calcium in supplements.
  • Concomitant administration of calcium and certain drugs (bisphosphonates and quinolones) reduces the absorption of these drugs in the organism.
  • Phytic and oxalic acid, and dietary fibers, reduce the absorption of calcium.


Phosphorus (P): Best Transportation Service

The physiological role of phosphorus: This mineral is a structural component of bones and teeth, participates in the absorption of glucose and glycerol (from fat), in the transportation of fatty acids, and has other important roles in the human body. It is part of phospholipids (fat molecule), nucleic acids, and phosphoproteins; and supports the energy metabolism (the way body uses and stores it).

It makes 0.8% – 1.1% of the total body weight!

The food high in phosphorus: whole grains, beans, and lentils, dried-out cheese, meat, egg yolk, milk, and milk products.

RDA: Around 0.7 g (700 mg/day)

The daily upper limit for supplemental phosphorus intake: 3 g (3000 mg/day)

Phosphorus deficiency is rare but may develop in some conditions (alcoholism and diabetes). Symptoms are rickets in children, delayed teeth growth, and in adults stiff joint, bone pain, weakness, irregular breathing, and more.

Phosphorus toxicity may occur due to increased retention of the mineral in the body in people with kidney problems and vascular occlusion, and further contribute to a biochemical imbalance. Generally, all processed and fast foods that contain a large number of phosphorus additives should be avoided.

Phosphorus (P) drug interactions:

  • Antacids based on aluminum hydroxide interfere with the absorption of phosphorus, building aluminum phosphate.
  • Phytic and oxalic acid and dietary fiber reduce the absorption of phosphorus.

Chloride (Cl): A Loyal Anion

Physiological roles: This mineral is the most important extracellular anion, and together with Na and K, it participates in maintaining proper fluid and acid-base balance in our body.

The food rich in chlorides: Table salt and all processed foods (large amounts), soy products, milk, and vegetables.

Adequate Intake: 2.3 g (2300 mg) per day for healthy individuals, which is around 1 teaspoon of salt.

The daily upper limit for supplemental chloride intake: 3.6 g (3600 mg).

Chloride deficiency may develop as a result of rapid fluid loss (vomiting, excessive sweating, and diarrhea). Common symptoms include weakness, nausea, and exhaustion.

Too much chlorides can lead to hypermagnesemia (high levels of magnesium in the blood), which is rare, except in patients with kidney failure.

Magnesium (Mg): Have Some Raw Cacao Cookies

The food high in magnesium: Almonds, peanuts and peanuts butter, soybeans, spinach, potato, cacao, and peas.

Physiological roles: The mineral participates in the formation of tissue, metabolism of proteins, and carbohydrates; together with calcium it regulates muscle cells contractility.

RDA: Around 350-450 mg/day, depending on age, gender.

The daily upper limit for supplemental magnesium intake: 350 mg/day. Too much magnesium from food does not pose a health risk in healthy individuals.

Magnesium deficiency may develop in patients with ischemic heart disease and alcoholics.

Too much magnesium in your blood (hypermagnesemia), can cause serious health conditions such as arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats), coma, and even death. 

Magnesium interaction with drugs:

  • Medication for muscle relaxation during surgical interventions, as well as oral anticoagulants and diuretics, reduce the level of magnesium in the body.
  • Concomitant administration of magnesium and drugs such as tetracycline and quinolone bisphosphonates reduces the absorption of drugs.
  • Foods rich in dietary fiber, phytates, and oxalates can lead to decreased absorption of magnesium.
  • Concomitant administration of magnesium and iron or manganese can reduce the absorption rate of these two elements (competitive inhibition).

Sulfur (S): Smelly But Healthy

If you ever wondered why rotten eggs have that hellish smell, the answer is: sulfur!

Physiological roles: The most relevant, among other roles, is that sulfur serves as an important building block for proteins and as a structural competent of glutathione (one of the most important antioxidants!);

The food high in sulfur: Legumes (soybeans), nuts and seeds, fish and seafood, dairy products, eggs, meat.

RDA: No official recommendation for the intake of this element.

Sulfur deficiency can cause reduced amino acids and protein synthesis and can lead to joint pain and disease. It is rare in those who eat enough meat and dairy products because it is mostly found in animal protein sources. Vegans need to carefully plan their diet in order to ensure a sufficient amount of this mineral in their daily nutrition.

Too much sulfur in your blood can lead to diarrhea.

2.Trace Minerals

Selenium (Se): Granny’s Favorite

Physiological functions: Selenium is important for the synthesis of thyroid hormones and in protecting tissues from free radicals, together with vitamin E. Known as a natural memory booster!

The food high in selenium: Mixed nuts, wheat germ, bran, seafood (tuna, shrimps, sardines), chicken, red meat (offal), etc.

RDA: around 50 mcg (micrograms!) daily.

The daily upper limit for supplemental selenium intake: 400 μg/day

Selenium deficiency can lead to Keshan disease, a potentially fatal form of cardiomyopathy (a disease of the heart muscle)

Selenium drug interactions:

  • Corticosteroids reduce the level of selenium in the blood.
  • Some chemotherapy drugs lower selenium in the blood.
  • Selenium interferes with the effects of barbiturates.

Iron (Fe): Powered By Oxygen

Physiological functions of FeThe vitamin has an important role in oxygen transfer from lungs to tissues and cells (about 60%-70% of the total amount of iron in the body is found in hemoglobin, in red blood cells). In addition, Fe is essential for the functioning of a large number of enzymes participating in energy metabolism. Iron is classified as a trace mineral because of its small quantity in the human body.

The food high in iron: Variety of foods of plant and animal origin such as red meat (liver, beef) seafood, poultry, egg yolks, beans, red pepper, dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, lentils, including fortified cereals, among other food, contain iron.

Iron deficiency is widespread in the general population, particularly among children and pregnant women. One in four people has this type of nutritional deficiency, which is a leading cause of anemia. Symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, slower motor function, glossitis.  Some diseases (such as gastrointestinal ulcers and colon tumors) may also be related to iron deficiency.

Too much iron in blood: the rare, excessive accumulation of iron can lead to liver damage, heart failure, hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, and other serious conditions.

RDA: Around 8 mg/day, while women’s bodies require a bit more of this mineral (18 mg/day) to compensate for iron loss and prevent iron deficiency anemia during the menstrual periods.

Daily upper limits for supplemental iron intake: 45 mg/day

Interactions with drugs:

  • Antacids hinder the absorption of iron.
  • Concomitant administration of tetracycline antibiotics and iron reduces drug and Iron absorption.
  • Iron may have adverse effects on the level of copper n the body.
  • Concomitant administration of iron and vitamin E decreases iron absorption.
  • Synergistic effect: Vitamin C, beta-carotene, and sulphuric acid enhance the absorption of iron.

Chromium (Cr): Insulin’s BFF.

Physiological functions of chromium: The nutrient supports the functioning of insulin in the body, which regulates the level of sugar in the blood, it supports the normal brain function, and has many other essential roles.

The food high in chromium: Tomatoes, beans, broccoli, mushrooms, bread, brewer’s yeast, egg yolk, lean meat, beef (liver), cheese, grape juice, apple, oranges.

Chrome deficiency: Lack of chromium can cause hyperglycemia (too much glucose in your blood), glucose intolerance, and obesity. Also, without enough chromium, sugar is converted into fat (increasing levels of cholesterol and triglycerides).

Adequate intake: 25 mcg

Daily upper intake: Not established, due to very little evidence of chromium overdose.

Before taking any dietary supplements always consult your doctor or pharmacist about the safe dosage!

Chromium drug interactions:

  • Chromium supplementation can adversely affect and interfere with antiplatelet drugs, antacids, beta-blockers, or anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Chromium may lower levels of sugar in the blood, i.e., the amount of diabetes medication such as Glucophage, DiaBeta (Glibenclamide).

Copper (Cu): Kale & Oysters

Physiological functions of Cu in the body: The nutrient is essential for endocrine functions, growth, cardiovascular functions, metabolism of iron, bone and connective tissues, and many more.

The food high in copper: Wholemeal cereals, bran, nuts, fruits, fish, chocolate, coffee, and tea, are the most important sources. Cooper from meat is better absorbed than cooper from vegetables, and copper from humans is better absorbed than from cow’s milk.

RDA: 900 mcg/day

Too much copper from diet or due to environmental exposure can cause acne, anemia, hair loss, depression, arthritis, and many more.

Copper deficiency – generally uncommon, but can cause some hematological disorders such as hypochromic microcytic anemia and neutropenia and neurological manifestations.

Copper drug interactions:

  • Contraceptive pills, Cimetidine (a medication used for the treatment of ulcers), Allopurinol (for gout treatment), interfere with copper and may increase the level of copper in the blood. Consult your health provider in case of concomitant intake of drugs and dietary supplements.

Iodine (I): The Heart Full of Sea

Physiological functions of iodine: The mineral is a structural component of the thyroid hormones, which regulate the body’s metabolic rate. It is responsible for the conversion of food into energy in the body, and the way body uses the energy.

The food high in Iodine: Seafood, fish and algae, tuna, eggs, strawberries, cranberries, various iodized salts, and various fruits.

RDA: 150 mcg/day

The daily upper limit for supplemental iodine intake: 1000 mcg/day

Too much iodine: Excessive intake of this mineral can cause hyperthyroidism.

Iodine deficiency: Lack of this nutrient can cause serious medical conditions such as goiter, hypothyroidism (due to reduced synthesis of thyroid hormone), cretinism (lack of iodine during pregnancy), and other severe intellectual and mental disorders.

Iodine drug interactions:

  • Iodine is contraindicated with antiplatelet drugs (warfarin), antithyroid drugs and

Zinc (Zn): Spotless

Physiological functions of zinc: This essential element is a structural component of over 70 different enzyme systems in the body. It has an essential role in the synthesis of DNA and RNA. It is necessary for growth, division, and maturation of cells. Zink is important for bone formation and activation of vitamin A (crucial for the vision process).

The food high in zinc: Variety of food of plant and animal origin – seafood (oysters), red meat (liver), eggs, dairy products, whole grain cereals, nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin, and more.

RDA: 11 mg/day for men, 8 mg/day for women

The daily upper limit for supplemental zinc intake: 40 mg/day

Zinc deficiency is frequently seen in diabetics, alcoholics, and vegetarians. Symptoms may include diarrhea, lack of appetite, hair loss, impaired immune system, atrial fibrillation, and mental confusion.

Zinc drug interactions:

  • Concomitant administration of zinc and medications such as tetracycline, bisphosphonatespenicillamine, and quinolones, reduce the absorption of the medications and zinc.
  • Foods rich in dietary fiber, phytates, and oxalates can decrease the absorption of zinc.
  • Foods high in sulfur amino acids can improve the absorption of zinc.
  • Concomitant administration of zinc and iron can reduce the level of absorption of both.
  • Concomitant administration of zinc and copper can reduce the absorption of copper.
  • Concomitant administration of zinc and potassium can reduce the absorption of zinc.
  • Coffee and tea (caffeine) can reduce the absorption of zinc.

Manganese (Mn): The Tough Guy

Physiological functions: It is part of superoxide dismutase (SOD), an important antioxidant enzyme that fights free radicals. It also helps in the proper functioning of the endocrine system and is important in the formation of skeletons and teeth.

Food sources: Widespread in various food – nuts, fruit, meat.

Adequate Intake: 1.8 mg/day for women and 2,2 mg/day for men

The daily upper limit for supplemental manganese intake: 11 mg/day

Manganese toxicity is possible after long-term exposure through aerosol, particularly in those living around or working on the manganese alloy producing plants. Symptoms of neurotoxicity include hand tremors, endocrine system disruptions, skeletal dysfunction, pulmonary disorders.

Manganese deficiency: Rare since almost all foods contain this mineral.

Fluoride (F): Smile!

Sources: Water (either fluoridated or naturally containing fluorides), foods, and drinks prepared with fluoridated water – see fish, some teas, and fluorinated salt.

Physiological functions: Although considered non-essential, recent WHO and EFSA reports emphasize the fluoride role in the prevention of tooth decay, as well as in solidification and maintenance of our bones. Optimal fluoride level in drinking water is particularly important for children, during the teeth development process.

Adequate intake (AI) is about 4 mg/day for men, and 3 mg/day for women.

The daily upper limit for supplemental intake: 10 mg/day

Too much fluorides: Excessive concentrations and chronic exposure can lead to dental fluorosis, osteoporosis, and can cause damage to the endocrine and nervous system. Such cases are evident in some parts of India, Palestine, and China, where the soil is rich in fluoride that accumulates in leaves of tea plants and through hot water extraction are released into tea liquor.


1 Comment

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