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It’s human nature to assign priority based on how much of a particular nutrient is required, but by fixating on macronutrients like calcium, potassium, and so on, we’ve created a gaping blind spot in public knowledge.
In that blind spot, trace minerals like copper, zinc, iodine, and others exist, and even though they are required in significantly smaller doses than their more popular counterparts, they’re still vital to immune defense, cardiovascular health, metabolism, and many other vital processes in the body.
Cases of deficiency in otherwise healthy populations offer especially telling glimpses into how vital trace minerals are, so before our tour of these nutritional castaways, let’s take a second to appreciate how much they’re needed.
First-world and developing nations alike report various nutritional deficiencies. The nature and severity of these problems are influenced by many factors.
Trace minerals may only be required in very small amounts, but health concerns related to deficiencies are no less serious than macronutrient deficiencies.
These minerals include:
A systematic review conducted by the University of Nottingham in Leicestershire, UK noted the following levels of mineral deficiencies among the 9239 participants whose studies they included:
While these figures are not to be construed as an accurate representation of national or global estimates, they demonstrate that trace mineral deficiencies are not extremely rare, or even uncommon phenomena.
Per the CDC, at least fifty percent of children under the age of five are affected by vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Sources: legumes, beef, liver, oysters, eggs, rice, iron-fortified foods (e.g., cereal), nuts, and more.
Functions: oxygen transport via hemoglobin, muscle metabolism via myoglobin, general and neurological development, hormone regulation.
RDAs: 0.27mg-27mg depending on age, gender, and pregnancy/breastfeeding status.
Problems of deficiency: anemia, gastrointestinal distress, fatigue, cognitive impairment, compromised immunity, poor temperature regulation.
Iron deficiency can raise infant mortality and chance of defects in the case of iron-deficient pregnant women.
Sources: beef, oysters, mushrooms, potatoes, turkey, tofu, salmon.
Functions: cofactor in many enzymes that facilitate breakdown of iron, energy output, creation of connective tissue and neurotransmitters.
RDAs: 200mcg-1300mg depending on age, gender, and pregnancy/breastfeeding status.
Problems of deficiency: anemia, high cholesterol, tissue depigmentation, bone health deficiencies, irregular fat metabolism, immunosuppression.
Sources: oysters (very high concentration), beef chuck roast, pork chops, chicken, chickpeas, almonds, pumpkin seeds, lobster.
Functions: helps over a hundred enzymes kickstart important reactions, supports immunity, helps create proteins, repair tissue, and more.
RDAs: 2mg-13mg depending on age, gender, and pregnancy/breastfeeding status.
Problems of deficiency: stunted development, immunosuppression, hair loss, impotence, brain fog.
Sources: mussels, pecans, brown rice, chickpeas, pineapple, soybeans, potato, kale, black pepper.
Functions: like zinc and copper, manganese is a constituent required for enzyme activation.
These enzymes help to break down glucose and amino acids, “scavenge” for free radicals, build healthy bone, and more.
RDAs: In this case, the NIH lists “adequate intakes,” not RDAs, because “evidence is insufficient to develop an RDA”.
Adequate intake range is 2mg-11mg depending on age, gender, and pregnancy/breastfeeding status.
Problems of deficiency: highly uncommon, but evidence suggests “bone demineralization and poor growth in children” as well as skin discoloration and possible mood alterations.
Sources: grape juice, english muffin, lettuce, tomato juice, turkey breast, bananas, and more.
Functions: may facilitate insulin’s role in breaking down sugars, fats, and proteins, but this relationship is not yet confidently established.
RDAs: adequate intakes for the same reason as above, ranging from 0.2mcg-45mcg depending on age, gender, and pregnancy/breastfeeding status.
Problems of deficiency: Per the National Institute of Health’s chromium fact sheet (linked under RDA above), evidence suggests that “although chromium might have benefits at pharmacologic amounts (e.g., in the hundreds of mcg ), it is not an essential mineral because an absence or deficiency of chromium does not produce abnormalities that can be reversed with the addition of chromium.”
Sources: black tea, coffee, raisins, grapefruit juice, potatoes, rice, yogurt, and more.
Functions: assists with bony tissue production and prevents dental decay.
RDAs: no RDAs, but expert recommendations for children and young adults (newborn to 16y/o) call for fluoride supplementation of 0.25mg/day to 1mg/day, provided the fluoride in the water supply is below a certain number of parts per million.
Problems of deficiency: lack of dietary fluoride may accelerate the process of tooth decay, especially when combined with poor dental care and/or dietary choices.
Sources: seaweed, bread, cod, oysters, iodized salt, liver, eggs, and more.
Functions: structural importance in thyroid hormones, which oversee many important processes, like enzyme actions, creation of proteins, and metabolism of many different substances in the body.
RDAs: 90mcg-290mcg, depending on age, gender, and pregnancy/breastfeeding status.
Problems of deficiency: Per the National Institute of Health fact sheet, hypothyroidism is the “most common cause of preventable intellectual disability in the world.”
Deficiency-induced hypothyroidism can cause goiter, developmental delay/problems, miscarriage, cognitive impairment, deafness, spasticity, and more.
Sources: Brazil nuts (six times more selenium content than second place), tuna, halibut, hamp, turkey, brown rice, eggs, oatmeal, lentils, more.
Functions: makes up over two dozen “selenoproteins,” which are integral in the reproductive process, hormonal balancing, and countering oxidative stress.
RDAs: 15mcg-70mcg, depending on age, gender, and pregnancy/breastfeeding status.
Problems of deficiency: increase vulnerability to heart problems, male infertility, and a certain type of OA (Kashn-Beck disease).
Sources: black-eyed peas, beef, potatoes, shredded wheat, bananas, peanuts, eggs, spinach, and more.
Functions: used by the body to create a compound necessary for enzyme reactions. In the case of molybdenum-enabled enzymes, these reactions include metabolism of certain amino acids,, drugs, toxins, and a class of substances called purines.
RDAs: 2mcg-50mcg, depending on age, gender, and pregnancy/breastfeeding status.
Problems of deficiency: deficiency is rare, so symptoms are not well known, but they may include encephalopathy and seizures (in the case of a rare disease characterized my molybdenum deficiency).
Even in otherwise well-nourished people, pregnancy, illness, advanced age, and other personal factors can increase the risk of developing nutritional deficiencies.
Elderly populations are less efficient in the way that they produce and absorb many nutrients, and sometimes, medications they’re on can affect nutrient metabolism.
Also, their immune capabilities are typically not as robust as that of younger populations.
For these reasons and others, elderly populations are especially vulnerable to trace mineral deficiencies.
Even in healthy individuals, trace mineral RDAs are usually higher because of less efficient uptake.
The knee-jerk reaction in the case of pregnancy is to ratchet up one’s intake of all trace minerals (especially iron), but this study from the University of Adelaide in Australia demonstrated that some minerals can actually be harmful to fetal development when consumed at normally adequate levels.
The authors reported that they observed “a protective effect of lower levels of plasma, copper, zinc, and selenium at the beginning of pregnancy on the risk of any pregnancy complication.”
They went on to explain that those correlations are likely due to the lower level of copper, which “provides justification for further work into elucidating the role of copper … and the interaction with other trace elements.”
In other words, adequate micronutrient intake for pregnant women is nuanced; it’s not so simple as simply increasing trace mineral consumption across the board.
Between the above finding and NIH recommendations, pregnant women at least have broad RDA ranges to work with when it comes to trace mineral consumption.
A great many environmental and genetic factors can cause immunosuppression, including, but not limited to:
It’s not always the case that immunocompromised people need to consume trace minerals at higher amounts, but it is even more important to avoid deficiencies, since these populations can suffer greater consequences.
Anyone who doesn’t meet intake levels is rendering themselves vulnerable.
While it’s true that most of the above micronutrients can be sourced from everyday foods, some are more elusive, and in either case, there’s no guarantee that even a nutritionally conscious diet will consistently meet trace mineral RDAs.
This is why everyone can benefit from nutrient-dense supplements, as they’re both easier to track and helpful in establishing consistently healthy levels of trace minerals.
Our top recommendation in this department is Ultra Plan Multi-Mineral Complex, a dietary supplement in capsule form that provides eleven essential minerals.
Vitamin D3 (as Cholecalciferol), Calcium (as Calcium Chelate), Iodine (from Kelp [Fucus vesiculosus]), Magnesium (as Magnesium Chelate), Zinc (as Zinc Chelate), Selenium (as Selenium Chelate), Copper (as Copper Chelate), Manganese (as Manganese Chelate), Chromium (as Chromium Chelate), Molybdenum (as Molybdenum Chelate), Potassium (as Potassium Chelate), Boron (as Boron Chelate), Betaine HCl, Glutamic Acid HCl
11-mineral complex engineered for enhanced nutrient absorption
Each serving contains at least 100% RDA of each trace mineral included in the formula, including zinc, iodine, magnesium, selenium, copper, manganese, chromium, and molybdenum.
This product also contains vital nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and more.
Best of all, Ultra Plan Multi-Mineral Complex was formulated to enhance bioavailability, which refers to how much of an ingested substance is actually put to use by the body (and not broken down).
Alongside a thoughtfully restructured diet, safe and effective supplements like this can help you get to a healthy level and stay there.
Energy drinks and sugary snacks may be louder, sweeter, and faster-acting than natural sources of sugar, but rarely are those benefits conferred without some form of reckoning down the road.
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