Since day one, we’ve been told to consume food that contains minerals, but what actually are minerals?
Minerals, one of the four essential nutrients, are inorganic elements or compounds that are required for the normal functioning and development of a human body. They contribute in the building and repairing processes of the cells, making enzymes and hormones, sending nerve impulses, utilizing vitamins and other nutrients in the body, and keeping the heart, bones, muscles, and brain working properly. Since our body does not manufacture these minerals, we get them from our diet. Having knowledge about what you eat, and supplementing your diet with the minerals that your body seeks, is important.
Minerals can be categorized as macro-minerals and trace minerals. Macro-minerals can be understood as the minerals present in larger quantities in the body, or those that are needed in amounts of 100 milligrams or more per day. The bones, heart, muscles, and brain depend on this type of minerals. Likewise, trace minerals, which can also be termed as micro-minerals, are those that are required in smaller amounts. Some of them act as antioxidants, which protect the cells against free radicals, whereas some support the blood systems in our body. They are also included in enzymes or hormones that are required in bodily processes. While the amount of these two types of minerals needed in our body is not an indication of their importance, both are harmful if consumed in excess.
Calcium: The most abundant mineral found in the human body, it is responsible for healthy skeleton and teeth and has an important role in transmitting nerve signals from one part of the body to another. It also helps to maintain blood pressure and improve muscle contraction and relaxation, and is necessary in nerve function, blood clotting, and the immune system. Hypercalcemia, a condition where concentration of calcium is abnormally high (usually due to malignancy or primary hyperparathyroidism), can lead to weak bones and kidney stones, and even kidney failure. Similarly, high intake of calcium may increase the risk of prostate cancer and cardiovascular events. Hypocalcemia (low blood calcium level) usually indicates abnormal parathyroid function.
Phosphorus: It is another essential mineral required by every cell that plays a huge role in many important chemical reactions in the body. It is needed for all body cell functions and is used in cell membranes. Like calcium, phosphorus is also necessary for building sound healthy teeth and strong bones. It is particularly abundant in milk, where it is associated with calcium in just the right proportion for young children and nursing mothers. This mineral also helps to maintain normal acid-base balance (pH) by acting as one of the buffers. Approximately 85% of the phosphorus is found in the bones and teeth in the body. If phosphorus had been absent in our body, it would be impossible to even lift a finger.
Magnesium: It is a macro-mineral that is extensively used by our body for biological purposes. It is mainly needed for making protein, bone formation, use of glucose in the body, synthesis of biomolecules , such as nucleic acids and protein, cellular energy, muscle contraction, nerve transmission, control of enzyme activity, rigidity of teeth, ion transport, cell signaling, cell migration, and immune system health. Magnesium also has structural functions in cell membranes and chromosomes. In the body, 60% of the magnesium is found in the skeleton, while the rest is found in the soft tissues. The symptoms, when a body lacks magnesium, are nausea, diarrhea, weakness, irritability, and heart and vascular irregularities.
Sodium: Sodium chloride (salt) is a crucial component of our daily diet, which also exists in our blood.
Chlorine: Both sodium and chlorine help in pH regulation, and they work together to control extracellular volume. Chlorine acts as an activator of enzymes and is also essential for the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which is important, since HCl acid keeps the stomach pH-acidic, kills most of the bacteria present in the food we consume, and converts pepsinogen into pepsin in order to metabolize proteins in our stomach, etc.Furem sedo, fauro elatis,
Potassium: Sodium, chlorine, and potassium contribute to maintaining a proper balance of body fluids, and also in the maintenance of osmotic pressure of the cells. Similarly, chlorine and potassium are needed for the transmission of electrical impulse through nerves, muscle contraction, regulation of heartbeat, nerve action, and active transportation of minerals in the body. Low potassium levels in the body may lead to abdominal pain, fatigue, and muscle cramps.
Iron: It is one of the most crucial minerals required by the body; most of the iron is found in the red blood cells/corpuscles (RBCs) or erythrocytes, where it forms hemoglobin, which is responsible for picking up most of the oxygen from the lungs and delivering it to the tissues, besides picking up some of the carbon dioxide transported by the blood. When the number of RBCs or their hemoglobin content decreases, it leads to anemia, symptoms of which are tiredness, weakness, shortness of breath, and increased thirst. Iron is also an important constituent of myoglobin (a protein in muscle cells that stores oxygen) and is also required for energy production, DNA synthesis, cell growth, and replication.
Zinc: It is essential for normal growth and development of the body. This mineral plays a vital role in neurotransmission, immune function, cellular metabolic processes, and reproduction. It is necessary for healing wounds by clotting blood, good eyesight, normal fetal development, transportation of carbon dioxide, making protein and genetic material, and boosting body immunity. Excess consumption of zinc may result in a deficiency of copper
Copper: It is an important trace mineral for both humans and animals. It is incorporated in iron metabolism, neurotransmission, formation of connective tissues, and energy production to the brain through enzymes. Likewise, traces of copper are required for the normal synthesis of hemoglobin and production of melanin, besides also contributing to starch formation. Its deficiency affects the ability of the brain to learn and remember, which can be caused by malnutrition, poor absorption, and high zinc intake.
Fluoride: It is particularly involved in the formation process of bones and teeth. It binds the calcium in bones and teeth, hardens tooth enamel, and stabilizes the minerals in bones. It also prevents the decaying of teeth.
Manganese: It is essential for the activation of many enzymes and is the antioxidant enzyme in the mitochondria (mitochondria consume over 90% of the oxygen used by the cells and are vulnerable to oxidative stress). It helps in the formation of bones and their development and also in wound healing. It plays a major role in metabolizing amino acids, carbohydrates, and cholesterol. If there is a lack of manganese in the body, it leads to osteoporosis, diabetes, and epilepsy.
Selenium: It is essential for the proper function of selenium-dependent enzymes, such as selenoproteins, which has roles in many metabolic activities. Lack of selenium may result in Keshan disease and Kashin beck disease.
Iodine: It is an important constituent of thyroxine, the thyroid hormone needed by humans throughout life for normal growth of the body, as well as for neurological development. Hypothyroidism, a condition of deficiency of iodine, causes enlargement of the thyroid gland, resulting in the formation of goiter. It causes cretinism in children, in which the patient shows retarded mental physical and sexual development. Similarly, in adults, deficiency of iodine causes myxoedema, which results in thickening of the skin, loss of energy, weight gain, mental dullness, and sensitivity to cold. Hypothyroidism negatively affects all kinds of development of the body, but does most damage to the brain. On the other hand, a rapid increase in iodine intake leads to hyperthyroidism, which causes increased metabolic activities, such as raised temperature and raised heartbeat.