Minerals are inorganic compounds typically found in nature. From a dietary standpoint, minerals are naturally occurring elements that needed by the body to carry on normal functions.
Some minerals are considered essential nutrients. That is, acting in concert, they perform numerous roles crucial to everyday bodily functions. They help build bones, teeth, hair and joints, they help heal wounds, they help keep the immune system in good working order and they aid in the repair of cellular damage. They also help play key roles in converting food into usable energy. In common parlance, vitamins are often lumped together with minerals (as in “vitamins and minerals”). Like vitamins, one way minerals are classified is according to the quantities needed by the body to carry on normal functions. In this way, they are classified as either macrominerals or microminerals (more on this below). Although they are both considered nutrients, minerals and vitamins differ in some fundamental ways.
As mentioned, minerals are inorganic and retain their chemical structure. Vitamins, in contrast, are organic and can be altered chemically in reactions that involve heat, oxidation, or certain kinds of acid. Those essential minerals in the macro category are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, and sulfur. Minerals in the micro (sometimes referred to as “trace”) category are chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, and zinc. Macro- denotes necessary quantities of 100mg/day or greater, while micro- denotes smaller amounts. These essential minerals can be found in the body dissolved in fluids as ions and/or are as part of important compounds. Some other minerals, are not only non-essential, they are non-nutritive and they can be toxic. These so-called contaminant minerals (such as lead and mercury) can harm the body by disrupting normal bodily functions and processes.
Essential minerals typically to play structural or regulatory roles in the body.
Some examples of structural roles include:
-calcium and phosphorus as components of the compound hydroxyapatite, found in bones and teeth;
-sulfur as contained in hair cells, as well as in joints and tendons.
Regulatory roles of minerals include:
-sodium and potassium in neural conduction and blood pressure;
-copper, magnesium and zinc are essential for the function of many enzymes;
-zinc and selenium serve several functions as anti-oxidants; -iron and zinc are both essential parts of immune cell functions.
-iron as an essential part of the hemoglobin in red blood cells, enabling them to carry oxygen. Too little iron in some people causes a type of anemia.
-fluorine (also found in some light bulbs) is at least as well known for its role in cutting down on the bacteria that can cause plaque and/or dental carries (in the form of sodium fluoride).
Minerals and Vitamins Working Together
As mentioned above, there are several functions in the human body that employ either vitamins and minerals acting together or multiple vitamins acting in concert. But there are also some antagonistic effects, too, especially among minerals with similar properties. One such synergy is seen between Calcium (Ca2+) and Vitamin D with regard to bone deposition and demineralization. Blood calcium level is critically important for normal functioning. So bone may be sacrificed in order to stabilize blood calcium levels. When calcium levels start to drop, parathyroid hormone (PTH) is released, which activates specialized bone cells known as osteoclasts to demineralize, or break down, bone to release Ca2+ into the bloodstream. PTH also acts in the digestive tract to transport calcium into the bloodstream.
Getting Enough Minerals
While there are many supplements available, the easiest way to get sufficient quantities of essential minerals into the body is by eating a wide variety of foods. Typically, supplementation should come at the recommendation of a physician.