Essential minerals also called macro minerals and electrolytes are nutrients that play various critical roles in the body’s functioning, growth, and overall health. These are the heroes of our cellular health and vitality contributing extensively to our bodies and minds. Macro minerals and electrolytes are necessary for every possible function including that of the circulatory system, the nervous system and brain, the gastrointestinal (digestive) system, detox organs, adrenals, and hormones. Here are the main macro minerals and their functions.
Magnesium is important for >300 different enzymatic reactions. These include carbohydrate metabolism, protein synthesis, nucleic acid synthesis, and muscle contraction. Magnesium is also needed for energy production and is important to the blood clotting pathways. Like calcium, it builds bones and teeth and helps to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar. Increased serum or red blood cell magnesium levels are mainly associated with Kidney dysfunction or failure. Decreased serum magnesium levels are most commonly a sign of magnesium deficiency.
Common Signs of magnesium deficiency
- Muscle cramps
- Fatigue & weakness
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Pins and needles.
- Muscle spasms.
Calcium is a crucial macro mineral that contributes to strong bones and teeth, but its functions extend beyond that. Calcium also helps in muscle contraction, blood clotting, nerve transmission, cell signaling, heart and vascular function, enzyme activity, relaxation, and sleep. Calcium is particularly important for the REM stage of sleep. It helps the body utilize the amino acid tryptophan, whose sedative effect eases the body into sleep.
Among essential minerals, calcium levels in the blood are tightly regulated, and there is an important connection between calcium and vitamin D. Parathyroid hormone (PTH) and vitamin D are important to calcium regulation. The body’s bones are an important storehouse for calcium, and its deficiency eventually weakens the musculoskeletal system. High calcium levels are most seen with problems in the parathyroid glands. Low calcium levels are not always the result of deficient dietary intake. Before supplementing with calcium, most doctors will check vitamin levels, rule out hypochlorhydria, and make sure that the intake of magnesium, phosphorus, unsaturated fatty acids, and iodine is normal.
Signs of calcium deficiency (hypocalcemia)
- Muscle cramps, especially in your back and legs.
- Tooth decay and gum disease
- Dry, scaly skin.
- Numbness & tingling
- Brittle nails.
- More coarse hair
- Abnormal heart rhythm
While not included in the essential minerals, Zinc is an important trace mineral that contributes to several metabolic functions. It supports a healthy immune response, wound healing, and inflammatory response and may reduce the risk of age-related diseases. Because essential trace elements cannot be synthesized in the body and cannot be stored in the body, you must acquire zinc through your diet or supplementation. Zinc’s function in the body is rather extraordinary.
Zinc participates in gene expression, protein synthesis, DNA synthesis, wound healing, growth and development, immunological function, and more than 200 enzymatic reactions. Increased zinc levels are rare and mostly seen in people supplementing with zinc. Low zinc levels are most seen in a diet lacking green leafy vegetables. Men with enlarged prostate would do well in knowing more about the connection between zinc and BHP (benign prostatic hyperplasia)
Symptoms of zinc deficiency
- Growth retardation
- Poor metabolism of carbohydrates and lipid
- Poor protein synthesis
- Poor wound healing
- Poor antioxidant activity,
- Poor immune function
- Loss of appetite
- Low insulin and thyroid hormone
- Hair loss
- Decreased sense of smell and taste
- Lack of alertness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Age-related macular degeneration
Potassium is classified as an electrolyte because it maintains electrical balance and conducts electrical impulses within the body. Electrolytes are essential minerals that carry an electric charge when dissolved in bodily fluids like blood, plasma, and interstitial fluid. These charges are essential for various physiological processes, including nerve function, muscle contraction, fluid balance, etc. Potassium helps nerve conduction, maintaining osmotic pressure (the force that keeps fluids from leaking out of your blood vessels), muscle function, cellular transport via the sodium-potassium pump, and acid-base balance.
Most of the potassium in the body is inside cells. Since potassium plays a critical role in metabolism and physiology, the body must also maintain optimal levels in the bloodstream. The adrenal gland and its hormones influence potassium concentration. So, potassium levels can be a marker for adrenal problems, acid-base balance, and general electrolyte status.
Signs of Potassium deficiency (Hypokalemia)
- Weakness and fatigue
- Muscle cramps.
- An abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) – skipped heartbeats or an irregular heartbeat.
- Tingling or numbness.
- Excessive urination
- Excessive thirst
Sodium among essential minerals helps get water into our cells. It plays an important role as a blood electrolyte. It constitutes 90% of electrolytes in the extracellular fluid, where it is the most prevalent cation. Sodium functions to maintain osmotic pressure and acid-base balance and aids in nerve impulse transmission and renal, cardiac, and adrenal functions. Sodium serves as a general marker for acid-base balance and electrolyte status.
Increased sodium levels are often due to dehydration (sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, polyuria, etc.) or adrenal stress. A word of caution here, one should avoid unhealthy sources of sodium such as processed meats. Decreased sodium levels are associated with adrenal insufficiency and oedema.
Symptoms of sodium deficiency (Hyponatremia)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of energy, drowsiness, and fatigue
- Restlessness and irritability
- Muscle weakness, spasms, or cramps
Chloride is the queen of electrolytes and a mineral that occurs naturally in various foods. Still, our main dietary supply is sodium chloride, sometimes known as table salt. Because chloride has an electric charge, it is classified as an electrolyte, sodium, and potassium. It aids in regulating the amount of fluid and the types of nutrients that enter and exit the cells. It stimulates neuron and muscle cell function and allows oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange within cells. This is a process called the chloride shift.
Chloride plays an important role in human physiology by regulating the acid-base balance in the blood. It also helps in the amount of chloride in the bloodstream is carefully regulated by the kidneys. Increased chloride levels are associated with metabolic acidosis. Chloride is an important molecule in the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. So, decreased serum chloride levels can be related to hypochlorhydria or low stomach acid levels.
Signs of chloride deficiency (Hypochloremia)
- Fluid loss.
- Weakness or fatigue.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Diarrhea or vomiting caused by fluid loss.
- Metabolic alkalosis
- Low stomach acid
Iron is a chemical and among essential minerals crucial in various biological processes within the human body and other organisms. It produces hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying chemical in the body’s red blood cells) and myoglobin (a protein in muscle cells). Iron is essential for activating certain enzymes and making amino acids, collagen, neurotransmitters, and hormones. It also plays a role in cellular metabolism, growth, and development. On supports the immune system by promoting the growth and activity of immune cells and aiding in the body’s defense against infections.
Iron deficiency, known as anemia, can lead to fatigue, weakness, pale skin, shortness of breath, and impaired cognitive function. On the other hand, excessive iron levels in the body can be harmful and lead to conditions like iron overload disorders.
Signs of iron deficiency (anemia)
- Extreme fatigue.
- Pale skin.
- Chest pain, fast heartbeat, or shortness of breath.
- Headache, dizziness, or lightheadedness.
- Cold hands and feet.
- Inflammation or soreness of your tongue.
- Brittle nails.
Phosphorus is found in our bones in the form of the mineral hydroxyapatite. It is also found in cell membranes and as a component of the energy molecules adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Phosphorus is required for the growth, maintenance, and repair of all tissues and cells, as well as the creation of DNA and RNA, the genetic building blocks. Phosphorus is also required for the proper balance and utilization of other vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, iodine, magnesium, and zinc.
Phosphorus deficiency or hypophosphatemia is rare and nearly never results from inadequate dietary consumption. Some common signs of phosphorous deficiency are Anorexia, anemia, proximal muscle weakness, skeletal problems (bone soreness, rickets, and osteomalacia), infection risk, paresthesia, ataxia, and confusion. Hypophosphatemia can also be caused by medical diseases such as hyperparathyroidism, renal tubule abnormalities. Increased phosphorus retention often leads to CKD mineral and bone disorder) and diabetic ketoacidosis.
Sulfur, though an essential element for the human body, is often overlooked compared to other minerals like calcium, iron, or potassium. Sulfur is a component of various compounds and molecules that play important roles in maintaining health and supporting various physiological processes. Your body need sulphur to produce and repair DNA as well as protect cells from damage that can lead to serious diseases such as cancer. Sulphur also helps your body digest food and improves the health of your skin, tendons, and ligaments.
Sulfur is a component of certain amino acids, including cysteine and methionine. The sulfur in the structure of amino acids is crucial for forming disulfide bonds between proteins. Disulfide bonds help stabilize protein structures, contributing to their shape and function and essential for various bodily functions, including enzymes that facilitate chemical reactions, structural components, and signaling molecules. Moreover, sulfur in cysteine is essential to produce the super antioxidant glutathione.
Besides these macro minerals, the body also requires other trace minerals such as copper, selenium, iodine, chromium, manganese, and molybdenum, all of which contribute greatly to health and bodily function. An adequate intake of all essential minerals, electrolytes and trace minerals can be sourced from healthy nutrition and a balanced diet to ensure you get your required daily allowance of each. Supplementation becomes necessary in the event of deficiencies, in which case, always take a dose recommended by your doctor.