Last week, we looked at the microminerals selenium, chromium, cobalt and molybdenum. I will conclude our discussion on minerals with a few more that are needed in only trace amounts.
Copper – All About Balance
Copper is a mineral that is found throughout the body. It is used by the body to make hemoglobin and collagen. Hemoglobin is the molecule that carries oxygen in the red blood cells and collagen makes up the supportive matrix of the skin and bones. Copper also strengthens the myelin sheaths which protect the nerves and allow the nerves to better communicate with each other. Additionally, copper is important in the formation of the hormone adrenaline and the skin pigment melanin.
Copper is found in many foods. Whole grains, nuts, liver, vegetables, seafood and legumes all usually contain copper. When eating a whole foods diet, copper deficiency is usually not a problem. Because copper is also found in medications such as birth control and in tap water from copper pipes, too much copper is of greater concern. Even more important for one’s health is the ratio of copper to zinc. Copper and zinc compete with each other for absorption into the body. If excess copper is of concern, increasing zinc may be even more effective than reducing copper intake. Because copper toxicity has very serious symptoms such as schizophrenia, depression and anxiety, achieving the right balance is of utmost important.
Iodine – It knows Its Role
Iodine is refreshing because current research has identified one incredibly important function, and that is about it. There are some smaller, tentative functions, but nothing else for certain. Iodine is used in the body to make thyroid hormone. Deficiencies in iodine lead to deficiencies in thyroid hormone. Simple! Why is this important? Thyroid hormone regulates the body’s basal metabolic rate, or the speed at which energy is made. The production of energy controls pretty much everything else in the body. So, in a sense, life starts with iodine.
Iodine deficiency is seen in areas where iodine has been depleted from the soil. This causes the thyroid gland to enlarge – a condition called goiter. Iodine supplementation can correct this in early stages. This condition was the original motivation for producing iodized salt. While this is a good source of iodine, there are also often contaminants such as aluminum. A much better source is seafood, kelp and other seaweeds.
Note: While hypothyroid – a condition of low thyroid function – can result from iodine deficiency, iodine supplementation is sometimes contraindicated. Particularly in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, iodine supplementation should be avoided until the underlying causes of the disorder can be corrected.
Iron – The Mighty Mineral
Like iodine, iron has a fairly defined role in the body. Iron is a component of hemoglobin, which, again, allows the red blood cells to carry oxygen. Adequate iron load allows general feelings of robustness, while deficiency causes fatigue and weakness.
The sources of the most bioavailable forms of iron are animal meats, though less absorbable iron can be found in plant foods like whole grains, legumes, greens and pumpkin seeds. Vegetarians often risk iron deficiency. Adequate iron intake is more important in women than men. Iron is typically recycled back into the body as red blood cells reach the end of their life, which helps to maintain levels. Women, however, lose iron in their monthly cycles, so their daily needs are higher than men’s. Men, alternatively, can experience iron overload if their intake exceeds their need. Symptoms can include fatigue and joint pain. This can be corrected by regular blood donation.
Manganese – The Underrated Mineral
Manganese is a mineral that is an essential component of a variety of enzymes. The enzymes allow the body to use some vitamins and proteins. It also supports in the production of cholesterol, fatty acids and energy from glucose. Overall, manganese helps the body to actually use nutrients that are consumed.
Manganese can be found in nuts and whole grains. It is also available in egg yolks, but other animal foods are not good sources.
Parting thoughts: each mineral in this list plays just as big a role in human health in the ground as they do in the body. Their presence in soils allows for systems of relationships that create vitamins, neutralize toxins and increase the nutrient density and quality of the plants that grow in those soils. Farther along the food chain, this impacts the quality of animal foods that feast upon the plants. Unfortunately, this chain is quite broken around the world and in the United States. Generations of high-intensity agriculture have depleted minerals from the soil, which is typically amended only with nitrogen-based fertilizers. Plant foods may be able to grow in these conditions in a technical sense, but quite a bit of nutrition is lost.
Because the nutrient profile of whole foods is degrading, sometimes supplements are required, but this is far from the best solution. Amending soils and updating farming practices to contribute to ecological systems instead of working against them are sustainable answers. If you are interested, you can research Joel Salatin from Polyface Farm and The Savory Institute.
This information is for educational purposes only and should not be used as medical advice.
Weatherby, D. (2004). Signs and Symptoms Analysis from a Functional Perspective. Bear Mountain Publishing, Jacksonville.
Haas, E. M. (2006). Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Celestial Arts, Berkeley.
Editor’s Note: Sara Kennedy is a certified nutritional therapy consultant. She is the owner of Renegade Wellness found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/paleoalaska. Reach her online at www.thriveak.com.