Essential minerals are inorganic compounds that help the body function properly. They are involved in everything from the composition of bones, blood and teeth to muscle function. There are seven macrominerals that the body requires in large amounts; they are calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulfur and phosphorous. There are also several minerals needed in smaller amounts, called trace minerals. Trace minerals include chromium, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium and zinc. This article will cover the minerals, how they are obtained and their role in the body.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. It is found in some foods, added to others, available in supplement form as well as present in many medicines, namely antacids. Calcium is required for vascular contraction, vasodilation, muscle function and nerve transmission. The vast majority of the calcium in the body is stored in the bones and teeth.
Dairy products are the food sources highest in calcium; these include milk, cheese and yogurt. Top non-dairy sources of calcium are canned sardines, turnip greens, kale, bok choi and broccoli. There are much lower concentrations of calcium in these leafy greens than there are in dairy.
Calcium carbonate, one of the available forms of calcium, can be used to neutralize stomach acid. Due to this it is very prevalent in over the counter antacids.
Consuming low quantities of calcium results in no noticeable symptoms in the short term, but over time inadequate calcium can result in osteoporosis. Groups at highest risk of calcium deficiency are postmenopausal women, individuals with lactose intolerance or dairy allergy, and vegans who don’t consume dairy products.
The most important role that calcium plays in the body is related to bone health. Bones keep growing through childhood and adolescence with maximum bone mass peaking around the age of 30. The greater the peak bone mass, the longer serious bone loss can be delayed as the aging process progresses. For this reason it is important that children, adolescents and young adults consume adequate calcium and Vitamin D. Approximately 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, around 80% of which are women.
Bone loss occurs as part of the natural aging process, when calcium intake is low or it is poorly absorbed the body uses stored calcium for its regular functions which leads to the breakdown and weakening of bones. Bone loss can affect anyone but women are at the highest risk due to the bone loss than accompanies menopause. The FDA has approved supplement labeling stating that “adequate calcium and Vitamin D as part of a healthful diet, along with physical activity, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later life”.
Observational and experimental studies are highly suggestive that calcium may provide a protective effect against colorectal cancer.
There are some potential risks of consuming too much calcium. Too much dietary calcium can cause constipation, while too much supplemental calcium can result in kidney stones. Studies have also shown that high intakes of calcium and dairy products may be associated with a higher risk of prostrate cancer, although thus far studies are inconclusive.
Chloride is an essential mineral that aids in nerve and muscle function, electrolyte balance and acid based balance. Sufficient chloride is easily obtained through a typical balanced diet.
Chloride is found in many foods in the modern diet, as it is a major part of sea salt and table. It is also present in some fruits and vegetables, including celery, tomatoes, lettuce and olives.
Chloride is an electrolyte, and if too little is consumed it can cause excess fluid loss through sweating, diarrhea and vomiting. Too much dietary chloride tends to be a much bigger problem in developed nations, as salt from processed foods is linked to a litany of health problems. These include increased blood pressure and hypertension, which can ultimately lead to congestive heart failure and kidney disease.