Minerals are inorganic substances that cannot be synthesised by our bodies, making the body reliant upon the dietary intake. Minerals actively participate in regulating a wide range of physiological functions, including transporting oxygen to cells and in the general upkeep of the central nervous system. Minerals are also required for growth, maintenance, repair and the health of bones and tissues. Minerals are needed for the proper composition of body fluids, the formation of blood and bone, the maintenance of body fluids, the maintenance of a healthy nerve function and the regulation of muscle tone, including those of the cardiovascular system. The nutritional value of minerals is every bit as important to us as vitamins yet today’s highly processed foods coupled with the depletion of mineral levels in the soil arising from intensive farming practices can lead to shortfalls of these elements in our daily diet. It’s becoming increasingly evident from UK dietary surveys that a worryingly large proportion of adults and children are failing to achieve the recommended daily targets for a range of minerals and trace elements.
There are two types of minerals; major ones of which we need more than 100mg a day and minor ones of which we need less than 100mg a day. The major ones are calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and sodium. The minor ones are chromium, iodine, iron, copper, manganese, selenium and zinc. Most of the time we get enough minerals through our diet, but certain people may need more. For example women need more iron and calcium than men. And if you are pregnant or breastfeeding you need more calcium as well. It is thought 1 in 4 British women are lacking in iron.
Calcium is vital for the formation of strong bones and teeth and for the maintenance of healthy gums. It is also important in the lowering of cholesterol levels and helps prevent cardiovascular disease. It is needed for healthy muscle contraction, nerve transmission, blood-clotting and cell-membrane function. This crucial mineral may help prevent bone loss associated with osteoporosis. Signs of calcium deficiency: Muscle cramping, irritability, hypertension, insomnia, rheumatoid arthritis and rickets
Crucial for energy production, magnesium plays a key role in the metabolism of blood sugars. Magnesium deficiency interferes with the transmission of nerve and muscle impulses, causing irritability, cramp and nervousness. Research confirms that magnesium deficiency can impair hormone health. Supplementing the diet with magnesium can help prevent or reduce depression, dizziness, PMS, headaches, migraines, cramping and insomnia. Signs of magnesium deficiency: Hyperactivity, constipation, PMS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, headaches, migraines, muscle cramps and menopausal concerns.
One of the major antioxidants, selenium helps protect the tissues from free-radical damage. It is important for the healthy functioning of the cell membranes, which determine what comes in and out of the cells, and supports pancreatic functioning. Selenium also helps to protect against cardiovascular disease as well as joint degradation. It is needed for the body to make Glutathione, an important immune protection nutrient.
Signs of selenium deficiency: Skin problems and a dry flaky scalp; older males may need more selenium than females the same age since selenium is lost in the semen. The United Kingdom is particularly low in selenium in the food chain, partly due to modern farming practices.
Although it is present in all the body’s tissues and is crucial to numerous body functions, from immune support to protein synthesis, most of the zinc in food is lost in processing. Zinc plays a role in energy production, speeds up wound healing, helps the body use the stress-busting B vitamins, regulates the male hormone, testosterone, helps the body break down alcohol, helps maintain the body’s acid/alkaline balance, works to regulate the production of oil by the skin and is essential for healthy taste buds. Signs of zinc deficiency: White flecks on the fingernails, menstrual problems, acne, recurring infections, slow wound healing, stretch marks on the skin, loss of taste or smell.