Minerals, like vitamins, are essential nutrients that must be consumed as part of a healthy diet. As such, they’re popular supplements—Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, Sr. Director of Research & Development at Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation, tells WholeFoods that it’s a consistently top-selling category for the brand. “Minerals serve life-sustaining functions in the body, and can support optimal health when supplemented,” she says. It’s an unfortunate fact, she notes, that “the busy, stressful lifestyles of Americans, in combination with the typical Western diet, create the perfect storm for inadequate intake of nutrients, particularly minerals, in the diet.”
Even the healthiest plant-based customer may want to discuss minerals with their healthcare provider: “A paper written by the Nutrition Security Institute in 2006 describes that throughout the world, topsoil mineral content has been depleted,” says Sugarek MacDonald. “This depletion is due to many factors, but particularly erosion, nitrogen fertilizers, and other farming practices. These factors rob the topsoil of mineral content and of soil organisms that contribute to the formation of nutrient-dense crops. Foods grown on soils that are depleted of minerals do not contain adequate levels to maintain human health, meaning that even though Americans are well fed, they are undernourished.”
From the trendy to the overlooked, here’s an update on nine minerals our experts want to help educate consumers on:
Calcium: Everyone is familiar with it—but people are still lacking, and that’s a problem. Calcium provides nutritional support for proper function of the heart, muscle contraction and relaxation, nerve transmission, hormone functions, blood pressure, healthy bones and teeth, and colon health, says Tom Druke, Marketing Director, Human Nutrition and Pharma, at Balchem, providers of Albion Minerals. “Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body, with 99% being stored in bone tissue. When levels of calcium in the blood are too low to support metabolic functions, bone reservoirs are plundered. If too much calcium is taken from bone stores, bones and teeth become weak and brittle.” He cites a meta-analysis published in BMJ that included more than 1,500 men and women over 50 years old, which showed that calcium intake increased bone mineral density.
And those over 50 aren’t the only ones who should think about a calcium supplement. “More than 40% of the population do not meet the requirements for calcium from diet alone,” says Sugarek MacDonald. “Those most at risk include older children, adolescents, and women, and some older adults. Supplementation with calcium may be a necessity, depending on diet, lifestyle, and life stage.”
Chromium: Chris Meletis, N.D., Director of Science and Research for Trace Minerals, says that “chromium has become crucial with today’s sedentary lifestyle and the increased consumption of processed foods and access to high carb foods. Way back in the late 1950s, chromium was identified as the active ingredient in brewer’s yeast that has frequently been referred to as the ‘glucose tolerance factor.’ Thus, I routinely educate patients on the role of chromium and the action of insulin.”
Iodine: This mineral is oft-overlooked, according to Cheryl Myers, Chief of Scientific Affairs and Education at EuroPharma, Inc. “Iodine is necessary for thyroid hormone production, and we are in a thyroid crisis. Crops contain up to 50% less iodine than they did in the 1970s. People are also exposed to far more fluoride, chlorine, and bromide than in the past, which compete with iodine in the body. Iodine is necessary for both brain function and healthy metabolism. I recommend three forms of iodine: Potassium iodide is preferred by the thyroid, molecular iodine is very useful for breast and prostate tissue, and sodium iodine, which is the most absorbable form of iodine, which also boosts the absorption of the other forms. We have this formula in our Tri-Iodine.”
Iron: “The prevalence of iron inadequacy assessed by serum ferritin was 8.9% in U.S. children ages 1-5 years, 15.2% in adolescent females ages 12-19 years, and 13.2% in nonpregnant women ages 20-49 years,” says Sugarek MacDonald. This is of high importance for pregnant women and infants: “Because iron content of breast milk is low,” Sugarek MacDonald explains, “the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfed infants be given 1 mg/kg/day of supplemental iron beginning at four months of age until other foods that are iron-fortified are instituted.”
Magnesium: Settle in; get comfy. Magnesium is one of the trendiest minerals out there—and with good reason: “It’s suspected that over 46% of the general population doesn’t get the dietary magnesium they need to stay healthy,” says Yolanda Fenton, Product Development, Natural Factors. Patrick Sullivan Jr., Chief Entertainment Officer at Jigsaw Health, cites the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2000, which found that 68% of Americans consumed less than the recommended minimum daily intake of magnesium, and 19% consumed less than half the recommended daily intake.
An overview, courtesy of Fenton: “Elemental magnesium is found in high concentrations in our bones, our heart, our muscles, and throughout our network of nerves, but you can also find it working away inside every cell of our bodies.”
Expanding on this, Gene Bruno, Senior Director of Product Innovation at Twinlab Consolidation Corporation, notes that “Magnesium has multiple, evidence-based uses in dietary supplements including applicability for constipation, glucose levels and insulin response, hearing, kidney function, headaches, mitral valve health, memory/cognitive function, bone health, PMS, and healthy blood pressure.”
Perhaps most important, in this day and age: “Magnesium is Mother Nature’s original ‘chill pill,’” says Sullivan. “It’s a massage you can swallow, it’s like yoga in a bottle.” Is a customer looking to up energy? They may want to take stock of their magnesium status: Sullivan says, “The body can’t make ATP without magnesium.”
Nor is that all. “It’s commonly cited that magnesium is involved in over 325 biochemical reactions in the body,” Sullivan notes—“but that number is from the 1950s, and it was a ‘best guess’ by Harvard medical professor Dr. Burt Vallee. More recently, magnesium researcher Morley Robbins has found—based on research—that magnesium is involved in at least 3,751 biochemical reactions.”
Druke adds: “There are many studies showing a significant correlation […]