By Erin Froehlich — One of many Nutrition blogs on SmartLivingNetwork.com
While many people know about vitamins and their health benefits, far fewer understand the importance of dietary minerals. Why do we need them, and what effect do minerals really have on our health?
Depending on the mineral, the effects could be huge.
Some are so important to the body's functioning that a severe deficiency could result in death. Other minerals, while beneficial, would affect very little with their absence. The body's requirement for minerals and the potential for deficiency can range widely, depending on the type mineral. For example, without enough phosphorus and magnesium (the two minerals we need in greatest amounts), we would suffer from terrible health, even die.
Below are the five minerals we are most commonly deficient in, why they're important, causes and symptoms of deficiency, personal deficiency experiences, and demographics most vulnerable to deficiency in that particular mineral.
Why It's Important: Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. It is used for muscle contraction, blood vessel function, hormone and enzyme secretion, the transmission of nervous system impulses, and, of course, the structure and support of our bones and teeth.
Causes and Symptoms of Deficiency: True calcium deficiency is fairly rare, typically occurring as a result of a nutrient absorption problem in the body. Renal failure, surgical removal of the stomach, and some diuretic medications may cause it. Calcium deficiency, if left untreated, will result in death. However, calcium inadequacy is quite common and can cause serious problems of its own. Among them are muscle weakness, decreased muscle tone, lethargy, anorexia, constipation, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, polydipsia, polyuria, and cardiac arrhymias.
Experiences: "I suffered from constant joint aches six months back and was diagnosed with calcium deficiency." - Nevil
"I found out I had a calcium deficiency, which explained a bit of muscle and small twitching problems I was having." - Koa
Who's Most at Risk?
Why it's Important: Iron is essential to cell growth and is found in myoglobin proteins and enzymes that support biochemical reactions. Perhaps most important, however, is its role in delivering oxygen to cells. Because of this, iron is extremely important to the entire body.
Causes and Symptoms of Deficiency: Iron deficiency, or anemia, is an extremely common problem worldwide. In fact, the World Health Organization considers it to be the number one nutritional disorder in the world! Anemia can occur for a number of reasons - low dietary intake, inadequate absorption, or excessive blood loss are the most common. Common symptoms include weakness, fatigue, decreased work and school performance, slow cognitive and social development in childhood, trouble maintaining body temperature, lowered immune functioning, tongue inflammation, pica, susceptibility to infection, paleness, rapid forceful heart beat, dizziness, thin, brittle, white fingernails, dry brittle hair, headache, shortness of breath, and abdominal pain.
Experiences: "I found out I was anemic after seeking medical care for chronic heavy bleeding during periods. My symptoms have included dizziness, heart palpitations, fatigue, and shortness of breath."- Rhonda "
"I went to my doctor for a physical and found out I was anemic. It explains the reason I came home from a business trip absolutely exhausted. I could not move the next day. Also I have had two terrible dizzy spells in the past three months that have knocked me off my feet. I thought all these symptoms were caused by stress or even depression. I am looking forward to getting it "fixed" so I feel better and get my energy back."-Anonymous
Who's Most at Risk?
Why it's Important: Zinc is extremely important to cellular metabolism in the body. It is essential to the catalytic activity of approximately 200 enzymes and plays an important role in immune functioning, protein and DNA synthesis, cell division, and wound healing. Zinc is also required for normal growth from the embryo to adolescence and is required for proper sense of taste and smell. In men, zinc is extremely important to sexual health.
Causes and Symptoms of Deficiency: Zinc deficiency is most commonly caused by inadequate dietary intake or problems with zinc absorption in the body. It may also be caused by increased usage of zinc within the body, happening mainly during times of high stress.
With so many processes and components of the body relying on zinc, you can easily imagine what far reaching effects a deficiency might have. Among these effects are skin problems, eczema, psoriasis, and acne, fingernail problems, white spots, transverse lines, poor growth, and inflammation of the cuticles, sleep, behavioral, and psychiatric problems, arthritis, loss of appetite, dandruff, tremor, hair loss, increased allergic sensitivity, sensitivity to light, impaired smelling and tasting ability, dyslexia, depression, and reduced fertility and libido. Just a slight deficiency will increase your vulnerability to infection and viruses, elongate wound healing, reduce appetite and the ability to taste and smell, and negatively affect skin condition.
Experiences: "Zinc is one of the few mineral supplements I've found that has really made a difference in how I feel. I discovered it when a nutritionist, upon looking at the white spots on my fingernails, announced that I had a zinc deficiency. Apparently she was right. When I take zinc regularly, the spots go away. When I stop, they come back. It's nice to have such an obvious marker that something is working and not just clearing right out of your system...
The biggest difference zinc made for me was that I went from having six or eight colds a year to only having one or two, and sometimes not even that many. I also seem to feel better overall when taking it." -Lyn
"A month ago I bought a zinc supplement and everything changed for me!!! My face with acne cleared out (I just found that zinc is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial) More libido than before, more energy and I think that I am growing bigger with more muscle!"- Cless
Who's Most at Risk?
Why it's Important: Iodine is a mineral that is essential to proper thyroid functioning. It is used in the creation of T3 and T4 thyroid hormones, which regulate base metabolic rate and fuel growth in children.
Symptoms of Deficiency: As you might suspect, a deficiency of iodine creates a variety of symptoms related to thyroid dysfunction. Among them are: a decrease in metabolic rate, fatigue, weight gain, and goiter or protruding nodule in the neck. In children who need iodine for proper growth, deficiency is especially damaging. If a child's iodine deficiency goes untreated too long, a child may suffer mental retardation.
Experiences: "For years I had an enlarged thyroid with a fluid filled cyst. Although my thyroid functioned normally the enlargement sometimes made it difficult to swallow and constantly pressed on my windpipe. After my thyroid was aspirated, the size only went down about 30%. At that point the doctor recommended that I have it surgically altered, either reduced in size or completely removed. Then I found (my current doctor). She suspected I had an iodine deficiency, and the tests she performed proved she was right. She put me on an iodine supplement and the results have been very positive. My throat looks and feels normal again." - Barbara
"I have an iodine deficiency and my thyroid gland has been screaming for help. It has not been able to do its job and I have been developing a condition known as hypothyroidism - which causes fatigue, depression, heavy menstrual periods, and weight gain - even tooth problems" - Anonymous
Who's Most at Risk?
Why it's Important: Though selenium is required only in small amounts, it is a trace element that is essential to good health. Selenium is required in the formation of selenoproteins which help create antioxidant enzymes. Selenoproteins prevent cellular damage from arsenic and mercury and regulate thyroid and immune system function.
Symptoms of Deficiency: A deficiency of selenium can cause muscle weakness, pain and inflammation, reduce the health of red blood cells and pancreas, and they may cause discoloration in the skin, hair, and nails. A deficiency of selenium may also worsen the effects of iodine deficiency.
Experience: "I had a selenium deficiency and anemia which are rebounding after a year of supplements. I do have chronic inflammation in my throat, esophagus, stomach small intestine, and colon." - Anonymous
Who's Most at Risk?
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