Mineral deficiency is a reduced level of any of the minerals essential to human health. An abnormally low mineral concentration is usually defined as a level that may impair a function dependent on that mineral.
Minerals are essential nutrients for every living cell in the human body. Defined in the study of human nutrition as all the inorganic elements or molecules required for life, minerals assist in body functions such as producing energy, growing, and healing. Minerals are required for fluid balance, blood and bone development, maintaining a healthy nervous system, and regulating muscles, including heart muscles. Minerals, like vitamins , function as coenzymes. They participate in all enzyme reactions in the body and help in the assimilation and use of vitamins and other nutrients.
Minerals occur either as bulk minerals (macrominerals) or trace minerals (microminerals). The body needs more bulk minerals than it does trace minerals, although both are essential for health. Minerals are consumed in food from plants and plant-eating animals. These sources of minerals develop in a sequence that takes millions of years, beginning with rock formation, the breakdown of rocks into mineral salts, and the assimilation of these salts into soil that nourishes edible plants.
Recommended daily allowances exist for a number of minerals, such as calcium. However, minimum daily requirements for some minerals such as boron, chromium, and molybdenum, do not exist. The essential bulk minerals include:
- Calcium?essential for strong bones and teeth, healthy gums, and bone growth and mineral density in children. Calcium helps regulate the heart rate and nerve impulses, lower cholesterol, prevent atherosclerosis, develop muscles, and prevent muscle cramping. Calcium is an important component of blood clotting. Calcium and phosphorus are closely related minerals that should be balanced. About 99 percent of calcium and 85 percent of phosphate occur in the skeleton as crystals of calcium phosphate. Both nutrients occur in a variety of foods such as milk, eggs, and green, leafy vegetables. Calcium deficiency due to lack of dietary calcium occurs only rarely and is often due to vitamin D deficiency , because vitamin D is required for efficient absorption of dietary calcium. Significant depletion of calcium stores can lead to osteoporosis.
- Magnesium?assists in the utilization of calcium and potassium, and functions in enzyme reactions to produce energy. Magnesium protects the lining of arteries and helps form bones. It helps prevent cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and some cancers. By acting with vitamin B 6 , magnesium can help prevent or dissolve calcium oxylate kidney stones, the most common kind of stones. Dietary magnesium deficiency is uncommon, but may occur in chronic alcoholics, persons taking diuretic drugs, and as a result of severe, prolonged diarrhea .
- Sodium?sodium deficiency (hyponatremia) is a serious deficiency, arising most often after excessive losses of body fluid ( dehydration ) during prolonged and severe diarrhea or vomiting . Sodium and potassium are electrolytes that must be balanced in the body. Since most people get more than enough salt in the diet, potassium may be needed to balance it. Together, these minerals control fluid balance through a mechanism called "the sodium/potassium pump." Prolonged imbalances in sodium and potassium can contribute to heart disease.
- Potassium?important for a healthy nervous system and a steady heart rate, helps to prevent stroke , and, with sodium, is critical in maintaining fluid balance. Potassium, an electrolyte, must be balanced with sodium. Potassium deficiency is usually associated with sodium deficiency and both are associated with dehydration stemming from excessive losses of body fluid.
- Phosphorus?helps form bones and teeth, supports cell growth, and regulates heart muscle contraction and kidney function. Phosphorus converts food to energy and supports the utilization of vitamins. Deficiency is rare because phosphate is plentiful in plant and animal foods and is efficiently absorbed from the diet. Phosphorus is closely related to calcium and the two minerals should be in balance with each other and with magnesium. Deficiency in one will affect all and will ultimately have an unwanted effect on body function. Calcium and phosphorus are stored in the bones as crystals of calcium phosphate. Milk, eggs, and green, leafy vegetables are rich in calcium and phosphate.
Trace minerals essential for human health include:
- Boron?required for healthy bones, brain function, alertness, and the metabolism of bulk minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. Deficiencies are rare except in aging, when supplementation may help absorb calcium. A deficiency in boron is associated with vitamin D deficiency. Boron supplements can improve calcium levels as well as vitamin D levels, and can help prevent osteoporosis in postmenopausal women by promoting calcium absorption.
- Chromium?required for maintaining energy levels. Chromium helps metabolize glucose and stabilize glucose levels. It helps the body manufacture and use cholesterol and protein.
- Copper?helps form healthy bones, joints, and nerves as well as hemoglobin and red blood cells. Copper contributes to healing, energy production, taste, and hair and skin color. It is essential in forming collagen for healthy bones and connective tissue, and helps prevent osteoporosis. Except in osteoporosis, copper deficiency is rare, although dramatic changes in copper metabolism occur in two serious genetic diseases, Wilson disease and Menkes' disease.
- Germanium?helps improve the delivery of oxygen to tissues and remove toxins and poisons from the body. Germanium gives garlic its natural antibiotic properties.
- Iodine?helps promote healthy physical and mental development in children. Iodine is required for thyroid gland function and metabolizing fats. Iodine deficiency is a public health problem in parts of the world that have iodine-deficient soils. Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormone, which has a variety of roles in human embryo development. A deficiency during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects. Deficiency in adults can result in an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter) in the neck.
- Iron?critical in the production of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells, and myoglobin found in muscle tissue. Iron is essential for important enzyme reactions, growth, and maintaining a healthy immune system. In the blood, iron is found in larger amounts than any other mineral. Iron deficiency causes anemia (low hemoglobin and reduced numbers of red blood cells), which results in tiredness and shortness of breath because of poor oxygen delivery.
- Manganese?essential for metabolizing fat and protein, regulating blood glucose, and supporting immune system and nervous system function. Manganese is necessary for normal bone growth and cartilage development. It is involved in reproductive functions and helps produce mother's milk. Along with B vitamins, manganese produces feelings of well-being. Deficiency can lead to convulsions, vision and hearing problems, muscle contractions, tooth-grinding and other problems in children; and atherosclerosis, heart disease, and hypertension in older adults.
- Molybdenum?found in bones, kidneys, and liver. Only extremely small amounts are needed to metabolize nitrogen and promote proper cell function. Molybdenum is present in beans, peas, legumes, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables. A diet low in these foods can lead to mouth and gum problems and cancer.
- Selenium?an important antioxidant that works with vitamin E to protect the immune system, heart, and liver, and may help prevent tumor formation. Selenium deficiency occurs in regions of the world where soils are selenium-poor and low-selenium foods are produced. Premature infants are naturally low in selenium with no known serious effects.
- Silicon?helps form bones and connective tissue, nails, skin, and hair. Silicon is important in preventing cardiovascular disease.
- Sulfur?disinfects the blood and helps to rid the body of harmful bacteria and toxic substances.
- Vanadium?vital to cell metabolism, and helps reduce cholesterol and form healthy bones and teeth. Vanadium functions in reproduction. Deficiencies may be associated with heart and kidney disease and reproductive disorders. Vanadium deficiency may be associated with infant mortality.
- Zinc?important in the growth of reproductive organs and regulation of oil glands. Zinc is required for protein synthesis, immune system function, protection of the liver, collagen formation, and wound healing. A component of insulin and major body enzymes, zinc helps vitamin absorption, particularly vitamins A and E. Deficiency is rare.
Trace and bulk minerals are stored in muscles and bones and delivered to tissue cells through blood circulation. They work together synergistically and must be chemically balanced in the body; if one is deficient or out of balance, it can affect all the others, often resulting in illness. If zinc, for example, is present at high levels, calcium levels will be reduced because the two minerals compete for absorption. Similarly, too much calcium will deplete magnesium, and so on. Deficiency in one nutrient occurs less often than deficiency in several nutrients. A child suffering from malnutrition will likely be deficient in a variety of nutrients. Deficiencies in one nutrient do occur, however, such as in populations living in iodine-poor regions, and in iron deficient persons who lose excess iron by abnormal bleeding. All uncorrected mineral deficiencies can affect body functions, produce symptoms, and result in illness.
Types of mineral deficiency:
There are five main categories of mineral deficiency: calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
Calcium is needed for strong bones and teeth. It also supports proper function of your blood vessels, muscles, nerves, and hormones.
Natural sources of calcium include milk, yogurt, cheese, and small fish with bones, beans, and peas. Vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage also provide calcium. Some foods are also fortified with the mineral, including tofu, cereals, and juices.
A calcium deficiency produces few obvious symptoms in the short term. That?s because your body carefully regulates the amount of calcium in the blood. Lack of calcium over the long term can lead to decreased bone mineral density called osteopenia.
If left untreated, osteopenia can turn to osteoporosis. This increases the risk of bone fractures, especially in older adults.
Severe calcium deficiency is usually caused by medical problems or treatments, such as medications (like diuretics), surgery to remove the stomach, or kidney failure. Symptoms of a severe deficiency include:
- cramping of the muscles
- tingling in the fingers
- poor appetite
- irregular heart rhythms
More than half of the iron in your body is in red blood cells. Iron is an important part of hemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen to your tissues.
Iron is also a part of other proteins and enzymes that keep your body healthy. The best sources of iron are meat, poultry, or fish. Plant-based foods such as beans or lentils are also good sources.
Iron deficiency develops slowly and can cause anemia. It?s considered uncommon in the United States and in people with healthy diets. But, the World Health Organization estimated in a 2008 report that iron deficiency causes approximately half of all anemia cases worldwide.
The symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia include feeling weak and tired. You may be performing poorly at work or school. Children may exhibit signs through slow social and cognitive development.
The body needs magnesium for hundreds of chemical reactions. These include responses that control blood glucose levels and blood pressure. Proper function of muscles and nerves, brain function, energy metabolism, and protein production are also controlled by magnesium.
Roughly 60 percent of the body?s magnesium resides in the bones while nearly 40 percent resides in muscle and soft tissue cells. Good sources of magnesium include:
- whole grains
- green leafy vegetables, such as spinach
Magnesium deficiency is uncommon in healthy people. The kidneys can keep magnesium from leaving the body through the urine. Still, certain medications and chronic health conditions like alcoholism may cause magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium needs are also highly influenced by the presence of disease. In this situation, the RDA for magnesium may not be sufficient for some individuals.
Early signs of magnesium deficiency include:
- loss of appetite
Magnesium deficiency can lead to the following symptoms if left untreated:
- muscle cramps
- abnormal rhythms of the heart
Potassium is a mineral that functions as an electrolyte. It?s required for muscle contraction, proper heart function, and the transmission of nerve signals. It?s also needed by a few enzymes, including one that helps your body turn carbohydrates into energy.
The best sources of potassium are fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, avocado, dark leafy greens, beets, potatoes, and plums. Other good sources include orange juice and nuts.
The most common cause of potassium deficiency is excessive fluid loss. Examples can include extended vomiting, kidney disease, or the use of certain medications such as diuretics.
Symptoms of potassium deficiency include muscle cramping and weakness. Other symptoms show up as constipation, bloating, or abdominal pain caused by paralysis of the intestines.
Severe potassium deficiency can cause paralysis of the muscles or irregular heart rhythms that may lead to death.
Zinc plays a role in many aspects of the body?s metabolism. These include:
- protein synthesis
- immune system function
- wound healing
- DNA synthesis
It?s also important for proper growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence. Zinc is found in animal products like oysters, red meat, and poultry. Other good sources of zinc include:
- whole grains
- dairy products
Zinc deficiency can cause loss of appetite, taste, or smell. Decreased function of the immune system and slowed growth are other symptoms.