MINERALS: Your Most Important Ingredient For Healthy Bones, Nerves, Muscles, Sleep, Digestion, Brain Function, Stress Management and More
Without minerals your heart would stop beating, you couldn’t move a muscle or transmit a thought, and you wouldn’t have a leg – or the rest of your skeleton – to stand on.
Minerals are only found in the soil, and the rocks that erode into it. From there they go into waterways – and thus fish, seafood and ‘sea vegetables’ such as seaweed – or on land are taken up by plants, and the animals and people who eat plants and animals. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are called macronutrients while vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients. Plants can produce vitamins such as the vitamin C in an orange, but they cannot produce minerals. If the soil is deficient then so is the plant and anyone who eats it.
Modern agricultural methods have focussed on supplying the soil with just a few minerals important for a plant’s rapid growth and ample size. Appearance and profit margins may be impressive, but the nutritional value is not. Recent studies have compared the micronutrient levels in standard commercial produce grown today and that of the 1950s. Many crucial vitamins and minerals have diminished by a disturbing 40%. Consumers often insist that the drop in flavour is just as considerable. Science now relates the vivid colour and flavour components in plants as not only pleasurable, but a statement of specific types and quantities of antioxidants. This range of vitamins, minerals (especially selenium and Zinc; see my article under website TIPS) and thousands of phyto-chemical (meaning plant based) helpers, are brilliantly capable of disabling free radicals and other destructive agents you produce, swallow, breathe in, or absorb through your skin. Hence the advice to eat 5+ servings daily of 5 colours of fruits and vegetables daily – as well as for their carbohydrate, fibre, plant protein, other vitamin and mineral benefits.
New Zealand soils are particularly low in the following minerals:
. Iodine (for thyroid function, vitality; weight, temperature and mood management);
. Zinc (for skin, nail and wound repair; fertility, bowel and prostate health, hormone production, immunity);
. Selenium (for heart, liver and prostate health; defense against cancer and cardiovascular risk factors);
. Magnesium (for relaxed nerves and muscles; sleep maintenance, bones, brain messages, stress/adrenal management);
. Chromium (for insulin, blood sugar, cholesterol and body fat regulation);
. Boron (for estrogen, bone and joint regulation; cognitive function).
Apart from these indicators, problems in general with nails, hair and skin and poor stress response often relate to mineral deficiencies. For a full list of minerals and vitamins, their food sources, deficiency signs and special properties, see The Shape Diet. Generally, the top mineral providers come from the sea, imported nuts, seeds and dried fruit. In contrast, iron and zinc are 3 times better absorbed from animal sources – especially red meat – than plant sources.
About 20 minerals should be supplied by our food. Minerals are primarily stored in Bones (TIPS) and muscles until called upon for thousands of critical functions. Blood tests for minerals tend not to provide an accurate picture. Due to stress, diet and other factors there may be a high daily need for minerals – and thus a deceptively high level circulating in the blood. This expenditure though comes by heavily drawing upon the minerals invested in bones. In time this ‘bone bank’ can become depleted and structurally unsound. A professional nutritional case taking lets your symptoms tell your story, indicating deficiencies and solutions.
Teamwork Rather than Competition
Minerals can compete with each other for absorption. For instance, high levels of Calcium (TIPS) or phosphorous will diminish magnesium, while too much copper will diminish zinc and vice versa. Symptoms of iron deficiency can be the same as iron overload: fatigue, paleness of skin, and susceptibility to infection. Iron and copper are pro-oxidants, so in excess they can promote disease. Professional advice is necessary to appropriately tailor individual needs, dosages and formula types – like different fuel choices for different vehicles. In the field of nutrition, one size DOES NOT fit all. Have supplements recommended by a qualified nutritionist. Except in crisis, keep dosages small to moderate to prevent new imbalances. Micronutrients – and all body systems – always work as team players. By enlisting several supportive strategies, the overall effectiveness of each component is substantially enhanced. Large doses and their complications can then be avoided. Practitioners and members of the public who use many bottles and high doses can just be throwing things at the problem in the hope that something hits it.
Another type of mineral – such as lead, mercury, arsenic – is much heavier in weight and called a ‘heavy metal’. Picture it like a big bully squatter wearing a Metallica T-shirt. These aggressors like nothing better than going into your bones, kicking out needed minerals like calcium, magnesium and placing themselves in residence instead. Heavy metals make bones weak and exert a toxicity that is particularly damaging to the nervous system and brain. Many cases of inexplicable fatigue, depression or anxiety, headaches and skin problems can be linked to toxic overload and assisted by specific detoxification procedures.
Smoking is one of the worst offenders for depositing heavy metals, as are street drugs, mercury amalgams, braces, body piercings, tattoos, spray tan, silicone and other implants, aluminium cookware, crops grown with herbicides and pesticides; polluted air and non-purified water (TIPS: Thyroid). Nicotine also inhibits the transportation of nutrients to bone, muscles and Brain (TIPS). The brain, being over 50% fat, is particularly prone to excess oxidation (destruction similar to fats going rancid) linked with dementias. So it also has a high need for vigilant policing by antioxidants, particularly the ultimate fat-protector, vitamin E.
Everyone stores heavy metals. The pertinent questions to consider are to what extent, and even more importantly, how efficient your Liver and Gut (TIPS) are at excreting them. The number one way to help the body eliminate heavy metals is with sufficient soluble fibre (see the dietary suggestions and especially the Linseed Cereal recipe in The Shape Diet), supportive liver and bowel protocols, and sufficient intake of key bone, nerve and muscle minerals (such as calcium and magnesium; potassium and sodium), and other key detoxifiers (such as zinc and selenium).
It’s Not Just What You’ve Got, It’s How You Use It
Just as critical as eating mineral rich foods or using appropriate supplements, is how well you absorb your minerals. Despite a healthy diet, the rate can be as low as 10%. Three factors significantly determine the quality of digestion and absorption: cephalic initiation, hydrochloric acid (HCL) levels, and the integrity of the gut wall. ‘Cephalic’ pertains to the head. In physiology textbooks this is viewed as the starting point to the digestive process (TIPS: Digestion). As soon as you see, smell or imagine tasty food the body prepares its resources for the pleasant task ahead. Saliva is secreted containing minerals that bathe your mouth to prevent infection and to re-mineralise teeth, plus specific enzymes for the breakdown of carbohydrates. It is therefore necessary to pause before starting to eat, and before each succeeding well-chewed mouthful. Eating deliberately, rather than distractedly is a crucial starting point to the digestive factory conveyor belt.
The next important stage is the stomach (bend your left elbow against your chest to find its location). Here completely different enzymes are released that break down protein, helped by the strength of HCL (if you’ve ever vomited you’ve tasted its harsh acidity). It is HCL that prepares minerals in foods and supplements for absorption. Low levels are far more common than high – especially from middle age onward – and can exhibit similar symptoms such as burping, burning, reflux, inappropriate fullness or bloating after eating. To produce HCL and prevent the stomach from being ‘digested’ by its own acids, sufficient good quality fluids are needed to produce a barrier of protective mucous. Fluids are needed to produce an astounding 9 litres of digestive secretions daily.
Another key ingredient to making HCL is the B vitamin complex. It additionally aids liver function and works with mineral teammates. As well as digestive duties HCL is also your major chemical defense against invading pathogens: bacteria, viruses, fungi such as yeasts, and parasites. The number one food source of most B vitamins (plus hard to obtain chromium for blood sugar regulation and vitality; and a good source of potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and iron) is flaky, savoury or brewers yeast. See my Dynamite recipe (The Shape Diet), which turns it into a delicious multi-purpose spread and topping.
Science Calls Your Gut “The Second Brain”
The final stage is the small intestine. Despite its name it is an impressive 7 metres long, predominantly curled up in your belly below the navel. It begins where the stomach ends, and ends where the large intestine (bowel or colon) starts. When stretched out it is larger than a tennis court. Its huge surface area is there to maximise the absorption of digested nutrients so they can be transferred via a specific branch of the blood system directly to the liver. There they are scrutinised, purified and assembled by the liver into building materials or used as fuel. It is a brilliant design but it can go wrong.
The gut wall (or intestinal mucosa) is only 1 cell thick, which is great news not only for the passage of nutrients but unfortunately also for inflammatory particles. These may be undigested proteins that stimulate an allergic response, or pathogens that escaped destruction due to insufficient HCL. Or there may be a chronic state of inflammation at the mucosa due to unresolved illness elsewhere, or because of stress. This impairment can be measured as both of these swiftly diminish the protective immune system marker called IgA, meant to guard the integrity of the site. As a statement of priority about 80% of your immune surveillance is positioned along the digestive track. Threats to one system will impact the other with cascading consequences (TIPS: Allergies).
Stress aggravates different people in different ways. There are 2 branches of the nervous system: the parasymphathetic (PNS) and the sympathetic (SNS). The SNS activates our ‘fight or flight’ response. Saliva will dry up, HCL will be low, the movement of food or peristalsis will slow and the urge to defecate will disappear. This is practical during an isolated period of stress, but unresolved anxiety can chronically stimulate the same reactions. In contrast, emotions such as a depressive – rather than hyper-vigilant – worry can over-activate the PNS and lead to speedy peristalsis and excessive defecation, such as with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (an exception to the above patterns is sudden intense fear, which stimulates special gut nerves leading to rapid bowel and bladder elimination). The digestive system and both branches of the nervous system are high users of minerals for the relay of messages, all relaxations and contractions, the production and release of saliva, HCL and other life juices (TIPS: Moods and Foods).
Minerals are as central to the core structure and function of this planet, as they are to your own physical and psychological orbit through life. There are 3 key factors to get right: ingest a sufficient, balanced supply; absorb them efficiently; and employ supportive dietary and lifestyle habits to prevent depletion. Fortunately these steps can be as practical and tasty as they are life enhancing.