Essential Minerals: Deficiency Symptoms, Functions, and Sources

In order for our bodies to function optimally, we require a variety of essential minerals. These minerals, both trace elements and macro elements, play crucial roles in various bodily functions. There are 17 essential elements out of which 8 are trace or micro or minor elements and 9 are macro or major elements.

In this article, we will explore the importance of essential minerals, the symptoms of their deficiencies, their functions within the body, the food sources where they can be found, and their recommended daily allowance (RDA).

Trace or Micro Elements

Trace elements, also known as microelements or minor elements, are required by our body in small amounts. Essential trace or minor elements of the human body include zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), selenium (Se), chromium (Cr), cobalt (Co), iodine (I), manganese (Mn), and molybdenum (Mo). Let’s delve into the details of some important trace elements:

Copper (Cu)

Effects of deficiency: Anemia and damage to the central nervous system (CNS).

Functions: Copper is a component of enzymes involved in melanin synthesis. It is essential for hemoglobin synthesis and plays a crucial role in the functioning of cytochrome – a3 in the electron transport system (ETS).

Food sources: Legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, mushrooms, organ meats such as liver, shellfish (oysters), and drinking water.

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): 1.7 mg/day

Zinc (Zn)

Effects of deficiency: Weak immunity, low fertility, retarded growth, and anorexia.

Functions: Zinc is a component of numerous enzymes, including carbonic anhydrase and some peptidases. It also plays a role in maintaining the health of hair.

Food sources: Whole grains, vegetables, meats, fish, and poultry.

RDA: 12 mg/day for men and 10 mg/day for women. 12 mg/day for pregnant and lactating women.

Cobalt (Co)

Effects of deficiency: Pernicious anemia.

Functions: Cobalt is a component of vitamin B12 and plays a vital role in erythropoiesis (red blood cell formation).

Food sources: Nuts, green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, cereals such as oats, and fish.

Chromium (Cr)

Effects of deficiency: Diabetes mellitus and irregular ATP production.

Functions: Chromium is essential for the normal activity of insulin and is involved in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.

Food sources: Vegetables such as broccoli, potatoes, and green beans, whole-grain products, nuts, cheese, liver, and brewer’s yeast.

RDA: 40 mcg/day

Iodine (I)

Effects of deficiency: Goitre, abortion, infant death, cretinism.

Functions: Iodine is a component of thyroid hormones, which are essential for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland.

Food sources: Seafood, foods grown in iodine-rich soil, iodized salt, bread, dairy products, and vegetables.

RDA: 90 mcg/day for children (1-5 years), 120 mcg/day for children (6-12 years), 150 mcg/day for adolescents and adults, and 250 mcg/day for pregnant and lactating women.

Fluorine (F)

Effects of deficiency: Excess amounts can cause mottling of teeth and deformities in bones (hunchback).

Functions: Fluorine maintains dental health by forming fluorapatite, which helps prevent dental decay and maintains enamel.

Food sources: Drinking water, fish, grapes, raisins, wine, black teas, and potatoes.

RDA: 4 mg/day for adults 19+ years (men) and 3 mg/day (women).

Manganese (Mn)

Effects of deficiency: Irregular growth of bones, cartilage, connective tissues, and anemia.

Functions: Manganese is involved in the functioning of the enzyme lipase, urea synthesis, hemoglobin synthesis, insulin release, lactation, and bone formation.

Food sources: Plant-based foods such as whole grains, clams, oysters, nuts, soybeans, rice, leafy vegetables, coffee, tea, and spices like black pepper.

RDA: 4 mg/day

Molybdenum (Mo)

Effects of deficiency: Irregular excretion of nitrogenous wastes.

Functions: Molybdenum serves as a co-factor in some enzymes and is involved in the formation of ascorbic acid.

Food sources: Legumes, cereal grains, green leafy vegetables, breads, liver, and milk.

RDA: 45 mcg/day

Selenium (Se)

Effects of deficiency: Male infertility, prostate cancer, liver necrosis, and muscular dystrophy.

Functions: Selenium acts as an antioxidant, protecting sperm and suppressing their motility. It also contributes to the formation of thyroid hormones.

Food sources: Cereals, grains, dairy products, seafood, and muscle meats.

RDA: 40 mcg/day

Macro Elements

Macro elements, also known as major elements, are required by our body in larger quantities. Let’s explore some essential macro elements:

Boron (B)

Effects of Deficiency: Studies suggest a Boron deficiency can increase the risk of arthritis development.

Function: Boron is essential for the growth and maintenance of bone and holds a multitude of roles in our well-being. It is crucial for bone growth and maintenance, safeguarding against free radicals through increased antioxidant enzyme levels like superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase which protect from the damaging effect of free radicals.

Furthermore, it aids in wound healing by stimulating vital enzymes like elastase, collagenase, and alkaline phosphatase that play a critical role in wound healing, and in the aging mind, it enhances cognitive function and electrical activity.

Food Sources: Fresh vegetables and fruits, avocado, apples, coffee, nuts, beans, peas are commonly found sources of Boron.

RDA: The World Health Organization suggests that adults should aim for a daily intake of 1-13 mg of boron, a range considered safe and beneficial for optimal health.

Calcium (Ca)

Effects of deficiency: Rickets, muscle spasms.

Functions: Calcium is essential for the formation of bones, muscles, and teeth. It is crucial for normal blood clotting, muscle and nerve function, and heart health. Vitamin D is also necessary for calcium absorption.

Food sources: Milk and milk products, fish with bones, fortified tofu and soy milk, greens like broccoli and mustard greens, and legumes.

RDA: For adults is a crucial parameter to ensure our bodies receive the necessary nutrients for optimal health. When it comes to calcium intake, the RDA ranges between 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams (mg) per day, depending on one’s age. This range helps cater to the varying needs of individuals as they progress through different stages of life.

However, it is important to note that exceeding a daily calcium intake of 2,000 mg is not advised for adults, even for those diagnosed with osteoporosis. Consuming excessively high amounts of calcium can potentially give rise to other health concerns, creating a delicate balance between sufficiency and excess.

Moreover, it is worth mentioning that even with a diagnosis of osteoporosis, surpassing a daily intake of 1,200 mg of calcium is not recommended. Striving to remain within this limit ensures that individuals with osteoporosis maintain a sensible calcium intake that promotes their well-being without risking potential adverse effects.

Iron (Fe)

Effects of deficiency: Anaemia (microcytic anemia) or blood deficiency, weak immunity, extreme fatigue, pale skin, brittle nails, chest pain, fast heartbeat, or shortness of breath.

Functions: Iron is a component of respiratory pigments like hemoglobin and myoglobin. It is also involved in the formation of respiratory enzymes like cytochrome. Iron is crucial for oxygen transport and hair growth.

Food sources: Organ meats, red meats, fish, chicken, shellfish, egg yolks, legumes, dry fruits, dark and leafy green fruits, and vegetables.

RDA: For men and women who have gone through menopause, the RDA for iron is 8 milligrams (mg) per day. This means that they should try to get at least 8 mg of iron from their diet every day to meet their body’s needs.

For women who haven’t gone through menopause yet, the RDA for iron is a bit higher. They should aim to get 18 mg of iron per day.

However, studies have shown that the average amount of iron that people actually consume through their diet is slightly higher than the RDA. For men, the median dietary intake of iron is around 16 to 18 mg per day. Women, on the other hand, typically consume about 12 mg of iron per day.

It’s important to remember that these numbers are just guidelines. The RDA is meant to provide a general recommendation for most people, but individual needs may vary. If you have specific health concerns or dietary restrictions, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to determine the right amount of iron for your needs.

Sodium (Na)

Effects of deficiency: Muscular cramps, hypotension, and anorexia.

Functions: Sodium helps in the absorption of glucose, fructose, and some amino acids. It is the principal cation in interstitial fluid, maintaining fluid balance and facilitating nerve impulse conduction. Sodium is also a component of bile salt.

Food sources: Table salt, cold cuts, cured meats, soups, burritos, tacos, savory snacks, chicken, processed foods, milk, bread, vegetables, and unprocessed meats.

RDA: The Daily Value for sodium stands as a gentle reminder to tread lightly on the path of salt consumption, urging us to keep our intake below 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day.

Potassium (K)

Effects of deficiency: Potassium deficiency leads to rickets, risk of paralysis, hinders growth, weakens muscles, restricts feed intake, causes acidosis, affects the nervous system, lowers heart rate, and disrupts electrocardiograms. Reduced feed intake is the initial sign.

Functions: Potassium is the principal cation in the cytoplasm, controlling nerve excitability and muscle contraction. A deficiency of potassium can lead to rickets in children.

Food sources: Meats, milk, fresh fruits like bananas, oranges, apricots, grapes, dried fruits like prunes, raisins, dates, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

RDA: 1-3 years: 3,000 mg/day; 4-8 years: 3,800 mg/day; 9-13 years: 4,500 mg/day; 14 years and up: 4,700 mg/day.

Chlorine (Cl)

Effects of deficiency: Anorexia, muscular cramps.

Functions: Chlorine is the principal anion in interstitial fluid, playing a crucial role in maintaining fluid balance.

Food sources: Table salt, soy sauce, processed foods, milk, meats, bread, and vegetables.

RDA: 1-3 years: 1.5 grams/day; 4-8 years: 1.9 grams/day; 9-50 years: 2.3 grams/day; 51-70 years: 2.0 grams/day; 71+ years: 1.8 grams/day.

Magnesium (Mg)

Effects of deficiency: Muscle convulsions in the intestine.

Functions: Magnesium acts as an enzyme activator. It is required for muscle relaxation, ribosome binding during protein synthesis, and proper nerve function.

Food sources: Legumes, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, seafood, chocolate, and artichokes.

RDA: For men (19-51+ years): 400-420 mg/day; women (19-51+ years): 310-320 mg/day; pregnant: 350-360 mg/day; and lactating mother: 310-320 mg/day.

Phosphorus (P)

Effects of deficiency: Deformation of bones and teeth, retarded body growth, and physiological functions.

Functions: Phosphorus is an important structural component of bones, DNA, and RNA. It is involved in energy transfer during ATP breakdown and other metabolic activities. Phosphorus also helps maintain normal blood pH.

Food sources: Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and processed foods.

ICMR recommends for Children (1-9 years): 600 mg; Children (10-12 years) and adolescents (13-17 years): 800 mg; Adults (males and females): 600 mg; Pregnant and lactating mothers: 1200 mg

Phosphorus deficiency is rare and can be easily obtained even from a poor vegetarian diet based on cereals.

Sulphur (S)

Effects of deficiency: Skin patches, disturbed metabolism.

Functions: Sulphur is a component of hormones such as insulin. It is necessary for normal metabolism and is present in amino acids like cysteine and methionine.

Food sources: Protein-rich foods such as legumes, mushrooms, meats, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, and nuts.

In conclusion, essential minerals are crucial for our overall health and well-being. Both trace elements and macro elements play specific roles in various bodily functions. It is important to maintain a balanced diet that includes a variety of food sources to ensure an adequate intake of these essential minerals.

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