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Ounce of Prevention | Minerals that matter

Published:Tuesday | July 3, 2018 | 12:00 AMDr Tony Vendryes

Minerals are nutrients that are essential to good health that our bodies cannot make but is present in the earth. Plants absorb them from the soil, and we get them most from eating plants or indirectly from eating animals that eat plants. We may also get minerals from drinking good-quality water or by taking mineral supplements.

Let's review some important minerals.




Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body, with 99 per cent of it stored in the bones and teeth. However, normal calcium levels in the blood is essential for health. The body will actually take calcium from the bones to maintain normal calcium levels in the blood if calcium consumption is low. Adequate calcium intake and absorption is critical in preventing osteoporosis (weak bone disease) and in maintaining a healthy skeleton.

Consuming 1000-1200 mg/day is considered optimal, but calcium intake is not as important as calcium absorption, which depends on vitamin D. Get enough sunshine and consider supplementing with vitamin D.

A research project called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) showed that a calcium intake of 1,200 mg/day may help to prevent and treat moderate high blood pressure.

Although dairy products are touted as great sources of calcium, many vegetables and grains also provide lots of calcium. These include broccoli, pak choi, soy, cabbage, mustard, and turnips. After all, the calcium in cow's milk comes from the grass that the cow ate. United States research shows that a high intake of calcium from dairy foods increases the risk of prostate cancer.




Magnesium plays important roles in the structure and the function of the human body. Over 60 per cent of the body's magnesium is found in the bones, 27 per cent in muscle, the rest in other cells, and very little outside of the cells. Magnesium is involved in more than 300 essential chemical reactions in the body.

ENERGY PRODUCTION: The metabolism of carbohydrates and fats to produce energy requires several chemical reactions that are dependent on magnesium. ATP, the molecule that provides energy for almost all metabolic processes, exists mainly in combination with magnesium. Research suggests a relationship between magnesium and blood pressure. The majority of people with high blood pressure are magnesium deficient.

All green vegetables, green juices, nuts, seeds and unrefined grains are good sources of magnesium.




Iron is a mineral found in every cell in the body, though mostly as haemoglobin in the red blood cells and as myoglobinin the muscles. Haemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the body, while myoglobin stores oxygen in the muscles. Iron is also essential in making new cells, amino acids and hormones.

The body normally retains and recycles iron well, and iron loss mostly occurs from bleeding. Because of this, the normal requirements for iron are quite modest: menstruating women, 20 mg per day; pregnant women, 30 mg per day; and men, 10 mg per day. Iron-deficiency can occur if the diet lacks enough iron, or if iron is lost from bleeding or chronic infection. This typically results in anaemia and fatigue.

But when too much iron is absorbed from the diet, it can create many serious health problems, with an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, some hormone disorders, arthritis, diabetes, and liver disease.

Before the menopause, women are generally protected from accumulating excess iron by regular iron loss from her menses. Because of the dangers of iron overload, men should have their iron levels tested as part of a medical check-up. High iron levels require specific treatments and lifestyle modifications to lower body iron stores. Regular blood donation is an effective way to lower iron levels. Men should avoid iron supplements or iron-containing tonics unless their blood tests show that their iron levels are low.

Iron from animal foods like beef and liver, called heme iron, is more likely to cause iron overload than iron from plants, known as non-heme iron. Foods high in non-heme iron are molasses, beans, lentils, pumpkin seeds and leafy vegetables. The absorption of iron is greatly increased in the presence of vitamin C.




Salt (as sodium chloride) is essential for life and play vital roles in many life-sustaining processes. Experts agree that a small amount of salt is needed for good health but that our modern diet is overloaded with salt. High dietary salt is associated with elevated blood pressure.

The largest medical study of salt and blood pressure, called INTERSALT, supported the same conclusion, that high sodium intake was associated with elevated blood pressure.

Remember, however, that everyone needs some salt in their diet, and it is excess sodium compounded by a lack of other important minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium that creates the problem. I recommend using moderate quantities of sea salt, as it contains a good blend of all the key minerals.




Potassium is a mineral that works closely with sodium to initiate muscle contraction, nerve transmission, and in controlling the body's distribution of fluid. Potassium is stored primarily inside your cells, while sodium is found mostly in the fluid around the cells.

Potassium is abundant in many foods, especially in fruits and vegetables. Great sources of potassium include beans, peas, green leafy vegetables, coconut water, fruit and fruit juices.

A dietary deficiency of potassium is uncommon but vomiting, diarrhoea or sweating, or taking certain medications may cause potassium deficiency. Individuals with kidney disease and renal failure may be in danger of potassium toxicity if their potassium intake is not restricted.




Chromium is a mineral needed in modest amounts but is important for the metabolism of carbohydrates and the control of blood sugar. Many diabetics are either deficient in chromium or may genetically need above-normal amounts of chromium.

Meats, whole grain products, bran cereals, green beans, broccoli, and spices are relatively rich in chromium. Foods high in simple sugars are not only low in chromium but also promote chromium loss from the body.

I recommend that all diabetics and others with blood sugar imbalance supplement with 250 to 500 mcg of chromium daily.

- You may email Dr, Vendryes at or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM on Fridays at 9:10 pm. Visit for details on his books and articles.