Manganese is a trace mineral found in plants, which absorb it from the soil. While minerals are necessary for proper function of regular processes in the body, we require trace minerals in smaller amounts. The importance of manganese is not widely known and is often overlooked in health and nutrition education. Manganese, like all trace minerals, plays a role in enzyme function, chemical reactions, neurological functions, production of hormones, physical growth, and sexual development.
Enzymes are proteins that speed up or instigate chemical reactions in the body. During the process, the body does not use up the enzyme. Manganese works with enzymes as a 'co-factor' or 'catalyst.' Most enzymes requiring manganese process cholesterol, carbohydrates, and amino acids. A reaction using manganese produces a specific type of protein in the mitochondria to coat other cells and defend them against invading viruses.
Manganese is a co-factor for enzymes involved in the formation of bone and cartilage and healing after fractures or other injuries. The exact role of manganese in bone structure is not completely understood, but animals with low levels of manganese in their diet may develop with weakened or abnormal bone structure. Osteoporosis is more common in women with low levels of manganese in their blood, and bone injuries heal slowly or improperly if manganese is lacking.
Manganese is highly concentrated in the pancreas and functions as an antioxidant to protect insulin-producing cells. It also influences insulin production by activating an enzyme that increases glucose in cells. Insufficient manganese is associated with increased glucose intolerance, a precursor to diabetes. It is not yet clear whether diabetes lowers manganese levels or if low manganese contributes to developing diabetes.
Manganese works with an enzyme called prolidase to make collagen, an essential part of the skin's structure that provides elasticity and strength in this first line of defense against infection and illness. Manganese is essential to healing damaged skin because collagen enables healing; the trace mineral also acts as an antioxidant in skin cells to prevent damage from oxygen and ultraviolet light.
Doctors know some functions of manganese but do not entirely understand many of its effects, so the recommended daily intakes of this mineral could change in the future. The daily amount for children under three is 1.2mg, and 1.5mg for those aged four to eight. Intakes for children over the age of eight and for adults differ according to gender, age, pregnancy, and several other factors.
Manganese deficiency could lead to infertility, seizures, generalized weakness, nausea or vomiting, vertigo, hearing impairment, anemia, skin breakdown, brittle hair and nails, or even seizures and convulsions. Childhood deficiencies can result in poor or stunted growth with bone structure abnormalities, while lack of manganese during infancy has links to blindness and paralysis. Manganese deficiencies exist in food-insecure populations but are rare in the United States and other nations with access to a wide variety of foods.
A wide variety of foods are rich in manganese, so it is easy to consume enough to meet the daily requirements. Oats, wheat, rye, and barley contain manganese, and those who avoid gluten can eat brown rice or quinoa. Pineapple, raspberries, bananas, and strawberries are fresh fruit options. Good vegetable sources include soybeans, chickpeas, corn, beet greens, spinach, turnip greens, and green beans. Almonds or pumpkin make good snacks or toppings. Flavorings such as garlic, cloves, turmeric and black pepper also contain manganese.
Manganese can be toxic at high levels, but it is unusual to absorb toxic levels through food. The mineral has multiple uses in industry; inhalation when working or living in or near polluted areas can cause toxic levels. Manganism is the term for toxicity from exposure to manganese. Symptoms result from neurotoxicity and include cognitive impairment, tremors, seizures, loss of coordination, and decreased brain volume in extreme cases.
Manganese supplements can correct manganese deficiency but require caution. Taking too much can hinder absorption of iron or cause the same symptoms as manganism if consumed in extremely high doses. Intravenous administration of manganese can address dangerously low levels, but over-the-counter oral options are more common. Supplements may help with joint pain, osteoporosis and inflammation, and rashes.
Research on the importance of manganese is ongoing. Experts know the negative effects of manganese deficiencies, though it isn't always clear why those effects occur. Manganese can treat many health problems such as arthritis, lung disease, and premenstrual syndrome. Understanding why manganese is beneficial for these ailments could lead to more treatment options.
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