Minerals originate from the earth, and the body cannot manufacture them. Luckily, they are abundant in soil, water, and plants, and thus can easily find their way into the body through many of the foods we consume. The six major minerals in the human body are calcium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, chloride, and magnesium. Mineral deficiencies, as well as over-toxicity, are common and can cause a plethora of symptom.
Calcium performs several functions in the body, including aiding the development of strong bones and teeth. It also supports muscle contraction and proper functioning of the blood vessels. A short-term deficiency of calcium can cause muscle cramps, stiffness, and poor mobility. In the long term, it can lead to decreased bone density and osteoporosis. Many foods are rich in calcium, such as milk, cheese yogurt, canned salmon, and beans. Broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage are also high in the mineral. Calcium-fortified foods, those supplemented with the mineral, include orange juice, tofu, and some cereals.
Phosphorous and calcium work with one another to promote strong bones and teeth. Deficiencies in phosphorous are uncommon; in fact, it is more likely to have too much phosphorous in the body than too little. Too much phosphorous in the short term can cause diarrhea or stomach pain and can reduce the amount of calcium in the bones causing weakness and eventually osteoporosis. Good food sources of phosphorous are red meat, dairy, fish, poultry, brown rice, and oats.
Potassium helps regulate the balance of fluids in the body and controls the electrical activity of the heart. It also helps turn carbohydrates into energy. Symptoms of potassium deficiency include muscle cramping, weakness, constipation, bloating, and abdominal pain. The most common cause is excessive fluid loss from vomiting or overuse of diuretics. A severe deficiency can cause an irregular heartbeat or paralysis of the muscles. Potassium is in bananas, tomatoes, the skin of potatoes, citrus fruits, yogurt, fish, and legumes such as beans, lentils, and split peas.
The body requires small quantities of sodium chloride or table salt to help balance the level of fluids. Chloride is also essential for digestion as it pairs with hydrogen in the stomach to make hydrochloric acid, a digestive enzyme required for the breakdown of food. Sodium chloride deficiencies are uncommon as people today are more likely to overconsume salt. Overconsumption can cause hypertension and heart disease. Salt occurs naturally at low levels in many foods. In addition, frozen meals, cheese, processed meat, canned foods, and some breakfast cereals contain added salt.
Magnesium is essential for more than 300 biochemical functions that control many actions, including muscle contraction, blood glucose levels, regulation of blood pressure, and new muscle tissue generation. It is common for people to have magnesium deficiencies, and certain medical conditions can predispose a person to low levels. Gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn's and celiac disease can make absorption difficult, as can excess alcohol consumption and diabetes. Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, numbness in the arms and legs, muscle cramps, and abnormal heart rhythms. People get magnesium naturally from spinach, nuts, brown rice, wholegrain, fish, meat, and dairy.
As the body cannot make minerals, the main cause of deficiencies is not consuming the right foods or supplements. Mineral deficiencies can affect many different people and diets. For instance, a diet that relies on junk food can leave to various deficiencies, as can low-calorie diets. Vegans and vegetarians must take extra care to ensure they are consuming the minerals other people get naturally from animal products. It is always essential to have a well-rounded diet. For individuals with absorption and digestion issues, supplements can help avoid mineral deficiencies, though it is important to speak to a doctor or dietitian before beginning any supplement regimen.
A doctor will confirm a mineral deficiency by examining a patient's diet and medical history and running blood tests or completing a physical exam. If the doctor confirms a deficiency, he may recommend dietary or lifestyle changes, or direct the patient to a nutritionist or dietician. If an underlying disease is causing the deficiency, treatment for the condition can begin.
Both vitamins and minerals are micronutrients that perform hundreds of functions in the body. Vitamins are organic and can be broken down by heat, air, or acid. Minerals are inorganic and hold onto their chemical structure. It can be tricky to shuttle vitamins from food into the body because cooking, storage, and simple exposure to air can break down some of the nutrients of the vitamin prior to consumption. The sturdy nature of minerals makes them easier to absorb as long as we eat the right foods.
One of the most common mineral deficiencies is an iron deficiency. Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs throughout your body. Iron deficiency anemia limits the transportation of oxygen within the body. As a result, individuals experience extreme fatigue, weakness, pale skin, cold hands and feet, and a poor appetite. Luckily, dietary changes or supplementation usually correct iron deficiency anemia. Meat and green leafy vegetables are rich sources of iron.
Many older adults take supplements to avoid mineral deficiencies. Vitamin D, calcium, and iron supplements are common amongst this demographic because, as we age, calcium tends to leave our bones. Low levels of calcium can cause osteoporosis and osteomalacia. To combat this, a doctor may recommend a calcium supplement alongside a vitamin D supplement, as vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium. Depending on the individual, the doctor may also recommend an iron supplement. Another consequence of aging is poor appetite and decreased caloric needs, meaning it is common for seniors to consume too little iron and other essential minerals through diet.
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