From energy production to proper blood and nerve formation, minerals work synergistically with vitamins to regulate hundreds of essential functions in the body. Like most vitamins—the exception is vitamin D—minerals come from the world around us. Our bodies can’t produce these essential nutrients, and we can only acquire them through a combination of supplements and food.
Obtaining the minerals we need from food alone isn’t quite as easy as it used to be, however. Soil erosion, chemical fertilization, and poor crop management have all contributed to a depletion of minerals in the soil, which directly translates to fewer nutrients in fruits, vegetables, and grains and indirectly to less nutritious meat and dairy products as a result of mineral-depleted agricultural feed. For example, one British study compared data from 1940 to 2002 and found iron content in 15 types of meat had decreased by an average 47 percent.
All of this means that a healthy diet alone, even one that’s primarily organic, may not meet all of your body’s nutritional needs. So you have to rely on supplements to take up the slack. According to our experts, you should consider adding these must-have minerals to your daily supplement regime.
Chromium enhances the function of insulin, a vital hormone that regulates blood sugar (its absence causes diabetes) and plays a positive role in conditions such as arterial plaque buildup, elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels, glaucoma, hypoglycemia, and obesity. Shelley Burns, ND, director of complementary therapies for Scienta Health in Toronto recommends chromium GTF (glucose tolerance factor), which contains an important molecule that helps increase insulin sensitivity.
Those at risk of deficiency: Individuals with type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes)
Deficiency symptoms: Blood sugar fluctuations, glucose intolerance, high cholesterol and triglycerides
Optimal Daily Allowance (ODA): 200 to 600 mcg
A cofactor in energy production, iron also plays an integral role in transporting and storing oxygen and in creating a healthy immune system. Cathy Carlson-Rink, ND, of Langley, British Columbia, recommends a liquid supplement containing ferrous gluconate as a highly absorbable form of iron that doesn’t cause constipation.
Those at risk of deficiency: Pregnant women, low-birth-weight infants and toddlers, teenage girls, vegetarians, and women with heavy menstrual periods
Deficiency symptoms: Difficulty maintaining body temperature, fatigue, impaired mental capacity, reduced immunity, slow cognitive and social development during childhood
ODA: The ODA for iron varies widely depending on individual needs. That said, the NIH website recommends 8 mg a day for adult males and 18 mg for premenopausal women. Since you can experience symptoms of iron deficiency long before you are considered anemic, check with your healthcare practitioner about testing if you fall into one of the above risk categories.
Required for more than 300 biochemical functions in the body, magnesium supports muscle and nerve function, a steady heartbeat and blood pressure, immunity, bone health, energy production, and protein synthesis. Adequate magnesium may help ward off hypertension, type-2 diabetes, and elevated triglycerides and maintain healthy levels of beneficial high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, according to a recent study. Look to magnesium glycinate for the most active form, says Burns.
Those at risk of deficiency: Older adults; heavy drinkers; individuals taking certain diuretics, antibiotics, and medications to treat cancer; those with poorly controlled diabetes or chronic absorption problems (like Crohn’s disease)
Deficiency symptoms: Gastrointestinal (GI) upset, heart problems, insomnia, kidney stones, loss of appetite, muscle cramps and weakness, osteoporosis, personality changes
ODA: 400 to 600 mg
Necessary for more than 300 different enzyme functions and a strong immune system, this mineral helps treat acne, athlete’s foot, burns, wounds, benign prostatic hypertrophy, colds, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, diaper rash, macular degeneration, male sexual problems, osteoporosis, and ulcers. Pregnant women deficient in zinc risk slower fetal growth. Zinc picolinate appears to be the best absorbed form of this mineral, says Burns.
Those at risk of deficiency: Vegetarians and individuals with chronic GI absorption problems
Deficiency symptoms: Acne, joint pain, loss of sense of smell or taste, menstrual irregularities, poor sexual development, recurrent infections, slow wound healing, slowed growth, stretch marks, white spots on fingernails
ODA: 15 to 35 mg. Topical application: Apply to affected area as needed.