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Roger Weller, geology instructor

Elements in the Human Body
Katherine Shipman
Physical Geology
Spring 2006

Minerals and the Human Body


When we think of minerals, we usually picture either a beautiful specimen in a collection or the scum-like mineral deposits in our sinks.  What we often do not realize is that minerals play an important role in keeping the human body healthy.



As children, most of us were told by our parents, “Take your vitamins!”  But how many of us can remember being told to take our minerals?  Although minerals are often overlooked, they are vital in keeping our bodies functioning and stable.  There are many different kinds of minerals which are utilized by the body for different functions.  There are the bulk minerals which are needed in larger quantities on a daily basis.


Bulk Minerals 


Other important minerals are called trace minerals.  These are not required or utilized by the body in very large amounts, but still are necessary to maintain a balanced diet.


Trace Minerals


Minerals serve many functions in the body.  Without minerals, our bodies would not be able to utilize the benefits of vitamins.  Some minerals, like calcium, help build strong bones and teeth. 




Others, such as iron, boost the immune system and aid in the production of antibodies.  Phosphorous has a wide range of benefits, including regulating heart rate, boosting brain performance, strengthening skeletal structure, and maintaining homeostasis in the body.




Potassium aids in the breakdown of proteins and carbohydrates, as well as working together with sodium to control acid levels in the bloodstream.  A very important mineral is sodium, which assists in the absorbance of other minerals, helps digestive processes, and aids in the elimination of carbon dioxide.  Copper aids in respiration and maintaining oxygen levels in the blood, as well as boosting the immune system and the heart.  Chromium can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in the body, as well as keep blood sugar at an appropriate level.




When our bodies experience a mineral deficiency, a number of illnesses can occur.  For example, when there is a calcium deficiency, osteoporosis, arthritis, and other joint and bone diseases can result, as well as some kinds of cancer, heart disease, and even miscarriage or birth defects.


            A lack of iron can cause anemia, which is the most prevalent mineral deficiency condition in the world.  It can lead to death, and is seen worldwide, but especially in third-world and poverty-stricken nations.  When there is a deficiency in sodium, a serious condition called hyponatremia can develop.  Some symptoms include headaches and nausea, progressing to vomiting, confusion, lightheadedness, convulsions, and even coma.


Zinc deficiency in children results in stunted bodily and sexual development, while a magnesium deficiency can cause a condition known as hypomagnesemia.  This condition can lead to heart and other muscle spasms and high blood pressure, among other symptoms.  Low potassium levels in the body can result in muscle pain and fatigue, as well as cardiac arrhythmia and seizures.



            It really is amazing how much our bodies need minerals to survive and function.  Who knew that minerals could be so important?  It is vital that we understand the daily requirements of minerals that are necessary to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle and the sources in which we can find them.  Many minerals are found in foods we eat on a daily basis, and others can be gained by eating more fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and drinking more milk. 




So next time you’re in the grocery store, skip over the potato chips and donuts and choose a healthy alternative.  Check the foods you eat to make sure you are meeting the daily mineral requirements.  If a particular mineral is not found in the foods you eat, supplementing it may be necessary. 



No matter which way you get your minerals—through your diet or supplements in pill, powder, or liquid form—it is important to be consistent in your daily intake.  Just like vitamins, it is important to not forget to “Take your minerals!”



photo credits  


information on minerals and their uses