Minerals 101: A (Mostly) Sweet Symphony
Minerals 101: A (Mostly) Sweet Symphony
In the world of diet and nutrition discourse, few topics inspire as much excitement in your average individual as macrominerals!
Said no one.
In fact, when speaking with the average person (even those who consider themselves "health conscious") you'll likely get a blank stare if you ask them what the daily recommended intake of potassium is, or what role selenium plays in our health. We might have heard of these minerals and/or have some inkling that we're supposed to be consuming them, but it’s more than “I need to just eat a banana, or something, right?!
Both macro (think higher RDA*) and micro (lower RDA) minerals play a pivotal role in numerous reactions in our bodies. From muscle function to cardiovascular health to immunity, these inorganic compounds are essential to human life. And up until about 50 years ago, a well-rounded diet consisting of whole foods from both animal and plant sources would likely cover our daily mineral requirements.
However, due to modern factors such as soil depletion from degenerative agriculture and the factory farming of livestock, our food sources are no longer as nutrient dense as they once were. The result? Widespread mineral deficiencies that are often overlooked as underlying contributors to chronic health concerns.
So naturally, we should hit up the local health food or supplement store and start slamming horse pills of calcium, right? Not quite. As the title of this post suggests, we need to view mineral consumption as a balancing act; a symphony of various instruments all coming together with proper timing and in proper ratios to one another.
To discuss this symphony in its full complexity goes beyond the scope of what we can cover here, so we're focusing on two well-known mineral duos that have critical functions in our bodies:
Calcium & Magnesium
Ah calcium, quite possibly the most overly recommended, while potentially harmful mineral in its supplement form. It’s a high probability that you know an aging woman in your life who has had a calcium supplement recommended to them by a physician with the intent to improve bone density by decreasing the chances of developing osteoporosis. Unfortunately, this is largely a misguided recommendation if we're talking about supplementing calcium by itself.
The reality is, very little supplemental calcium will end up in the bones. The majority will end up in the bloodstream, where it can increase the risk for arterial calcification (hardening of the arteries), atherosclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis…that is, unless it's properly paired with magnesium, with bonus points awarded for the addition of vitamins D and K.
In a nutshell, magnesium plays a major role in making sure more calcium reaches bones. It regulates vascular smooth muscle cells, which directly affect calcification and atherosclerosis. In addition, magnesium can decrease the inflammation caused by high levels of intracellular calcium. This excess of calcium (along with sodium) within the cells is often blamed for hypertension, but more often it's a deficiency in magnesium and/or potassium that is the root cause of high blood pressure and increased risk of blood clots (thrombosis)
Sodium & Potassium
Often vilified as a major contributor to hypertension and cardiovascular disease, sodium is in fact an essential electrolyte that should be consumed in fairly large doses, anywhere from 2,300-4000 mg daily. Like the relationship between calcium and its copilot magnesium, the potential negative health effects of sodium are more likely to occur alongside a deficiency of potassium. Again, minerals typically function best in conjunction with one another.
When we talk about any of the macrominerals (aka the electrolytes), proper balance on both sides of the cell membrane is paramount. Electrolytes naturally regulate how much of each element is inside vs. outside the cell. In the case of both calcium and sodium, an excess within the cell can lead to issues like inflammation and hypertension. Enter magnesium and potassium, which are both often under-consumed and therefore not sufficiently present to prevent the negative effects of excess calcium and sodium.
So, maestro, do you feel better prepared for the next movement of your biological symphony? These are just a handful of the major mineral players, but they are some of the most impactful for our long-term health. Don’t let them fall out of practice!
If you’re curious about your current micronutrient status and looking to get the most out of your dietary intake, consider getting a micronutrient panel. These can be ordered through your primary care physician; however, it can be challenging to have these micronutrients checked if they do not suspect any concerns. Some naturopaths or other health care practitioners can order these tests for you. If you’d like to learn more about micronutrient panels, you can check out our Specialized Health and Wellness Services by visiting our website, or reach out to us at .
*RDA: Recommended Dietary Allowance