eNutrition 101
a LaFrance Consulting Services™ e-Course
Nutrition for Liberal Arts Students, independent study

Minerals

The minerals are grouped into the ‘major’ minerals, the ‘minor’ minerals, and the ‘trace’ minerals based on the average daily amount required in the diet. At 100 milligrams, or more, minerals are considered to be ‘major.’ The function of a few of the minerals was known before the end of the 19th Century: for example, the two major minerals Calcium (Ca) & Chlorine (Cl) are used directly, and the two trace minerals Iron (Fe) & Iodine (I) are involved in major physiologic functions. Calcium is the material responsible for the strength of bones and teeth, while Chlorine is used to maintain the low pH required for protein digestion by forming Hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Iron is involved in the transport of Oxygen by red blood cells, and Iodine is involved as a component of thyroid hormone (thyroxin) in regulating basal metabolic rate.

    More recently [last half of the 20th Century], several minerals were found to serve as co-factors for enyzme - co-enzyme complexes. One complicated example of minerals as co-factors is interesting [as defined during the introductory lecture, “anything I find interesting”] enough to be worth discussing to annoying lengths, with the naive expectation on my part that it will illustrate how co-factors work. Remember our Franklin stove which heated the parlor poorly producing portly persons with a penchance for perspiring then palpitating, because it was either “too hot” or “too cold,” but never “just right.” And we added a automatic damper to regulate air supply to the fire, reducing the temperature swings to almost comfortable levels. Now we shall replace the wood or coal burning stove with a gas or oil fired furnace. A valve can control the fuel feed rate to control the amount of heat produced, and a thermostat can regulate the heating system so well that it will get a bit warm, then slightly chilly. Adding a programmable, electronic thermostat allows us to regulate the temperature so it is rarely uncomfortable, but the heating system is now too complicated for the DIY home handyman to maintain. The fireplace was the analogy for the enzyme; the automatic damper, the co-enzyme. The thermostat is the analogy for the co-factor, where we gain fine control over the reaction at the expense of making the process extremely complicated. With this mind set, “we” can design a complicated system to transport Oxygen and Carbon dioxide to and from the lungs and body tissues. Hemoglobin consists of four heme rings connected together to make a larger ring structure [this is an irrelevant detail, provided solely for those of you who actually want such detail]. In the center of the larger ring, we can suspend an Iron ion. Iron has two ionization states:
      ferrous (reduced, Fe2+) and
      ferric (oxidized, Fe3+).
You are familiar with ferric Iron as Ferric oxide (rust), but probably aren't familiar with ferrous iron, yet. So, back in fireplace technology, how does Iron work in transporting Oxygen? The Iron is supposed to attract (and ‘attach’ to) Oxygen molecules in the lungs, then drop it off in various body tissues and pick up Carbon dioxide. The Carbon dioxide is released in the lungs, and the process repeats. This “expanation” makes almost no sense. Let's try for a more complicated explanation, the
    Franklin stove with automatic damper version. There are two enzymes: one made in the lungs [and dumped into the blood] to cause the Iron to be oxidized to ferric iron which attracts Oxygen (but not Carbon dioxide), and the other made in other tissues [and dumped into the blood] to cause the Iron to be reduced to ferrous Iron which attracts Carbon dioxide (but not Oxygen). Sounds better, until you think about it. Both enzymes are dumped into the blood, so both could be in the lungs and in other tissues; so how does that work?
    Sorry, but it doesn't work. So we add the valve on the fuel supply plus primitive thermostat. Each enzyme has a co-enzyme: the co-enzyme for Iron oxidation is produced by the lungs, and the co-enzyme for Iron reduction is produced in other tissues. But the co-enzymes have to be in the blood stream to work. This does not work much better than the two enzyme solution.
    We have to add the more complicated programmable thermostat on the gas furnace. There are two co-factors which are minerals which can be pumped back and forth across the cell membranes. Now the thermostat functional analog: oxygenated blood exhibits mild alkalosis, carbon dioxide rich blood exhibits mild acidosis. So if a lung cell detects high pH [dissolved O2 in the space between cells], it pumps the appropriate co-factor out. This activates the enyzme - co-enzyme complex to oxidize the Iron in the hemoglobin; Carbon dioxide is released, Oxygen is picked up, the serum pH falls, and the lung cells pump the co-factor back inside - stopping Iron oxidation. If cells in any tissue detect low pH [dissolved CO2 in the space between cells], they pump out the other co-factor initiating Iron reduction, Oxygen is released, Carbon dioxide is attracted, serum pH rises, the cells pump the co-factor back in, shutting down Iron reduction. The process is now controlled very accurately!
And that is how co-factors work to control metabolism effectively.

    This explanation leads to the hypothesis that most, if not all, metabolic processes driven by an enzyme - co-enzyme complex have minerals which serve as co-factors, and that all critical metabolic processes ought to be controlled by an enzyme, co-enzyme, co-factor complex. As a simplified, and hopefully memorable illustration, I offer you a traffic signal:

enzyme O | | enzyme
co-enzyme
. | | enzyme
coenzyme
cofactor
. | |
. O .
. . O

All essential minerals are required in relatively small amounts compared to other nutrients [except some of the vitamins]. The minerals tend to become toxic at surprisingly low amounts. Again, details about specific minerals is something you need to look up again each time you encounter a need to know about them by clicking on the Mineral of interest in the following table
or by looking in the tables in Nutrition Now, 5th ed (Table 20.2 starting on pg. 20-4).
[the information on food sources in my table lists only the higher density, non-enriched foods; complete information can be found at the USDA Agricultural Research Center].

MINERALS
major minor trace
Sodium (Na) Iron (Fe) Boron (B)
Potassium (K) Zinc (Zn) Nickel (Ni)
Chloride (Cl) Selenium (Se) Vanadium (V)
Calcium (Ca) Iodine (I) Arsenic (As)
Phosphorus (P) Copper (Cu) Silicon (Si)
Magnesium (Mg) Fluoride (F)
Chromium (Cr)
Manganese (Mn)
Molybdenum (Mo)


My preference for food sources of nutrients applies to minerals as well. Again the issue of bio-availability is critical to the absorption and use of minerals ingested. If you must consider supplements in tablet form, you must check the ingredients carefully to insure that the minerals will not simply enrich your fecal material. Among those supplements which are most effective at enriching fecal material are the following:
    “Calcium carbonate from all natural sources” [such as oyster shell]; oyster shells (snail shells, clam shells, etc) make limestone rocks. Calcium carbonate supplements are as effective as eating gravel. Calcium should be Calcium citrate to be bio-available.
    Iron as ferric iron… ferric iron is best known as rust (and has actually been added as finely ground rust to multi-vitamins with iron). You might as well recommend eating rusty nails. Iron should be Ferrous sulphate, Ferrous citrate, or any other ferrous iron compound.

    The simplest example of mineral “overdosing” is Flourine, which makes the enamel surface of your teeth stronger, and more resistant to tooth decay. If you go to a dental hygenist twice a year, you get 100% of your annual Fluoride requirement. If you drink water from the municipal water supply in any major U.S. city, you get about 100% of your annual fluoride requirement from drinking water. If you brush your teeth properly with a fluoridated toothpaste at least twice a day, you get approximately 100% of your annual fluoride requirement from toothpaste. At 300% of annual flouride requirement, there is a substantial risk of overdosing. The signs of flouride overdose include discolorization of the teeth (initially yellow, but turning brown). Unlike tobacco and caffeine stains on teeth, the stains from overdosing on fluoride originate deep in the tooth not on the tooth surface, so whitening agents do not work for fluoride stains; it “goes on your permanent record.”


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revised: 16 Aug 2010