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Overview of Minerals

By

Larry E. Johnson

, MD, PhD, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Last full review/revision Jun 2020| Content last modified Jun 2020
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Topic Resources

Minerals are necessary for the normal functioning of the body’s cells. The body needs relatively large quantities of

These minerals are called macrominerals. Bone, muscle, heart, and brain function depends on these minerals.

The body needs small quantities of

These minerals are called trace minerals. Except for chromium, all trace minerals are incorporated into enzymes or hormones required in body processes (metabolism). Chromium helps the body keep blood sugar levels normal. It is not clear whether chromium should be considered an essential (required) trace element.

Both macrominerals and trace minerals are harmful if too much is ingested.

Minerals are an essential part of a healthy diet. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA)—the amount most healthy people need each day to remain healthy—has been determined for most minerals. People who have a disorder may need more or less than this amount.

Consuming too little or too much of certain minerals can cause a nutritional disorder. People who eat a balanced diet containing a variety of foods are unlikely to develop a nutritional disorder or a major mineral deficiency, except sometimes for iodine, iron, or zinc. However, people who follow restrictive diets may not consume enough of a particular mineral (or vitamin). For example, vegetarians, including those who eat eggs and dairy products, are at risk of iron deficiency. Infants are more likely to develop deficiencies because they are growing rapidly (thus requiring larger amounts of nutrients for their size than adults).

Consuming large amounts (megadoses) of mineral supplements without medical supervision may have harmful (toxic) effects.

Some mineral disorders (such as manganese and molybdenum disorders) are very rare or may not exist.

Electrolytes

Diagnosis

  • Often blood or urine tests

Doctors can detect many common nutritional disorders or an electrolyte imbalance by measuring the levels of minerals in a sample of blood or urine.

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More Information about Minerals

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Iron
Most of the body’s iron is found in hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that enables the cells to supply oxygen to all the body’s tissues. Iron also plays a role in muscle cell function and the formation of some enzymes. While iron is found in many foods, it may or may not be easily absorbed depending on the type of iron. Which of the following foods contains the more easily absorbed type of iron?
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