Friday, October 2, 2015

The Importance of Minerals and Electrolytes

"You can trace every sickness, every disease and every ailment to a mineral deficiency", famously said an American biochemist, Doctor Linus Pauling who had won 2 Nobel Prizes. Minerals and electrolytes are important. Your body cannot function without them. We cover the basics about the differences between minerals and electrolytes, what they are, what they do, effects of deficiency, effects of overdose and good sources of minerals and electrolytes.


The Difference between Minerals and Electrolytes

Minerals

Minerals are needed in all living organisms to live. The types of minerals we talk about here are mineral nutrients, not the minerals that you find in rocks or precious stones, although they largely still come from the ground. Minerals are predominantly picked up by plants through the soil and from water. From greater amounts needed to less, the main minerals needed by our bodies are:

  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Sulfur
  • Sodium
  • Chlorine
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Cobalt
  • Copper 
  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • Molybdenum
  • Iodine
  • Selenium

Electrolytes

All electrolytes are minerals, but not all minerals are electrolytes. Electrolytes are the minerals that carry an electrical charge. These are important to our bodies since all our nerves, movement and even heart beats work off electrical charges and impulses. In addition, electrolytes maintain our hydration levels and core cell functions. People who lose too many fluids are given electrolyte replacements to get their bodies functioning normally again. Scientists are even working on a beer which replaces electrolytes so that people won't have hangovers the next day. If you don't have any mineral deficiencies, then you won't have any electrolyte deficiencies since electrolytes are minerals. Important electrolytes are:
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Chloride (Chlorine)
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus

More about Each Mineral

Calcium



Calcium is an electrolyte, and the most abundant mineral in the body.

Calcium's Function in the Body

Almost all calcium is used as building blocks for your bones and teeth (like protein for muscle). However, the small amounts not used for this purpose are used for cell signalling (coordinating cells to work together), blood clotting (clots are produced with calcium, along with fibrinogen (a protein) and vitamin k), muscle contraction (intra-cellular calcium causes actual muscle contraction, and the removal of it causes the muscle to relax.), nerve function and your entire nervous system. Calcium is in every cell of your body. Calcium is also used in your body to find dead cells and stop the body from wasting resources by repairing what is already dead. Calcium is needed for brain growth and development.

Calcium Deficiency

Long term deficiency often leads to osteoporosis (when bones become thinner and easily breakable, in some cases where something as small as bending over could cause bones to break apart). 

Deficiency symptoms can include:
  • Weaker fingernails and toenails
  • Lethargy
  • Hair breakage and hair loss
  • Tooth decay
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tingling or numbness in fingers and toes
  • Muscle cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Memory loss
  • Depression
  • Kidney stones
  • Hallucinations
  • Osteoporosis
  • Mental confusion
  • Rickets
  • Dermatitis (eczema)

Calcium Overload

Calcium overload is not common, affecting less than 1 in every 100 people, majority of which is caused by problems with their parathyroid glands. Overload actually makes it harder for the calcium in your body to do its job properly. Do not take too many calcium supplements. Calcium overload can be very dangerous and even fatal. Too much calcium can lead to the following symptoms:
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke (as extra calcium forms plaques in the veins and arteries)
  • Constipation
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Hampered mental function (confusion and difficulty thinking)
  • Head aches
  • Nausea / vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle twitches and general weakness
  • Muscle Pain
  • Pain in your bones
  • Depression
  • Loss of height 
  • Mood disorders

Keeping the Balance between Too Little and Too Much Calcium

The best way to do this is to get calcium form food instead of supplements because your body is better at absorbing and using calcium from food. 

Good Sources of Calcium

The main source of calcium is... you guessed it! Dairy products are high in calcium. Leafy greens, fruit, legumes and seafood are great calcium sources, too. 
The best sources for calcium are:
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Bok Choy
  • Kale
  • Turnip Greens
  • Sea Weed
  • Spinach
  • Collard Greens
  • Broccoli
  • Figs
  • Oranges
  • White Beans
  • Black Eyed Peas
  • Green Peas
  • Almonds
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Sardines
  • Shrimp
  • Black-strap Molasses 

Phosphorus


Phosphorus is also an electrolyte, and is present in every cell of the human body. It is the second most abundant mineral in the body. Phosphorus is an element within phosphate, the salt that contains phosphorus.

The Function of Phosphorus in the Body

Like calcium, most phosphorus is found in the bones and teeth. Phosphorus forms part of our DNA and is involved in our body's conversion of carbohydrates and fats. It is needed to make proteins for cells and tissues. It plays a role in energy distribution and helps the body to make ATP, a chemical our bodies use to make, distribute and expend energy. It also helps the kidneys to filter waste products. Phosphorus is involved in the body's process of reducing muscle pain after physical exertion. The body uses it to balance other minerals and vitamins as well. Some sports players use phosphorus (or phosphates) to decrease muscle pain and fatigue.  

Phosphorus Deficiency

The average diet provides the body with enough of this mineral. Medications generally decrease phosphorus levels in your body. Alcohol also decreases phosphorus levels.
Phosphorus Deficiency can lead to:
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Weight Change
  • Numbness
  • Stiff Joints
  • Fragile Bones
  • Bone Pain
  • Irregular Breathing

Phosphorus Overload

There are more people who have too much phosphorus in their bodies, as opposed to having too little. One of the most common reasons for this is kidney malfunction, as kidneys are responsible to taking phosphate out of the body. Another common reason is greater phosphorus consumption in comparison to calcium, as the two balance each other out. When you have too much phosphorus in your body, it will use more calcium from your bones to try to restore balance.
Overload symptoms include:
  • Gum and Tooth Diseases
  • Cardiovascular Problems and Disease
  • Kidney Damage
  • Osteoporosis
  • Diarrhea
  • Hardening of Soft Tissues and Organs
  • Decreased ability to use Iron, Calcium, Zinc and Magnesium

Keeping the Balance

The best way to keep the balance is to include greens, fruit and veg in your diet, as these are high in calcium which will help to balance phosphorus levels. Meats and protein rich foods usually are higher in phosphorus than in calcium, tipping the balance.

Good Sources of Phosphorus

Phosphorus is found in protein rich foods, dairy products and grains.
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Nuts and Legumes
  • Whole Grains
  • Dried Fruit
  • Garlic

Potassium


Potassium is a mineral which is also an electrolyte. It is the third most abundant mineral in the body (around the same amount as sulfur and chlorine), after calcium and phosphorus.

Potassium's Function in the Body

Potassium is critically needed by the body to sustain life and for the organs to function. Potassium helps to regulate hormones and influences the character of blood vessels. It helps the body balance its liquid and electrolyte balances and helps control blood pressure. It is vital for gastrointestinal health and keeping your body's acid-to-base ratio in check. It helps with physical glucose and insulin usage as well. Heart, lung and kidney disease is more prevalent when potassium levels are too high or too low. Diets higher in potassium are associated with better blood pressure, less hypertension and less chance of stroke. Most people living in the western world are potassium deficient.  

Potassium Deficiency

Sever cases of deficiency can lead to death. People who follow healthy diets will consume enough potassium to avoid deficiency. However, since most people don't follow healthy diets, many of them are potassium deficient. Potassium is used up faster by people who are more physically active, smoke and drink. Potassium is also lost through fluid like excess urination, vomiting and diarrhea. Potassium deficiency can lead to:
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Slower Reflexes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Digestive Disorders
  • Infertility
  • Arthritis
  • Heart Disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer

Potassium Overload

Extremely high doses of potassium can be fatal, although most people have too little of the mineral. People who are most at risk for this are also those with limited kidney function, because the kidneys filter out and get rid of excess potassium. Too much potassium can lead to:
  • Weakness
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Confusion
  • Upset Stomach
  • Muscle Tingling
  • Irregular Heartbeat
  • Coma

Keeping the Balance

If your body is functioning healthily, it is able to regulate internal potassium so that if you eat more than what is needed you will simply excrete it with other waste products. By eating a healthy diet where proteins are balanced healthy fruit and veg, potassium levels should be optimum.  

Good Sources of Potassium

Once again you guessed it... Bananas! However, dried apricots have the highest amount of potassium per gram. Fresh fruit and vegetables are great sources of potassium. Potassium can be found in fruit, veg, meat and fish, but many processed foods don't have any potassium at all. Boiling foods can harm the potassium content of foods.
  • Bananas
  • Dried Apricots
  • Avocados
  • Potatoes
  • Yam
  • Parsley
  • Bamboo Shoots
  • Pistachios
  • Almonds
  • Peanuts
  • Soy Beans
  • Bran
  • Milk
  • Chocolate
  • Coconut Water

Sulfur


Sulfur is not an electrolyte as well as a mineral. The amount of sulfur in the body is about the same as potassium.

The Function of Sulfur in the Body

Almost half the body's sulfur is found in the skin, bones and muscles. The famous MSM is actually a form of sulfur. Sulfur is responsible for allowing the cells to expel harmful substances like free radicals. Sulfur is necessary for energy production and distribution. Additionally, enzymes need sulfur to exist and do their job in the body. The proteins in hair and nails are made up of keratin, which are high in sulfur. Proteins need sulfur to keep their form and function in the body. Insulin is unable to function without sulfur. Sulfur also plays a role in your body's detoxification processes.

Sulfur Deficiency

It is generally assumed that the general population are not consuming enough sulfur. Lack of sulfur adds to aging ailments. If you don't have enough sulfur, your enzymes won't be able to function properly, meaning that in turn metabolic processes in the body will be heavily hampered and even halted. 
  • Faster Aging
  • Joint Degradation and Failure
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Slower Healing and Recovery
  • Decreased Learning Ability
  • Decreased Mental Function
  • Neurological Disease

Sulfur Overload

Foods high in sulfur can cause stomach disturbances like flatulence. Having too much sulfur in the long run can suppress the calcium and potassium stores and usage in your body. Too much sulfur can also Too much sulfur can pose the following issues:
  • Crohn's Disease can be aggregated by sulfur intake
  • Lou-Gehrig can also be aggravated by sulfur intake

Good Sources of Sulfur

Your body gets its sulfur mostly from proteins. 
  • Fish
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Diary (not pasteurized as heat lowers the sulfur in milk)
Those who don't eat meat are at a greater risk of sulfur deficiency. Please note that heat destroys the sulfur in plants and milk, so you will get more out of your fruit and veg by eating fresh. The following is a list of foods that also contain sulfur, although at lower quantities than the list above:
  • Eggs
  • Wheat Germ
  • Asparagus
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Kale
  • Aloe Vera
  • Onions
  • Beans 
  • Peas 
  • Lentils 
  • Seeds 
  • Nuts

Sodium


The most common form of sodium is sodium chloride, which is salt. 

Sodium's Function in the Body

Sodium is needed by humans to survive. As most of us know, sodium is involved with blood pressure. The body uses sodium to control blood volume and pressure. It is also needed for nerve function. Your muscles also need sodium in order to work. It also regulates pH levels. It helps to regulate fluids.

Sodium Deficiency

  • Poor Blood Circulation
  • Light-Headedness
  • Spasms and Cramps
  • Spasms and Cramps
  • Head Aches
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Irritability
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Diminished Mental Capacity

Sodium Overload

Most people have too much sodium since fast foods and processed foods are very high in salt. Sodium intake in the average western lifestyle exceeds levels that high enough to start causing bodily harm. Too much sodium could cause:
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Hypertension
  • Heart Disease
  • Heart Failure
  • Stroke
  • Kidney Disease

Keeping the Balance

Most people get too much sodium since salt is added to so many processed products that we consume daily like sauces and snacks. To keep a healthy balance, eat less processed foods and eat fresh fruit and veg to get sodium is lower, healthier concentrations.

Good Sources of Sodium

Sodium is in almost all foods.
  • Table Salt
  • Dairy Products
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Meat
  • Shell Fish
  • Eggs
  • Beetroot
  • Celery
  • Fruit and Vegetables

Chlorine


Chlorine is an electrolyte. Chloride is a negatively charged form of chlorine, the form it takes when present in the body. Chloride is also found in salt (table salt is known as sodium chloride).

Chlorine's Function in the Body

Chlorine works with sodium and water to perform its bodily functions. It helps allow for the flow of fluids in our bodies. It is also crucial for digestion. Most of the chlorine in your body is present in your red blood cells. Chlorine is used to help the liver detox waste products and is also used to maintain the correct acid-base balance.

Chlorine Deficiency

Chlorine is removed through the kidneys, where it is also stored. Large amounts of this electrolyte can be lost through sweating. Chlorine deficiency is rarely of concern in humans. Loss of fluids (like through sweating, vomiting or diarrhea) can cause a chlorine deficiency. Deficiency can lead to:
  • Potassium Loss
  • Low Fluid Volumes
  • An Altered Acid-Base Balance

Chlorine Overload

Chlorine is easily absorbed through the small intestine and overload is rarely of concern in humans, either. However, large consumption of table salt could increase chlorine levels which could cause problems with water retention and knock the body out of its best acid-base balance. 

Keeping the Balance

Since table salt is so greatly consumed, we generally ingest enough of this mineral and lose the excess amounts through sweat and urination. If you are on a salt-restricted diet, eating fresh produce will ensure that you get enough chlorine.

Good Sources of Chlorine

Since the average human's diet consists of copious amounts of table salt, we get most of our chlorine from there. However; other, good sources of chlorine are:
  • Kelp
  • Lettuce
  • Celery
  • Olives
  • Tomatoes
  • Rye

Due to the length of this article, we have decided to write about Magnesium, Iron, Cobalt, Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Molybdenum, Iodine and Selenium in a separate article, which can be found here.