There are 21 essential minerals required by the human body. They are called essential as the body cannot produce them, and without them, we can become very unwell.
What Do Minerals Do For The Body?
Like all nutrients, minerals act as cofactors with each other, with vitamins and enzyme systems, thus causing billions of chemical reactions in the body that are necessary for survival. For every movement that we take without thinking, there is energy behind it that comes from the chemical reactions of these nutrients. Minerals on their own do not provide energy (calories), but they help to release energy from the macronutrients we eat— from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The energy required to blink the eyes, to breathe, to keep the heart beating, to think, to read, to lift a finger, to walk, even to sleep and to dream—each one depends on an intricately choreographed interplay of chemistry.
Each of these movements depends on:
- Substances called enzymes to catalyse the reaction.
- Enzymes need helpers called cofactors — that are often vitamins and minerals or both, to be whole and active.
So, you are start to see that the human body is a big system of biochemistry, whose interplay cannot function without nutrients.
What Is A Mineral?
Approximately 4% of the body mass consists of minerals. Minerals are naturally occurring inorganic substances (i.e. they do not have a carbon atom). There are approximately 3800 known minerals, 21 of which are essential to the healthy functioning of the human body. While some minerals, such as lead, are toxic to humans.
Minerals have vast and varied roles in the body, including healthy growth and development, transportation, regulating heartbeat, building strong bones, and ensuring the nervous system functions correctly. In the human body, minerals can be either bound to organic molecules, or in their inorganic form. They can be in two different states:
- Solid state as crystals such as bones and teeth.
- Or in solution: in ionized or non-ionized form such as blood plasma.
They can even pass from one state to another, for example, calcium, which in the case of hypocalcemia, is removed from bones (its solid crystalline form) to plasma (ionic form).
Below, we will go through all 21 essential minerals, their main roles in the body, and reveal the best food sources of each.
Together with carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water, and vitamins; minerals make up the 6 essential nutrient groups for the human body.
Essential Minerals That The Human Body Needs
An essential mineral is any mineral required by the body for health, that cannot be produced by the body and so must be provided by your diet. There are 21 essential minerals, often described as:
5 Major Minerals (a.k.a. electrolytes)
The five major minerals in your body are also classified as electrolytes (crucial nutrients that help stimulate nerves throughout the body and balance fluid levels).
They form chemistry reactions when mixed with water, moving in and out of our cells to help keep our body hydrated, ensuring our nerves and muscles are functioning properly, they balance our blood pH and maintain our blood pressure among their many functions.
List of 16 Trace Minerals (a.k.a. micro minerals)
Trace minerals are also known as micro minerals as the human body only needs them in much smaller amounts, although that doesn’t mean that they are less important.
Among the minerals in this list, iron is a major component of your red blood cells. Its main function is to help carry oxygen and nutrients to be distributed to your entire body.
- Arsenic (Yes, we know, bear with us)
Essential Minerals List, And Their Roles In The Body
First off, it’s important to note that no mineral is used in isolation by the body. All minerals interact with other minerals, vitamins, enzymes etc. For example, it is overly simplistic to say calcium makes healthy bones, as magnesium and phosphorus must also be present to build bones.
The following five major essential minerals are found in the largest amounts in a human body:
1. Calcium (Ca)
Found in teeth, bones, and nails: Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body.
Roles of calcium in the body: Calcium is essential for the clotting of blood, the action of certain enzymes and the control of the passage of fluids through the cell walls. It is also essential to normal heart action and muscle contraction.
Symptoms of calcium deficiency: Weaker bones, delayed growth, nervous irritability, rickets, and muscle sensitivity.
Good sources of calcium: Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, seeds, nuts, dates, oranges, and tofu. Though high in calcium, dairy products are acid-forming, so be mindful of this. Dairy is best used as a condiment, rather than being a food group and always focus on the highest quality that you can.
2. Phosphorus (P)
Phosphorus is found in bones, teeth, and the protoplasm and nucleus of every cell. It is used in more bodily functions than any other mineral.
Roles of phosphorus in the body: Phosphorus is used to build healthy bones and teeth (in combination with calcium); to metabolize carbohydrates, fats and proteins; to build nerve and brain cells, manages energy storage, muscle contraction, filters out waste from kidneys and much more!
Symptoms of phosphorus deficiency: Poor bone and teeth development, mental fatigue, decreased appetite, feeling of depression resulting from exhausted nerve energy.
Good sources of phosphorus: Coconut, green leafy vegetables, pears, apple, avocado, dates, carrots, rice, oats, fish, legumes, broccoli, asparagus, corn, eggs, nuts, sesame seeds.
3. Potassium (K)
Roles of potassium in the body: Potassium regulates transportation in and out of cells including the removal of toxins and delivery of nutrients, regulates the heartbeat, water balance, blood pressure (through sodium regulation), tissue elasticity, aids healing, promotes correct liver functioning, reduces stress & anxiety, and regulates nerve and muscle action.
Symptoms of potassium deficiency: Poor muscular control; poor digestion; liver problems; slow healing of sores; dry skin, acne, diarrhoea, impaired cognitive function, insomnia, elevated cholesterol.
Good sources of potassium: Cereals, most fresh fruit and vegetables, bananas, papaya, fish, pulses, nuts and seeds, dried fruits, sardines, soybeans, pinto beans, baked potatoes.
4. Sodium (Na)
Roles of sodium in the body: With potassium, sodium regulates exchange in and out of cells, as well as blood pressure, helps maintain water balance, is required to produce digestive juices, helps eliminate carbon dioxide, aids correct nerve functioning, and aids muscle and nerve cells.
Symptoms of sodium deficiency: Muscle cramp, nausea, fatigue, dehydration, confusion, depression, dizziness, palpitations, headaches, impaired taste, low blood pressure, seizures, indigestion, arthritis, rheumatism, gallbladder, and kidney stones.
Good sources of sodium: Seeds, strawberry, melon, sea asparagus, fish, natural extracted salts. Note that sodium chloride (refined table salt) is a bad source of sodium and poisonous to the body. Sea salt and Himalayan salt are far better choices.
5. Magnesium (Mg)
Roles of magnesium in the body: Required for more than 300 biochemical reactions (which are essential for energy, DNA & RNA, amino acids & genes, neurotransmitters and many more), maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, carbohydrate metabolism.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency: Poor complexion, faster heartbeat, irritability, digestive disorders, soft bones, sleep disturbances, confusion, and muscle spasms.
Good sources of magnesium: Nuts (especially walnut and almonds), cereals (especially brown rice, oats) , spinach, fish, beans (navy & lima), broccoli, bananas, baked potatoes, apples, apricots, tofu, cantaloupe, greeny leafy vegetables, sesame seeds.
List Of 16 Trace Minerals Required By The Human Body
As the name implies, trace minerals are required in far smaller amounts (less than 100 mg/day). Each has a specific biochemical function in the human body. They are needed in such tiny amounts that the role of many were not discovered until recently, and the essentiality of some is still being debated.
1. Iron (Fe)
Iron is best known for its role as a primary constituent of haemoglobin in red blood cells.
Roles of iron in the body: Transportation of oxygen and carbon dioxide around the body; essential in metabolism; building of bones and muscle tissue. It can also help with disorders such as anemia, coughing bouts and some chronic illnesses.
Symptoms of iron deficiency: Pale complexion, anaemia, low energy levels, stunted growth, dry/coarse hair, dizziness, fatigue, cracked lips/tongue, nervousness, slowed mental response.
Good sources of iron: Dark green vegetables, legumes, dried fruits, whole grain cereals, spinach, liver, beef, clams, pumpkin seeds, eggs, fish, avocados, nuts.
2. Manganese (Mn)
Manganese is found in the liver, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, prostrate, adrenal gland, brain and bones.
Roles of manganese in the body: Facilitates chemical reactions, carbohydrate and protein metabolism, strong tissues and bone, helps form thyroxine, helps regulate blood sugar levels and brain reactions, needed for antioxidant and enzyme function, helps utilise biotin and ascorbic acid, detoxifies ammonia, supports fatty acid synthesis, improves memory and improves inflammation and overall levels of oxidative stress.
Symptoms of manganese deficiency: Weak bones, anaemia, chronic fatigue, low immunity, hormonal imbalance, infertility, confusion, tremors, elevated cholesterol, impaired vision and hearing, skin rash, irritability, increased blood pressure, pancreatic damage, sweating, increased heart rate, mental impairment
Good sources of manganese: Beans, walnut, whole cereals, green vegetables, cabbage, sweet potato, wheat germ, seeds, cocoa, shellfish, apples, apricot, avocado, bananas, figs, salmon, soybeans.
3. Copper (Cu)
Copper is found in the heart, lungs, liver, and gallbladder.
Roles of copper in the body: Copper is required primarily for the absorption and metabolism of iron. It also helps to make collagen, maintains nerve cells and the immune system and producing energy.
Symptoms of copper deficiency: Copper deficiency symptoms are like those of iron: poor haemoglobin production, pale complexion, anaemia, low energy levels, stunted growth, fatigue, as well as lack of collagen and osteoporosis.
Good sources of copper: Nuts and seeds, raisins, shellfish, cacao, liver, avocados, beets, broccoli, lentils, oats, oranges, radishes, salmon, green leafy veg.
4. Iodine (I)
Found mainly in the thyroid gland in the throat.
Roles of iodine in the body: Used to make thyroxine which regulates some of the metabolic functions, oxidation of fats and proteins, treat infections, cares for skin and hair, healthy brain development.
Symptoms of iodine deficiency: Swollen thyroid gland (can cause difficulty swallowing and breathing), goiter, low metabolism, delayed growth and sexual development, tiredness, feeling cold, hair loss, depression, sudden weight gain.
Good sources of iodine: Nuts and seeds, raisins, green leafy vegetables, turnip, banana, watermelon, shellfish, seaweeds, (iodised) sea salt (not table salt), fish, milk, lima beans, soybeans, sardines, spinach, whole egg, cheddar cheese, whole cereals, and grains.
5. Zinc (Zn)
Roles of zinc in the body: Regulation of blood sugar, healing of wounds, transfer of carbon dioxide from tissue to lungs and proteins into cells, activates 100+ different enzymes, promotes healthy childhood growth, regulates gene expression, stabilises cell membranes, stores & releases insulin, and DNA, defends against oxidative stress.
Symptoms of zinc deficiency: Poor intestinal absorption, restricted growth, prostate problems, absence of taste and smell, appetite suppression, low testosterone, thin nails, acne, impotence, low sex drive, hair loss, reassess susceptibility to infection.
Good sources of zinc: Nuts and seeds, shellfish, cereal products such as wheat germ, cooked oysters, beef, lamb, eggs, fish, yoghurt, liver, mushrooms, pecans, soybeans, poultry.. Though they contain zinc, dairy products are acid-forming so not a good source.
6. Cobalt (Co)
Roles of cobalt in the body: Helps treat illnesses such as anaemia and some infectious diseases, absorption, and processing of vitamin B12, aids in repair of myelin, which surrounds and protects nerve cells; helps in the formation of haemoglobin in red blood cells, facilitates production of thyroid hormones, decreases blood cholesterol, develops RNA & DNA, and is involved in many enzyme reactions.
Symptoms of cobalt deficiency: Anaemia, decreased nerve function, tiredness, chronic fatigue, weakness, brain fog, slowed healing, arrhythmia, dystonia (pay attention after experiencing major blood loss, GI tract infections or vit B12 deficiency, it can cause deficiencies in cobalt).
Good sources of cobalt: Shiitake mushrooms, fish, shellfish, nuts, legumes, spinach, turnip, figs, onions, potato, beetroot, cabbage, garlic, semolina, lentils, berries, pear, grapes, apricot, organ meats (liver, heart, kidney), eggs, yoghurt, sour cream, squid, lobster mackerel.
7. Molybdenum (Mo)
Many people have probably never heard of molybdenum, required in tiny quantities in the body, it is crucial to good health.
Roles of molybdenum in the body: Promotes normal cell function, facilitates waste removal, acts as a catalyst for enzymes, facilitates the breakdown of some amino acids and aldehydes (which contribute to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s), supports the production of red blood cells, converts sulphites to sulphates, and purine into uric acid.
Symptoms of molybdenum deficiency: As molybdenum deficiency in humans is extremely rare, symptoms are not well established. However, some may include increased heart rate, mouth and gum disorders, impotence in older males, increased respiratory rate, and night blindness.
Good sources of molybdenum : Legumes, whole grains, nuts, dark green leafy vegetables, peas, meats.
8. Selenium (Se)
Roles of selenium in the body: Supports the immune system; boosts thyroid health; acts as a powerful antioxidant that fights damaging particles called free-radicals, especially when combined with vitamin E.
Symptoms of selenium deficiency: Free radicals can damage cell membranes and DNA, adversely affect health, and may cause premature ageing. Can also affect muscle weakness, low thyroid hormones, fatigue, growth retardation, elevated cholesterol, susceptibility to infection, sterility, deficiencies linked to cancer and heart disease.
Good sources of selenium: Brazil nuts, seeds, fish, green vegetables, lobster and other shellfish, organ meats, brown rice, poultry, broccoli, dairy products, onions, salmon, tuna, vegetables, wheat germ.
9. Sulfur (S)
Sulfur is found in the hair, nails, cartilage, and blood.
Roles of Sulfur in the body: Sulfur aids digestion, waste elimination, bile secretion, purification of the system, helps to have healthy hair, skin & nails, builds key proteins such as glutathione and collagen, produces insulin and amino acids, alleviates arthritis symptoms, mobilises Vitamin D from the sun, improves flexibility and energy. Sulfur is also a great anti-parasitic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal, even helping to relieve allergies.
Symptoms of Sulfur deficiency: Restricted growth, eczema, unhealthy nails and hair, fatigue, joint problems, rash, varicose veins, circulation problems, ageing of skin, difficulty digesting foods (especially fats), blood sugar imbalances, increased allergies and parasitic infections
Good sources of Sulfur: Cabbage, onions, garlic, leeks, avocado, strawberry, cucumber, peach, dairy, eggs, legumes, beef, poultry, turnips, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, bok choy etc, some sauces (BBQ, chilli, tomato, soy, mustard powder, jams, peanut butter, honey)
10. Chloride (Cl-)
Chloride is a negatively charged ion in the blood, where it represents 70% of the body’s total negative ion content.
Roles of chloride in the body: Functions as an electrolyte; forms hydrochloric acid, a powerful digestive enzyme; aids digestion of metallic minerals; aids absorption of vitamin B12; helps maintain electrical neutrality across the stomach membrane; helps regulate blood pH and transport of carbon dioxide; promotes normal heart activity; aids the transport of electrical impulses throughout the body; holds balanced amount of fluids in the blood vessels; performs muscular activity, maintains healthy kidney functioning.
Symptoms of chloride deficiency: Overly alkaline blood leading to alkalosis, which is life-threatening; poor digestion; waste retention, fluid loss, dehydration, weakness/fatigue, difficulty breathing, diarrhea & vomiting from fluid loss.
Good sources of chloride: Seaweeds, naturally extracted salt, olives, rye, tomato, celery, soy sauce, lettuce, milk, meat, canned foods, fast/processed foods.
Roles of boron in the body: Boosts bone density, activates vitamin D, affects how the body handles other minerals, boosts estrogen levels in older women, and influences cognitive function.
Symptoms of boron deficiency: Arthritis, weak bones and osteoporosis, weaker muscles, poor concentration and memory loss, premature skin ageing, worsened menopausal and PMS symptoms, allergies.
Good sources of boron: Plant-based foods including nuts, legumes, chickpeas, most vegetables, bananas, avocado, broccoli, oranges, red grapes, apples, pears.
12. Silica (Si)
Silica is found in the pancreas, blood, muscles, skin, nerves, nails, hair, connective tissue, and teeth.
Roles of silicon in the body: Strong bones, promotes firmness and strength in the tissues, as well as lowering cholesterol and forming part of the arteries, tendons, skin, connective tissue, and eyes, so it is great for heart and arterial health. Collagen contains silicon, essentially holding the body tissues together.
Symptoms of silicon deficiency: Premature greying or baldness, skin irritations and rashes, possible tooth decay, growth retardation, bone deformities.
Good sources of silicon: Red wine, beer, raisins, whole grains (especially the husks of the grains), bran, green beans, bananas, root vegetables, spinach, seafood, soybeans, beets
13. Vanadium (Va)
Vanadium was named after the Scandinavian goddess of beauty, youth, and luster.
Roles of vanadium in the body: Regulation of sodium, the metabolism of glucose and lipids, aids the production of red blood cells, reduces water retention, encourages normal tissue growth, reduces high blood sugar by mimicking the effects of insulin, thus helping diabetes heart conditions, high cholesterol, and blood pressure, as well as some cancers.
Symptoms of vanadium deficiency: May contribute to high cholesterol and irregular blood sugar levels leading to diabetes or hypoglycemia.
Good sources of vanadium: Safflower, seeds, corn, parsley, dill, black pepper, green beans, carrots, cabbage, garlic, tomatoes, radishes, onions, shellfish, meat, spinach, and mushrooms. Cooking oils such as olive, sunflower and peanut oils also contain vanadium.
14. Nickel (Ni)
Nickel is present in DNA and RNA which means it is found in every cell of the human body.
Roles of nickel in the body: Plays a major role in helping the body absorb iron; helps prevent anaemia; strengthens bones, breaks down glucose, creates energy, and contributes to the production of certain enzymes.
Symptoms of nickel deficiency: Infection of the urinary tract; severe allergic reactions (usually skin rashes), anaemia, hormonal imbalance, abnormal bone growth, impaired (inflamed) liver and lung function, paralysis. This usually occurs in people with kidney problems, liver cirrhosis or vitamin B6 deficiency.
Good sources of nickel: Fish, most nuts and seeds, cocoa, alfalfa seeds, oatmeal, peas, beans. And strangely enough cigarettes, coins, and stainless steel cookware, although we do not recommend consuming any of these…
15. Arsenate (As)
Important note:Organically bound arsenic (or arsenate) and elemental arsenic are an essential mineral that comes from plants and animals and are not toxic. In fact, they are handled easily by the body and eliminated by the kidneys. Inorganic arsenic is toxic to humans.
Roles of arsenate in the body: The biological function is not fully understood—though arsenic may have a role in correct cardiac functioning.
Symptoms of arsenate deficiency:Unknown.
Good sources of arsenate: Seeds and nuts, grains, fruit, vegetables.
16. Chromium (Cr)
Chromium is a metallic element required in trace amounts.
Roles of chromium in the body: Regulates blood sugar; plays a role in metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, stimulates fatty acids, synthesizes cholesterol, maintains healthy brain function, treats depression and can even aid weight loss.
Symptoms of chromium deficiency:Fluctuating blood glucose level or glucose intolerance, fatigue, weaker bones and bone loss, high cholesterol levels, loss of concentration, poor memory, increased risk of diabetes, weight loss, deteriorating eyesight, sudden mood changes.
Good sources of chromium: Whole grains, grapes, broccoli, mushrooms, fish, potato, liver, eggs poultry, wheatgerm, apples, bananas.
The following are occasionally referred to as essential minerals or trace elements but there is only limited circumstantial evidence of their biological necessity:
Excess And Deficiency
The toxicity of minerals depends essentially on the amount absorbed by the body. All minerals are toxic when taken in high enough doses.
The most common mineral deficiencies in humans are calcium, iron, and iodine—especially in particular physiological conditions such as pregnancy.
The Best All-Round Sources Of Essential Minerals
Here are two important considerations when evaluating a food source:
- The mineral concentration of any food can depend on the soil in which they are grown.
- To evaluate the essentiality or toxicity of a mineral (or vitamin), it is necessary to evaluate its bioavailability—the ingested portion that is absorbed, transported to the site of action, and converted into the active form.
- The bioavailability of an element is influenced by many interacting intrinsic factors including age, sex, genotype, physiological state, nutritional status, and intestinal microflora; along with extrinsic factors such as mineral form and the presence of substances that aid absorption.
Yours in health,
Bach. Chiropractic, Bach. App Clinical Science
Registered internationally, no longer practicing as a chiropractor in Australia.