Four Key Minerals for a Healthy Life

Do you suffer from needing minerals?

Minerals needs can vary dramatically from one person to the next depending upon what you eat, how active you are, your life stage, and family health history. A woman of childbearing age may need to pay more attention to iron, for example, while a perimenopausal mom may need to get extra calcium.

And people at high risk of certain major health problems (cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure among them) may want to consider therapeutic doses, well above the RDA of certain minerals, to help ward them off. For instance, if you’re at risk for heart disease, it’s possible that you need more magnesium. Researchers at the University of California found that supplementing with magnesium for six months led to dramatic improvements in various cardiac risk factors, including hypertension and congestive heart failure. In another study, megadoses of chromium (1,000 micrograms a day) lowered blood glucose levels 15 to 19 percent in people with Type 2 diabetes. Selenium supplementation in the amount of 200 mcg per day has been shown to reduce the risk of prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers.

As for me, I plan to pay much more attention to the contents of my multivitamin/multimineral supplements, and to make sure I get more calcium and magnesium, which should help both my bones and my mood. I’m also going to take selenium each day to cut my chances of developing the cancers that have dogged my family. And I’ll probably keep guzzling my mineral water. I know the negligible amounts of minerals in it can’t compensate for the fact that I eat more Kit Kats than kale, but at least it’s better than diet cola, which I now know is leaching important minerals from my body. And Mom’s nasty water is one thing I know won’t disappear from the refrigerator when I’m not looking.

Mineral Profile #1

Stress Queen

Thirtysomething working mother of two who takes multitasking to new heights.

  • Theme Song: “I Am Woman, Watch Me Hyperventilate.”
  • Suffers from fatigue, migraines, high blood pressure, diet cola addiction.
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Caffeine intake is going to further deplete minerals from a woman who may already be out of balance thanks to stress. If you go into the stress nutritionally well-armed with a multivitamin/multimineral and adequate amounts of calcium and magnesium; you’re much better able to cope according to Elizabeth Somer, M.S., R.D.

Supplements to consider:

  • For her cola habit: Colas are high in phosphorus, which in excess can throw calcium levels out of whack, possibly causing a calcium deficiency. To reach the RDA for calcium, supplement with 500 mg. (And ditch the colas!)
  • For the headaches: There’s evidence that a low magnesium level may trigger migraine and tension headaches. A supplement of 300 mg may help.
  • For fatigue and stress: If you’re not already taking magnesium, a magnesium/vitamin E combo (250 mg of magnesium and 100-400 international units of E) has been shown to be calming and may promote sleep.
  • For blood pressure: 2.5 grams a day of potassium have been shown to bring numbers down.

Aim for these numbers. Some you can get from a one-a-day; for others you’ll need a separate pill.

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Mineral Profile #2

Weekend Warrior

50-year-old sometime athlete who loves bicycling and cold beer with lime.

  • Has family history of prostate problems, heart disease.
  • Thinks sweat is an aphrodisiac.

This person needs cancer and heart disease protection, and minerals to rebuild the body he abuses once a week. I’d also look at replacing minerals lost in sweat according to David B. Wood, naturopath, Trinity Family Health Clinic, Lynnwood, Wash.

Supplements to consider:

  • To reduce the risk of cancer: Research at the National Cancer Institute and elsewhere has consistently shown that selenium can help ward off several forms of cancer; some of the strongest evidence is for prostate cancer. Studies have shown a decreased incidence among men who take a daily selenium supplement of 200 micrograms (mcg). The Prostate Cancer Research Institute recommends organic selenium supplementation in the 400-800 mcg range.
  • To replenish minerals lost during workouts: Athletes have been shown to have lower blood levels of zinc than sedentary people. In one study comparing the performance of athletes who ate low-zinc (3 milligrams) and high-zinc (18 mg) diets, the high-zinc group bested the low-zinc one.
  • To protect the heart: Some evidence suggests magnesium may be helpful. From supplements, aim for a maximum of 350 mg per day.
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*Aim for these numbers. Some you can get from a one-a-day; for others you’ll need a separate pill.

Mineral Profile #3

Perimenopausal Mom

Plump 47-year-old woman who sits at a desk all day.

  • Suffers from mood swings and sugar cravings.
  • Has a family history of diabetes.

Osteoporosis is one of the main concerns for the perimenopausal or menopausal woman. Hormone control is another. Vitamins and minerals can go a long way to help this woman feel better without medication. according to Elizabeth Somer.

Supplements to consider:

  • For osteoporosis: A study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that taking 1,000 milligrams of supplemental calcium a day slowed bone loss in postmenopausal women by 43 percent. Another study showed that calcium supplementation reduces the risk of osteoporotic fractures by 25 to 70 percent among older women. The calcium citrate-malate and calcium carbonate forms are well absorbed, especially when taken with meals. Magnesium deficiency also may play a role in osteoporosis, according to some studies. 350 mg of magnesium daily will help calcium do its job, by enhancing its absorption; so will 10 mcg of Vitamin D.
  • To balance blood sugar levels and mood: Research has shown that 200 to 400 mcg of chromium helps keep blood sugar stable and may reduce sugar cravings. The calcium/magnesium combo may also lessen mood swings.

Aim for these numbers. Some you can get from a one-a-day; for others you’ll need a separate pill.

Mineral Profile #4

Young & Restless

25-year-old city slicker who won’t eat animals, but thinks organic mac-and-cheese is nutritionally swell. Suffers from PMS, high heels, high ideals.

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Any vegetarian is going to have to watch his or her mineral balance. We don’t need meat to get adequate minerals, but a junk-food diet and a frenetic lifestyle make it less likely that this person is getting what she needs according to Elson Haas, physician, Preventive Medical Center of Marin, San Rafael, Calif.

Supplements to consider:

  • To make up for meat: A vegetarian may wish to supplement to reach a daily total of 25 mg of iron and 30 mg of zinc.
  • To ease PMS: 200 mg a day of magnesium and 1,200 mg a day of chewable calcium in carbonate form can reduce monthly symptoms.

Aim for these numbers. Some you can get from a one-a-day; for others you’ll need a separate pill.

Covering Your Bases

For meeting basic mineral requirements, Elizabeth Somer is one of many nutrition experts who recommend that men and women take a daily multivitamin/ mineral supplement with meals plus pills with two crucial nutrients that most multis don’t cover.

If you don’t want to calculate mineral RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances), which aren’t on supplement bottles, just look at the Daily Value listed and aim for 100 percent of almost everything. No single pill can supply enough magnesium and calcium; to do so, they’d need to be the size of a golf ball.

That’s why Somer advises either multidose supplements meant to be taken throughout the day, or a one-a-day multi along with separate magnesium (250 mg) and calcium (500 mg) supplements. (If that sounds like too many pills, a one-a-day supplement is better than nothing, she says.)

By Anne Krueger

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