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The Nutrition InvestigatorThe health and nutrition blog by Dr. Roc Ordman.

What is a Mineral?

by Roc (click here for full post)

What is a mineral?

“Mineral” is the term used for inorganic atoms, that is atoms not bonded directly to carbon, which are necessary in the diet. Usually minerals are found in oxidized forms, like calcium carbonate, or sodium selenite. Most minerals exist in a variety of oxidation states, that is with different numbers of electrons. For instance, iron, elemental symbol Fe, exists in forms known as elemental Fe(0), ferrous Fe(+2), and ferric (Fe+3). Certain minerals are important as building materials, like calcium in bone. Others function as cofactors which help enzymes catalyze the essential chemical reactions of the body, like copper in cytochrome reductase. Some act as ions in solutions, like potassium in nerves.

The major challenge with minerals is that many are safe and helpful only over a certain range, and often we have not yet done enough research to know precisely what that range is. For instance, too little zinc can suppress the immune system and lead to low birth weight babies, but too much zinc might cause a variety of damaging side effects. Likewise a little iron is important for hemoglobin in blood to carry oxygen, but too much iron acts as an oxidant, that is iron causes the damage that many of us take antioxidants to prevent. In general, one should be cautious about taking mineral supplements unless it is clear that they are appropriate for you.

Many forms of minerals are sold commerically, such as “chelated minerals”. Links to specific minerals are found on the Minerals page.

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