Minerals, like vitamins, are essential nutrients that must be consumed as part of a healthy diet. As such, they’re popular supplements—Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, Sr. Director of Research & Development at Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation, tellsWholeFoodsthat it’s a consistently top-selling category for the brand. “Minerals serve life-sustaining functions in the body, and can support optimal health when supplemented,” she says. It’s an unfortunate fact, she notes, that “the busy, stressful lifestyles of Americans, in combination with the typical Western diet, create the perfect storm for inadequate intake of nutrients, particularly minerals, in the diet.”

Even the healthiest plant-based customer may want to discuss minerals with their healthcare provider: “A paper written by the Nutrition Security Institute in 2006 describes that throughout the world, topsoil mineral content has been depleted,” says Sugarek MacDonald. “This depletion is due to many factors, but particularly erosion, nitrogen fertilizers, and other farming practices. These factors rob the topsoil of mineral content and of soil organisms that contribute to the formation of nutrient-dense crops. Foods grown on soils that are depleted of minerals do not contain adequate levels to maintain human health, meaning that even though Americans are well fed, they are undernourished.” From the trendy to the overlooked, here’s an update on nine minerals our experts want to help educate consumers on:

Calcium:Everyone is familiar with it—but people are still lacking, and that’s a problem. Calcium provides nutritional support for proper function of the heart, muscle contraction and relaxation, nerve transmission, hormone functions, blood pressure, healthy bones and teeth, and colon health, says Tom Druke, Marketing Director, Human Nutrition and Pharma, at Balchem, providers of Albion Minerals. “Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body, with 99% being stored in bone tissue. When levels of calcium in the blood are too low to support metabolic functions, bone reservoirs are plundered. If too much calcium is taken from bone stores, bones and teeth become weak and brittle.” He cites a meta-analysis published in BMJ that included more than 1,500 men and women over 50 years old, which showed that calcium intake increased bone mineral density.

And those over 50 aren’t the only ones who should think about a calcium supplement. “More than 40% of the population do not meet the requirements for calcium from diet alone,” says Sugarek MacDonald. “Those most at risk include older children, adolescents, and women, and some older adults. Supplementation with calcium may be a necessity, depending on diet, lifestyle, and life stage.”

Chromium: Chris Meletis, N.D., Director of Science and Research for Trace Minerals, says that “chromium has become crucial with today’s sedentary lifestyle and the increased consumption of processed foods and access to high carb foods. Way back in the late 1950s, chromium was identified as the active ingredient in brewer’s yeast that has frequently been referred to as the ‘glucose tolerance factor.’ Thus, I routinely educate patients on the role of chromium and the action of insulin.”

Iodine:This mineral is oft-overlooked, according to Cheryl Myers, Chief of Scientific Affairs and Education at EuroPharma, Inc. “Iodine is necessary for thyroid hormone production, and we are in a thyroid crisis. Crops contain up to 50% less iodine than they did in the 1970s. People are also exposed to far more fluoride, chlorine, and bromide than in the past, which compete with iodine in the body. Iodine is necessary for both brain function and healthy metabolism. I recommend three forms of iodine: Potassium iodide is preferred by the thyroid, molecular iodine is very useful for breast and prostate tissue, and sodium iodine, which is the most absorbable form of iodine, which also boosts the absorption of the other forms. We have this formula in our Tri-Iodine.”

Iron:“The prevalence of iron inadequacy assessed by serum ferritin was 8.9% in U.S. children ages 1-5 years, 15.2% in adolescent females ages 12-19 years, and 13.2% in nonpregnant women ages 20-49 years,” says Sugarek MacDonald. This is of high importance for pregnant women and infants: “Because iron content of breast milk is low,” Sugarek MacDonald explains, “the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfed infants be given 1 mg/kg/day of supplemental iron beginning at four months of age until other foods that are iron-fortified are instituted.”

Magnesium:Settle in; get comfy. Magnesium is one of the trendiest minerals out there—and with good reason: “It’s suspected that over 46% of the general population doesn’t get the dietary magnesium they need to stay healthy,” says Yolanda Fenton, Product Development, Natural Factors. Patrick Sullivan Jr., Chief Entertainment Officer at Jigsaw Health, cites the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2000, which found that 68% of Americans consumed less than the recommended minimum daily intake of magnesium, and 19% consumed less than half the recommended daily intake.

An overview, courtesy of Fenton: “Elemental magnesium is found in high concentrations in our bones, our heart, our muscles, and throughout our network of nerves, but you can also find it working away inside every cell of our bodies.”

Expanding on this, Gene Bruno, Senior Director of Product Innovation at Twinlab Consolidation Corporation, notes that “Magnesium has multiple, evidence-based uses in dietary supplements including applicability for constipation, glucose levels and insulin response, hearing, kidney function, headaches, mitral valve health, memory/cognitive function, bone health, PMS, and healthy blood pressure.”

Perhaps most important, in this day and age: “Magnesium is Mother Nature’s original ‘chill pill,’” says Sullivan. “It’s a massage you can swallow, it’s like yoga in a bottle.” Is a customer looking to up energy? They may want to take stock of their magnesium status: Sullivan says, “The body can’t make ATP without magnesium.”

Nor is that all. “It’s commonly cited that magnesium is involved in over 325 biochemical reactions in the body,” Sullivan notes—“but that number is from the 1950s, and it was a ‘best guess’ by Harvard medical professor Dr. Burt Vallee. More recently, magnesium researcher Morley Robbins has found—based on research—that magnesium is involved in at least 3,751 biochemical reactions.”

Druke adds: “There are many studies showing a significant correlation between people with low levels of magnesium who demonstrate a higher incidence of heart attack and stroke. There are also studies that connect magnesium with inflammation: Magnesium is a physiological calcium channel blocker, and when there is a deficit of magnesium, cellular calcium increases and may result in a triggering of inflammatory response.” Plus, he says, people with migraines may want to discuss magnesium with their doctors: “Two recent studies found that magnesium may provide quicker and more effective relief to patients with acute migraine than dexamethasone, metoclopramide, or caffeine citrate.”

An important note: “Certain types of magnesium have a tendency to irritate the bowels and act like a laxative,” says Sullivan. “This includes magnesium citrate, magnesium oxide, and magnesium hydrochloride, among others. Magnesium is ‘hydrophilic,’ which is a fancy word that means it ‘draws water like a magnet.’ So when you flood the GI tract with high doses of magnesium, water rushes into your bowels, and they can only hold so much for so long.” Jigsaw’s MagSRT uses sustained release technology, so that magnesium is absorbed over time.

Magnesium has a variety of formats, useful in a range of different circumstances. Sullivan’s recommendations: “With breakfast, use magnesium malate in a time-release tablet to give you an energizing form of magnesium throughout the day. With lunch, use magnesium L-threonate for an afternoon brain boost. At bedtime, use magnesium glycinate in a fast-acting powder formula to relax. For targeted relief of occasional muscle cramps, use a magnesium chloride lotion.” A member of Jigsaw’s Scientific Advisory Board, Thomas DeLauer, worked with Jigsaw to create a video comparing nine types of magnesium, which can be found atwww.jigsawhealth.com/blog.

Potassium: “The U.S. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020 highlights potassium as a nutrient of public health concern because it is under-consumed by Americans,” says Bruno. “U.S. national surveys indicate that the vast majority of the population do not meet intake recommendations for potassium. Among adults surveyed in NHANES 2011-2012, fewer than 3% had potassium intakes greater than the adequate intake of 4,700 mg/day. Potassium is necessary to help maintain normal osmotic pressure of body fluids, the acid-base balance of the body, and for transmission of nerve impulses and muscle contraction. In addition, at least four cross-sectional studies have reported significant positive associations between dietary potassium intake and bone mineral density in women and elderly men.”

World Organic Corp offers a Liquid Potassium Iodide supplement, ideal for those who have trouble swallowing.

Selenium:This mineral has been repeatedly mentioned byWholeFoods’Science Editor Richard Passwater, Ph.D., as vital for long-term health. In the February 2019 Vitamin Connection,Prolonging Healthy Aging, he noted that if a person’s selenium levels are low, the brain will hoard all available selenium, leaving none for the body—and in June’s Vitamin Connection,Part 3 of our CoQ10 series, Drs. Passwater and William Judy noted that CoQ10 and selenium are a power pair, preventing cardiac deaths and heart attacks.

Myers also stresses the importance of this mineral. “It is a super-potent antioxidant, and it plays a significant role in cancer prevention. One of its most overlooked properties is that it is crucial for the conversion of the storage form of thyroid hormone T4 into the active form of thyroid hormone, T3. Some individuals have clear symptoms of suboptimal thyroid function, but their tests come back ‘normal.’ One issue can be the inefficient conversion of the storage form to the active form, and selenium can help correct this situation. That is why we include it in our Thyroid Care Plus product.”

Silver:Not just for jewelry, this element has been recognized as a trace mineral by Health Canada. Rob MacCuspie, Ph.D., Director of Science at Sovereign Silver, notes that silver has multiple forms: “It can be found as a metal, and in a positively charged bioactive mineral form like that found in a mineral hydrosol.” Robert S. Bell, D.A. Hom., Scientific Advisor to Sovereign Silver, says that “Silver facilitates an efficiency of immune response, particularly as an adjuvant supporting white blood cell engagement to reduce pathogen/parasitic burden. It is also helpful in easing efficient production of Reactive Oxygen Species that the immune system uses to disrupt and disable respiratory pathways of lower life forms, such as pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and even viruses, further lowering microbial burden.” He adds that it is helpful in healing, too, particularly whenever there is acute inflammation due to infection and/or injury. Dr. MacCuspie notes that silver, the metal, is also useful: “Silver is used to purify drinking water from microbial contamination in parts of the world without access to clean water.”

There’s a few things retailers should know when stocking silver, adds Andreas Koch, Marketing at Sovereign Silver: “Ensure that silver has only two ingredients: 99.999% pure silver and pharmaceutical-grade purified water that meets USPNF standards. Colloidal silver should have no added salts, proteins, stabilizers, or other compounds that can disrupt the purity and efficacy of the silver.” Another important requirement: “Look for silver that is clear liquid, indicating the complete dispersion of nanoclusters and silver ions in the solution. Bioactive silver hydrosol is actively charged and contain 98% bioactive silver ions and nanoclusters, which are the smallest forms of silver particles.”

Strontium:Another oft-overlooked mineral, Myers notes that this one is useful for bone density. “There are several studies showing that strontium strengthens bones and helps to prevent bone loss. It is a powerful intervention. Our strontium product is very popular for people who pay attention to the research on strontium’s activity on bone mass. One caveat: Strontium and calcium compete with one another for absorption, and should not be taken at the same time. For example, you might take strontium in the morning and calcium a few hours later for the best benefits.”

Zinc:“Adequate zinc intake is essential in maintaining the integrity of the immune system,” says Druke—but that’s not all: “While immune benefits may be the most common driver, zinc also plays important roles in controlling healthy inflammation response and supporting cognitive function.”

Bruno seconds that, adding that zinc is required as a cofactor by more than 100 enzymes in every organ of the body. “It is also associated with the hormone insulin, involved in making genetic material and proteins, immune reactions, transport of vitamin A, taste perception, wound healing, the making of sperm, and the normal development of the fetus,” he lists. “The highest concentrations of zinc in the body are in bone, the prostate gland, and the eyes. Research has found that supplemental zinc with calcium was more effective than calcium by itself in protecting against the loss of bone density.”

It’s also useful for children, Druke notes, citing a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “In this study 78 children were selected and evaluated for growth parameters due to maternal supplementation or supplementation after birth. It was found that overall, zinc supplementation in infants and early childhood can increase growth outcomes.”

Problems and Solutions

One problem with mineral supplements: off-putting taste or texture. Fortunately, Natural Factors’ Fenton notes, mineral companies are constantly working to help increase absorption as well as taste. “Over the last 10 years there has been a dramatic improvement in mineral forms—for example, beadlet technology has become more popular,” Fenton explains. “This technology, a form of micronization, renders the mineral more bioavailable and stable. It also allows suppliers to apply flavors to these beadlets, since there is greater surface area, making the mineral more appealing to the palate.”

Druke agrees that taste is a problem: “In formulating with minerals, one important consideration is that chewable tablets, lozenges, gummies, and beverages that contain certain minerals will tend to have an unpleasant flavor and metallic aftertaste. Unpleasant taste is a major cause of non-compliance.” The Albion solution? “The Albion minerals line includes taste-free versions of its highly bioavailable bisglycinate chelate forms of calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc.”

Sugarek MacDonald paid homage to Albion Minerals’ chelation process as a major problem-solver: “It replicates the body’s natural chelation process using amino acids, essentially turning inorganic minerals into highly bioavailable organic molecules. This process attaches a bulky mineral to an amino acid, dipeptide or tripeptide. This produces a stable and tolerable compound that is easily assimilated and strong enough to survive the pH of the gut, but weak enough to be utilized once absorbed.”

Speaking of bioavailability, format is important when it comes to minerals. “In nutritional science, the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals depends on your nutritional and physiological status,” says Fenton. “However, you can improve bioavailability by selecting mineral forms that have superior absorption. In their natural inorganic form, many minerals are poorly absorbed by our bodies, so the minerals need to be fully reacted with a compound in order for it to be absorbed. Forms like oxides and carbonates are extremely inexpensive, but they are poorly absorbed. Forms like citrates, chelates, gluconate, bisglycinate, and fumarate have the ability to deliver more of the elemental mineral to your body.”

Another tip for improving bioavailability: “In general, minerals are best taken with food to help assure proper absorption,” says Bruno. “An exception is that if small amounts of minerals are present as electrolytes in a sports nutrition drink, it is alright to consume them without food since the lower potencies will likely be absorbed without issue.”

Delivery systems, too, are taking leaps and bounds forward. Sugarek MacDonald says that this is a much-needed development: “Because minerals are bulky compounds, they often require larger dosage forms—caplets or capsules—or multiple doses to maintain adequate quantities. For example, getting the recommended dose for calcium and magnesium may require up to 4 caplets per serving size. Liquid and chewable formulas are becoming increasingly popular in the marketplace today, because they offer better flavor, greater ease of administration, increased compliance, and enhanced digestibility when compared to capsules or caplets.” Bluebonnet offers Simply Calm Magnesium Powder, Liquid Magnesium Citrate, and Liquid Bone Support.

Final Takeaway

While it’s useful to understand how individual minerals work—particularly the ones that humans need lots of—Fenton wants to remind retailers and their customers of one thing: “All minerals are critical for proper functioning of the body. Different minerals have different benefits, but no mineral can be termed as more beneficial or less beneficial.” Dr. Meletis agrees: “Most of the research is on single elements, but in nature a blend of minerals are routinely found in a wide array of foods, as well as water sources such as the Great Salt Lake that have sustained humanity for millennia. Hence why I harness the benefits of a combination of macro- and trace-minerals in my clinical practice, with the added benefit of helping ensure that I do not inadvertently omit a key mineral needed for a given patient’s physiological needs.” Customers who notice symptoms of a particular deficiency should absolutely discuss that with their doctors, but those looking for everyday support will want to supplement a plant-heavy diet with a multi-mineral supplement. Those looking to get more out of their diet should opt for organic—preferably regenerative—produce, for the best shot at nutritious fruits and veggies.WF