Calcium tends to hog the mineral supplement spotlight, especially when it comes to recommendations for improving bone strength. But other minerals are essential not only for bone health, but also for myriad body functions—and most are comparatively harder to get from commonly eaten foods. What’s more, studies show that most fresh foods today are lower in mineral content than they were a century ago, partly because of conventional agriculture methods that rely on relatively few soil amendments, mostly nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Good food sources of important minerals include seaweed, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, Brazil nuts, brewer’s yeast, figs, raisins, celery, and blackstrap molasses. Research shows supplements of the following minerals (listed in order of likely benefit to most people) also can boost your health.
Much of the body’s magnesium works with calcium to strengthen bone; the rest generates energy in muscle cells and supports nerve function. Taking magnesium helps prevent erratic heartbeats called arrhythmias, and a recent Japanese study found that increased magnesium intake may reduce risk of death from heart disease by 50 percent. A majority of Americans are deficient in this key mineral, says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, medical director of the Nutritional Magnesium Association; deficiency symptoms can include muscle spasms, cramps, and restless-leg syndrome. Research links adequate magnesium intake with reduced risk for colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, diabetes, and acute inflammation. Getting enough of this key mineral may also relieve anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and constipation, Dean says. Magnesium even appears to help preserve telomeres, the protective tips of chromosomes, where your genes are stored. A lack of magnesium shortens telomeres and accelerates aging, according to research
by cell biologist Bruce Ames, PhD. Dose: 200–400 mg daily. Greater amounts may have a laxative effect.
You need selenium to make deiodinases, a group of enzymes that activate thyroid hormones. A two-year USDA study found that supplemental selenium raised thyroid hormone levels in both men and women. Selenium might also protect against cancer. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that selenium supplements lowered the risk of prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers by almost half. Dose: 200–300 mcg daily.
Do not exceed 400 mcg daily without guidance from your physician.
This mineral is a constituent of superoxide dismutase, a potent antioxidant enzyme that protects against the most dangerous free radicals. Zinc also serves as a building block of metallo- thioneins, a family of proteins that protect against mercury, cadmium, and other toxic metals. Another supremely pragmatic benefit: A recent analysis of
13 studies confirmed that zinc lozenges can reduce the length of the common cold and ease symptoms if you start using the lozenges within 24 hours of your first cold symptoms. Dose: 15 mg daily. For the common cold, follow package directions for higher doses.
Your body needs this mineral to make thyroid hormones, which regulate your metabolic rate and energy levels. People who lack iodine have a greater risk of developing two thyroid diseases: Graves’ and Hashimoto’s. Iodine supplements may enhance the benefits of other treatments for low thyroid function, according to David Brownstein, MD, author of
Iodine (Medical Alternative, 2009). Dose: 200 mcg daily, unless your physician recommends more.
Perhaps more than any other single nutrient, chromium manages blood sugar levels by enhancing the activity of the hormone insulin. In a study of 180 people with type 2 diabetes, 500 mcg of chromium taken twice daily significantly improved blood sugar and insulin levels after just four months. Because better blood sugar control reduces appetite, chromium might also help with weight loss. In one study, women taking chromium lost body fat but maintained muscle tissue. Dose: 600–1,000 mcg daily, in divided doses.