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Mineral (nutrient)

A mineral is a chemical element required as an essential nutrient by organisms to perform functions necessary for life. Minerals originate in the earth and cannot be made by living organisms. Plants get minerals from soil. Most of the minerals in a human diet come from eating plants and animals or from drinking water. As a group, minerals is one of the four groups of essential nutrients, the others of which are vitamins, essential fatty acids, and essential amino acids.

The five major minerals in the human body are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and magnesium. All of the remaining functional elements in a human body are called "trace elements", which include iron, cobalt, copper, zinc, manganese, molybdenum, iodine, and selenium.

Most chemical elements that are ingested by organisms are in the form of simple compounds. Plants absorb dissolved elements in soils, which are subsequently ingested by the herbivores that eat them, and the elements move up the food chain. Larger organisms may also consume soil (geophagia) or use mineral resources, such as salt licks, to obtain limited minerals unavailable through other dietary sources.

Dietary element DV [mg] UL [mg] Amount Category High nutrient density
dietary sources
Insufficiency Excess
Potassium 03500.0003500 NE Quantity A systemic electrolyte and is essential in coregulating ATP with sodium Sweet potato, tomato, potato, beans, lentils, dairy products, seafood, banana, prune, carrot, orange hypokalemia hyperkalemia
Chlorine 03400.0003400 3600 Quantity Needed for production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach and in cellular pump functions Table salt (sodium chloride) is the main dietary source. hypochloremia hyperchloremia
Sodium 02400.0002400 2300 Quantity A systemic electrolyte and is essential in coregulating ATP with potassium Table salt (sodium chloride, the main source), sea vegetables, milk, and spinach. hyponatremia hypernatremia
Calcium 01000.0001000 2500 Quantity Needed for muscle, heart and digestive system health, builds bone, supports synthesis and function of blood cells Dairy products, eggs, canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines), green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, tofu, thyme, oregano, dill, cinnamon. hypocalcaemia hypercalcaemia
Phosphorus 01000.0001000 4000 Quantity A component of bones (see apatite), cells, in energy processing, in DNA and ATP (as phosphate) and many other functions Red meat, dairy foods, fish, poultry, bread, rice, oats. In biological contexts, usually seen as phosphate hypophosphatemia hyperphosphatemia
Magnesium 00400.000400 350 Quantity Required for processing ATP and for bones Spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, peanut butter, avocado hypomagnesemia,
magnesium deficiency
Iron 00018.00018 45 Trace Required for many proteins and enzymes, notably hemoglobin to prevent anemia Meat, seafood, nuts, beans, dark chocolate iron deficiency iron overload disorder
Zinc 00015.00015 40 Trace Pervasive and required for several enzymes such as carboxypeptidase, liver alcohol dehydrogenase, and carbonic anhydrase Oysters*, red meat, poultry, nuts, whole grains, dairy products zinc deficiency zinc toxicity
Manganese 00002.0002 350 Trace A cofactor in enzyme functions Grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, leafy vegetables, tea, coffee manganese deficiency manganism
Main article: Copper in health
00002.002 11 Trace Required component of many redox enzymes, including Liver, seafood, oysters, nuts, seeds; some: whole grains, legumes copper deficiency copper toxicity
Iodine 00000.1500.150 1.1 Trace Required for synthesis of thyroid hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine and to prevent goiter: Seaweed (kelp or kombu)*, grains, eggs, iodized salt iodine deficiency iodism Hyperthyroidism
Chromium 0.120 NE Trace Involved in glucose and lipid metabolism, although its mechanisms of action in the body and the amounts needed for optimal health are not well-defined Broccoli, grape juice (especially red), meat, whole grain products Chromium deficiency Chromium toxicity
Molybdenum 00000.0750.075 2 Trace The oxidases xanthine oxidase, aldehyde oxidase, and sulfite oxidase Legumes, whole grains, nuts molybdenum deficiency molybdenum toxicity
Selenium 00000.0700.070 0.4 Trace Essential to activity of antioxidant enzymes like glutathione peroxidase Brazil nuts, seafoods, organ meats, meats, grains, dairy products, eggs selenium deficiency selenosis
Cobalt none NE Trace Required in the synthesis of vitamin B12, but because bacteria are required to synthesize the vitamin, it is usually considered part of vitamin B12 Cobalt poisoning
Element Description Excess
Bromine Possibly important to basement membrane architecture and tissue development, as a needed catalyst to make collagen IV. bromism
Arsenic Essential in rat, hamster, goat and chicken models, but no biochemical mechanism known in humans. arsenic poisoning
Nickel Nickel is an essential component of several enzymes, including urease and hydrogenase. Although not required by humans, some are thought to be required by gut bacteria, such as urease required by some varieties of Bifidobacterium. In humans, nickel may be a cofactor or structural component of certain metalloenzymes involved in hydrolysis, redox rections, and gene expression. Nickel deficiency depressed growth in goats, pigs, and sheep, and diminished circulating thyroid hormone concentration in rats. Nickel toxicity
Fluorine Fluorine (as fluoride) is not generally considered an essential element because humans do not require it for growth or to sustain life. However, if one considers the prevention of dental cavities an important criterion in determining essentiality, then fluoride might well be considered an essential trace element. However, recent research indicates that the primary action of fluoride occurs topically (at the surface). Fluoride poisoning
Boron Boron is an essential plant nutrient, required primarily for maintaining the integrity of cell walls. Boron has been shown to be essential to complete the life cycle in representatives of all phylogenetic kingdoms, including the model species danio rerio (zebrafish) and Xenopus laevis (African clawed frog). In animals, supplemental boron has been shown to reduce calcium excretion and activate vitamin D. Nontoxic
Lithium It is not known whether lithium has a physiological role in any species, but nutritional studies in mammals have indicated its importance to health, leading to a suggestion that it be classed as an essential trace element. Lithium toxicity
Strontium Strontium has been found to be involved in the utilization of calcium in the body. It has promoting action on calcium uptake into bone at moderate dietary strontium levels, but a rachitogenic (rickets-producing) action at higher dietary levels. Rachitogenic (causing Rickets)
Other Silicon and vanadium have established, albeit specialized, biochemical roles as structural or functional cofactors in other organisms, and are possibly, even probably, used by mammals (including humans). By contrast, tungsten, lanthanum, and cadmium have specialized biochemical uses in certain lower organisms, but these elements appear not to be utilized by humans. Other elements considered to be possibly essential include aluminium, germanium, lead, rubidium, and tin. Multiple

  • Humphry Bowen (1966) Trace Elements in Biochemistry. Academic Press.
  • Humphrey Bowen (1979) Environmental Chemistry of the Elements. Academic Press, .


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