In the context of nutrition, 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.
- Essential chemical elements for humans
- Blood concentrations of minerals
- Dietary nutrition
- Elements considered possibly essential but not confirmed
- Mineral ecology
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.
Bacteria and fungi play an essential role in the weathering of primary elements that results in the release of nutrients for their own nutrition and for the nutrition of other species in the ecological food chain. One element, cobalt, is available for use by animals only after having been processed into complex molecules (e.g., vitamin B12) by bacteria. Minerals are used by animals and microorganisms for the process of mineralizing structures, called "biomineralization", used to construct bones, seashells, eggshells, exoskeletons and mollusc shells.
Essential chemical elements for humans
At least twenty chemical elements are known to be required to support human biochemical processes by serving structural and functional roles as well as electrolytes. However, as many as twenty-nine elements in total (including hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen) are suggested to be used by mammals, as inferred by biochemical and uptake studies. Among the five major minerals, an adult female has 920-1000 g of calcium while an adult male has ~1.22 kg, with 99% of it contained in bones and teeth, and the other 1% in extracellular fluids, intracellular structures and cell membranes. Phosphorus makes up about 1% of a person's body weight. The last four major minerals (potassium, sodium, chlorine and magnesium) make up only about 0.85% of the weight of the body. Together these eleven chemical elements make up 99.85% of the body.
Most of the known and suggested mineral nutrients are of relatively low atomic weight, and are reasonably common on land, or, at least, common in the ocean (iodine, sodium):
The following play important roles in biological processes:
DV = Daily Value (formerly Recommended Daily Allowance); UL = Tolerable Upper Intake Level (figures shown are for adults age 31-50, male or female neither pregnant nor lactating)
* One serving exceeds UL (tolerable upper intake level).
Blood concentrations of minerals
Minerals are present in a healthy human being's blood at certain mass and molar concentrations. The figure below presents the concentrations of each of the chemical elements discussed in this article, from center-right to the right. Depending on the concentrations, some are in upper part of the picture, while others are in the lower part. The figure includes the relative values of other constituents of blood such as hormones. In the figure, minerals are color highlighted in purple.
Dietitians may recommend that minerals are best supplied by ingesting specific foods rich with the chemical element(s) of interest. The elements may be naturally present in the food (e.g., calcium in dairy milk) or added to the food (e.g., orange juice fortified with calcium; iodized salt, salt fortified with iodine). Dietary supplements can be formulated to contain several different chemical elements (as compounds), a combination of vitamins and/or other chemical compounds, or a single element (as a compound or mixture of compounds), such as calcium (as calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, etc.) or magnesium (as magnesium oxide, etc.), chromium (usually as chromium(III) picolinate), or iron (as iron bis-glycinate).
The dietary focus on chemical elements derives from an interest in supporting the biochemical reactions of metabolism with the required elemental components. Appropriate intake levels of certain chemical elements have been demonstrated to be required to maintain optimal health. Diet can meet all the body's chemical element requirements, although supplements can be used when some requirements (e.g., calcium, which is found mainly in dairy products) are not adequately met by the diet, or when chronic or acute deficiencies arise from pathology, injury, etc. Research has supported that altering inorganic mineral compounds (carbonates, oxides, etc.) by reacting them with organic ligands (amino acids, organic acids, etc.) improves the bioavailability of the supplemented mineral.
Elements considered possibly essential but not confirmed
Many ultratrace elements have been suggested as essential, but such claims have usually not been confirmed. Definitive evidence for efficacy comes from the characterization of a biomolecule containing the element with an identifiable and testable function. One problem with identifying efficacy is that some elements are innocuous at low concentrations and are pervasive (examples: silicon and nickel in solid and dust), so proof of efficacy is lacking because deficiencies are difficult to reproduce. Ultratrace elements of some minerals such as silicon and boron are known to have a role but the exact biochemical nature is unknown, and others such as arsenic and chromium are suspected to have a role in health, but with weaker evidence. Roles for trace minerals include enzyme catalysis, attracting substrate molecules, redox reactions, and structural or regulatory effects on protein binding.
Recent studies have shown a tight linkage between living organisms and chemical elements on this planet. This led to the redefinition of minerals as "an element or compound, amorphous or crystalline, formed through 'biogeochemical' processes. The addition of `bio' reflects a greater appreciation, although an incomplete understanding, of the processes of mineral formation by living forms." Biologists and geologists have only recently started to appreciate the magnitude of mineral biogeoengineering. Bacteria have contributed to the formation of minerals for billions of years and critically define the biogeochemical mineral cycles on this planet. Microorganisms can precipitate metals from solution contributing to the formation of ore deposits in addition to their ability to catalyze mineral dissolution, to respire, precipitate, and form minerals.
Most minerals are inorganic in nature. Mineral nutrients refers to the smaller class of minerals that are metabolized for growth, development, and vitality of living organisms. Mineral nutrients are recycled by bacteria that are freely suspended in the vast water columns of the worlds oceans. They absorb dissolved organic matter containing mineral nutrients as they scavenge through the dying individuals that fall out of large phytoplankton blooms. Flagellates are effective bacteriovores and are also commonly found in the marine water column. The flagellates are preyed upon by zooplankton while the phytoplankton concentrates on the larger particulate matter that is suspended in the water column as they are consumed by larger zooplankton, with fish as the top predator. Mineral nutrients cycle through this marine food chain, from bacteria and phytoplankton to flagellates and zooplankton which are then eaten by fish. The bacteria are important in this chain because only they have the physiological ability to absorb the dissolved mineral nutrients from the sea. These recycling principals from marine environments apply to many soil and freshwater ecosystems as well. In terrestrial ecosystems, fungi play similar roles as bacteria: they mobilize nutritional elements composing matter that is inaccessible for other organisms and transport acquired nutrients to nutritionally scarce patches of ecosystem.