Precious metals and other important minerals for health

Make sure your diet meets the recommended mineral targets.


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Gold, silver, and platinum get all the attention as the world's most precious metals. But they're more precious for the global economy than for human health. Instead, other metals and minerals (metals are one type of mineral) are more important for our health (see "What essential metals do for us"). Indeed, some of them are so important that we can't live without them. "Each one plays a role in hundreds of body functions. It may take just a very small quantity of a particular mineral, but having too much or too little can upset a delicate balance in the body," says Dr. Bruce Bistrian, chief of clinical nutrition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

What essential metals do for us

Many metals are used to make strong and durable everyday objects, like copper pipes or iron skillets. But they don't form such strong and durable objects in our bodies. Instead, many essential metals are needed to activate enzymes — molecules with important jobs in the body. And metals have many other essential roles as well. For example:

  • Calcium builds bones and teeth; activates enzymes throughout the body; helps regulate blood pressure; and helps muscles to contract, nerves to send messages, and blood to clot.

  • Chromium helps maintain normal blood sugar levels and helps cells draw energy from blood sugar.

  • Copper assists with metabolizing fuel, making red blood cells, regulating neurotransmitters, and mopping up free radicals.

  • Iron helps make hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying chemical in the body's red blood cells) and myoglobin (a protein in muscle cells). Iron is essential for activating certain enzymes and for making amino acids, collagen, neurotransmitters, and hormones.

  • Magnesium, like calcium, builds bones and teeth. It also helps to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar and enables muscles to contract, nerves to send messages, blood to clot, and enzymes to work.

  • Manganese helps form bones and helps metabolize amino acids, cholesterol, and carbohydrates.

  • Molybdenum activates several enzymes that break down toxins and prevents the buildup of harmful sulfites in the body.

  • Potassium balances fluids in the body, helps to maintain a steady heartbeat and to make muscles contract, and may benefit bones and blood pressure.

  • Sodium balances fluids in the body, helps send nerve impulses, and helps make muscles contract.

  • Zinc helps blood clot, helps make proteins and DNA, bolsters the immune system, and helps with wound healing and cell division.

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