The Functional Importance of Elements to Human Body

Studies by medical experts have shown that the human body is composed of a combination of elements; 11 elements including carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, phosphorus and chlorine are called the macro (constant) elements, and they represent 99.95% of total body weight. The other 0.05% is composed of elements called trace elements. The abundance of various elements in the human body is close to that of the earth's crust.

In 1979, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the 14 kinds of essential trace elements needed by the human body: iron (Fe), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), chromium (Cr), manganese (Mn), cobalt (Co), fluorine (F) , iodine (I), selenium (Se), vanadium (V), Nickel (Ni), molybdenum (Mo), strontium (Sr) and tin (Sn). In recent years, it has been found and confirmed that lithium (Li), silicon (Si), bromine (Br) and boron (B) are beneficial to health. Obviously harmful to human health are highly toxic elements, such as beryllium (Be), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg), lead (Pb), arsenic (As), thallium (Te), antimony (Sb) and tellurium (Te).

Although trace elements represent only 0.05% of total body weight, they have great significance due to their nutritional effects and impact on metabolism. They are the elements our body must draw upon to survive. Famous American medical scientist Dr. H. A. Schroeder (1965) brilliantly stated their importance: "For life, trace elements are more important than vitamins, because they cannot be made by the human body, but they have to exist within a very narrow concentration range." The significance of trace elements becomes increasingly evident when studying the relationship of minerals and human health; keeping the level of minerals in balance in every tissue, fluid, cell and organ within the human body may be the key to maintaining human health.

The Physiological Functions of Mineral Elements

The physiological functions of mineral and trace elements include:

(1)Mineral and trace elements play a central role in the system of enzyme activation: some trace elements are primary components of many enzymes. Enzymes are complex proteins with extremely large structures, and they can accelerate the biochemical reaction. Among known enzymes, the majority contains one or multiple metal atoms. When enzyme loses the metal atoms, the enzyme activity is lost or decreased.

(2)Mineral and trace elements activate the function of hormones. Hormones are chemical secretions of body glands to the bloodstream, and they regulate basic physiological functions. Hormones interact with key positions on the cell surface or inside; hence, trace elements help promote the play. For example, iodine in the thyroid plays such a role.

(3)Transporting common elements to the whole body: Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to the tissue cells. Iron deficiency leads to hemoglobin deficiency, thus oxygen will not be carried and cells cannot metabolize normally.

(4)Balancing human physiological function: mineral elements in body fluids can regulate osmotic pressure, pH and ionic balance and maintain the body's normal physiological function.

(5)Genetic effects: mineral elements relate to nucleic acid function. Nucleic acid is the carrier of genetic information, and the nucleic acid has a considerable number of trace elements (chromium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, nickel, etc.). Animal trials show that these elements can affect the metabolism of nucleic acids, so the trace elements may play key roles in genetics.

(6)In vitamins’ structure: some mineral elements are active constituents of vitamins. For instance, without cobalt, vitamin B12 cannot be synthesized.

There is a significant body of evidence which shows that minerals by themselves and in proper balance to one another have important biochemical and nutritional functions. The absorption of minerals is dependent on so many different factors, not the least of which is age, adequacy of stomach acid output, balanced bowel flora, lack of intestinal illnesses and parasites, and dietary fiber intake.

"Whatever the nutritional potential of a food, its contribution is nonexistent if it does not pass the test of absorption. Those nutrients that have not been transferred through the intestinal mucosal cell to enter the circulation have, for all nutritional intents and purposes, never been eaten. The variety of nutrients from the organism's environment that have been made available by absorption must be transported through the circulatory system to the aqueous microenvironment of the cells. There, they serve their ultimate purpose: participation in the metabolic activities in the cells on which the life of the total organism depends."

Aging increases the risk of gastric atrophy, a condition that commonly is associated with a decreased secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. As the level of hydrochloric acid output decreases, the body's ability to absorb these minerals from their food-bound form diminishes. This inability to adequately absorb these minerals may be one of the causes of age-related degeneration.

Listed below in Table 1 are eight minerals that should be ionic in order to be readily absorbed into the body through transfer in the small intestine (intraluminal absorption). These minerals become ionic after their food-bound forms, whether organically or inorganically bound, have been exposed to hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Hydrochloric acid helps liberate these minerals into ionic (charged) minerals.

Table 1

Zinc is a mineral found in every fluid, tissue, cell, and organ, in the human body. Inadequate intake of this essential mineral can affect any of over 200 enzymes in the body, such as the enzyme alkaline phosphatase. In patients with either bulimia nervosa (binge-purging behavior) or anorexia nervosa (self-induced starvation), zinc deficiency can directly affect cognitive and perceptual processes that help maintain these insidious eating disorders. Recently it has been shown that there is an inverse relationship between morbid obesity and zinc, meaning that the more morbidly obese the individual the lower their zinc status. This suggests that zinc plays an important role in the entire continuum of eating disorders, from obesity to anorexia nervosa. A similar example would be the mineral magnesium, which plays a role in over 300 enzyme reactions in the body, many of which are directly related to cardiovascular health.

Besides all of these more obvious issues are two important factors: diseases and drug-nutrient interactions. Physical illness can raise demands for many trace elements. The demand for some minerals, such as zinc, even increases under psychological stress. Drug-nutrient interactions can also create deficiencies and imbalances of minerals at the cell level. For example, the absorption of iron from the gut can be affected by antacids and tetracycline. Magnesium and zinc are hyper excreted by those receiving oral diuretics, nephrotoxic drugs, penicillamine, and antacids containing aluminum hydroxide.

One can summarize the health benefits of some trace elements in Table 2 below:

Table 2

Recent research indicates that minerals may play a significant role in defending the human body from a variety of degenerative diseases and processes. New studies suggest that numerous minerals, when in proper balance with one another, may perform important non-classical biochemical functions especially important to age-related health problems.

Non-Essential (Toxic) and Protective Elements

Excessive levels of non-essential toxic elements, such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and aluminum, can have an "unbalancing" effect on trace element balances in the body's cells, as can be seen in the table 3 below:

Table 3

Cadmium, an air pollutant from cigarette smoke, industrialization and population growth, is known to experimentally cause hypertension, cancer, and immune disorders. It has also been found to greatly increase the toxicity of other agents. Cadmium has a unique capacity to form a very close bond with chloride compounds, such as the chlorinated pesticide lindane. When the two are combined, the tissue levels of lindane double by altering liver metabolism. Cadmium accumulates in the most malignant cells; in prostate cancer there is a linear correlation between the grade of malignancy and cadmium content. On the positive side, a little cadmium is absorbed orally unless there are nutrient deficiencies. The nutrients that protect against cadmium and other non-essential elements are listed in Table 4:

Table 4

Inorganic vs. Organic Minerals

From time to time some supplement companies claim that their mineral supplements are superior to others, because their products contain "organically-bound minerals" versus inorganic minerals. Such claims can create confusion in the minds of some consumers and are worth discussing.

In the field of plant physiology, it is a well-known fact that minerals enter the plant roots in ionic form. When the mineral attempts to enter the exterior of the root in a non-ionic complex form (i.e. organic), the complex is first broken down in the exterior of the root into an ionic form before it passes through a selective barrier known structurally as the xylem. From there the mineral is carried upward in its ionic state across critical membranes until the mineral is delivered to those leaves and other plant parts requiring them. This process is essential to any plant’s ability to survive and grow normally.

Mineral Elements and Skin Health

Each essential mineral has a role in normal skin development and function. Minerals are found in the skin as essential components of various enzymes and inside a special metal-binding protein, metallothionein.

Metallothionein (MT) is a zinc and copper storage molecule that protects cells from excess levels of zinc while providing a locally accessible pool of these minerals. In normal human skin, MT is expressed in basal keratinocytes of the epidermis and in hair follicle cells. Moreover, MT is significantly induced in proliferating basal keratinocytes upon chemical stimulation or wounding. The high levels of MT observed in mitotically-active keratinocytes has thus implicated a role for zinc in epidermal proliferation.

Six percent of total body zinc is located in the skin. Zinc is present in both the epidermis and dermis, though at levels five-fold higher in the epidermis. In skin physiology, zinc stabilizes cell membranes, serves as an essential cofactor for several metalloenzymes, and participates in basal cell mitosis and differentiation. Zinc is also present in a number of zinc-dependent metalloenzymes in the skin, including matrix metalloproteases (MMPs), superoxide dismutase (SOD), alkaline phosphatase, and RNA/DNA polymerases.

Zinc deficiency causes pigmentation changes, decreased hair and nail growth, and skin lesions on body sites exposed to repeated pressure and friction in particular.

Selenium is present in the cells of the skin as a component of various selenoproteins, including phospholipid hydroperoxide glutathionine peroxidase (PHGPx) and thioredoxin reductase (TDR). PHGPx and TDR are antioxidantenzymes that inactivate peroxides, thereby protecting skin cells from the harmful effects caused by these free radicals. TDR is associated with keratinocyte cell membranes, and its levels appear to correlate with susceptibility to UVB-induced damage.

Selenium deficiency is associated with an increased risk of several types of cancer, including skin cancer. Selenium imbalance, both deficiency and excess, causes skin abnormalities.

Sulfur is an important element for digestion and detoxification in the liver.  It is needed for the joints and in all connective tissue.  This includes the hair, skin and nails. Deficiency can affect hair, nails, skin, joints, energy and the ability to detoxify poisons.

Copper is extremely important for women’s fertility and sexual function, and its levels often vary up and down with the level of estrogen.  Copper is also required for healthy arteries, pigments in hair and skin, blood formation, energy production and for neurotransmitter substances such as dopamine.

Cobalt is essential for life as part of the vitamin B12 molecule.  Vitamin B12 is required for the nervous system and blood formation.  Deficiency causes anemia and a very severe dementia that can be irreversible. Essential for healthy skin, hair, and nails, Vitamin B-12 helps in cell reproduction and constant renewal of the skin. Deficiency in this essential vitamin could lead to a number of ugly symptoms, such as dry skin, wrinkles, acne and brittle hair and nails.
The Dead Sea salt has up to 35 mineral and trace elements, and it is very helpful in treating skin disorders (Psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, dandruff, scabies and seborrhea), skin allergies (rashes, sores, hives, itching, contact dermatitis or some form of allergic reaction) and general skin conditions (wrinkling and sagging). Research into general Dead Sea Benefits and the minerals from the Dead Sea Salt has shown a 40% reduction in the depth of the wrinkling. They also moisturize, detoxify and soften the skin and enhance relaxation of the body.

Minerals Elements and Immune Function and DNA

Numerous compelling studies show that 1) low intake of minerals and trace elements impair immunity, resulting in increased illness and infection and a reduced quality of life; and 2) adequate intake and status of certain minerals, trace elements, and vitamins supports immune function and health.

Iron is a key element in the metabolism of almost all living organisms. In humans, iron is an essential component of hundreds of proteins and enzymes. Ribonucleotide reductase is an iron-dependent enzyme that is required for DNA synthesis. Thus, iron is required for a number of vital functions, including growth, reproduction, healing, and immune function.

Magnesium plays an important role in the structure and the function of the human body. The adult human body contains about 25 grams of magnesium. Over 60% of all the magnesium in the body is found in the skeleton, about 27% is found in muscle, 6-7% is found in other cells, and less than 1% is found outside of cells. Magnesium is required for a number of steps during nucleic acid (DNA and RNA) and protein synthesis. Several enzymes participating in the synthesis of carbohydrates and lipids require magnesium for their activity. Glutathione, an important antioxidant, requires magnesium for its synthesis.

The biological form of molybdenum, present in almost all molybdenum-containing enzymes (molybdoenzymes), is an organic molecule known as the molybdenum cofactor. In humans, molybdenum is known to function as a cofactor for four enzymes:sulfite oxidase, xanthine oxidase, aldehyde oxidase and mitochondrial amidoxime reducing component.

Minerals are inorganic substances, present in all body tissues and fluids, and their presence is necessary for the maintenance of certain physicochemical processes which are essential to life. Minerals may be broadly classified as macro (major), such as Ca, P, Na, Cl; or micro (trace) elements, such as Fe, Cu, Co, K, Mg, I, Zn, Mn, Mo, F, Cr, Se and S. The mineral elements are separate entities from the other essential nutrients like proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and vitamins. Although required in very small amounts, they are part of enzymes, hormones and cells in the body, and their metabolic inter-relationships influence other vital factors needed for the survival of living organisms.

The importance of mineral elements for human health and well-being has been well recognized. Deficiencies or disturbances in nutrition have profound effects on metabolism and tissue structure, and they cause a variety of diseases in several ways. Unfortunately, most individuals do not receive adequate amounts of essential minerals and trace elements from their diets. Furthermore, as people age, the requirements of macro nutrients and micro nutrients increase while certain factors, such as the presence of a chronic disease or the intake of certain medications, can further aggravate an existing mineral deficiency. It is important to regularly obtain up-to-date information on the mineral content of water and dietary intake and the impact of processing methods on the mineral content of water and foods.