The Role of Minerals and Their Classification

02 October, 2020
The role of minerals is important as the human body needs them to stay alive and function properly -- just like it needs oxygen and water. They're part of the basic nutrients for life along with carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, and vitamins.

The role of minerals is important within the context of nutrition. This is because these chemical elements can maintain proper body functions. In fact, they’re part of a wide variety of key physiological processes for the development of daily activities.

However, the human body can’t synthesize them by itself despite their vital importance. This is why it’s necessary to obtain them through the diet. The main way to do this is via the intake of water, plants, and food of animal origin. Today’s article will discuss what they are, what their health benefits are, and how they’re classified.

What exactly are minerals?

Minerals are inorganic substances required for the proper functioning of the body. About 4% of the total human weight is due to the presence of these elements. However, the amount found in the body has nothing to do with the importance or function they exert.

The four main structural elements – oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen – aren’t included in the list of these nutrients. However, these represent 96% of the body’s weight. The remaining 4% is made up of macro and micro minerals.

Unlike fats, carbohydrates, or proteins, the aforementioned ones aren’t considered energy-providing nutrients. However, they do exert a vital regulatory action for the normal development of daily activities. A deficit could trigger diseases and nutritional problems.

An array of food high in calcium.
Calcium is a macromineral and a deficiency could lead to osteoporosis.

The role of minerals in the human body

Minerals are required for supporting certain biochemical processes within the body. They also perform some structural functions. Each of them has its own role, but, in general, one can summarize them as follows:

  • Minerals are structural components of tissues, such as teeth and bones. In addition, they’re basic members of cells.
  • They’re involved in maintaining the acid-base balance.
  • In addition, they ensure optimal water balance.
  • They participate in the transport of gases.
  • They’re necessary to carry out muscle contractions.
  • Also, they participate in the metabolism of other substances, such as lipids, glucose, and energy storage.
  • Microminerals play an important role as enzyme catalysts. Their influence on enzymes with antioxidant capacity stands out.

Possible health benefits

In addition to their functions, these components also arouse the interest of science for their potential disease prevention benefits. An excess or deficit of any of them may be related to a greater risk of chronic diseases.

Osteoporosis

Low calcium intake is linked to osteoporosis. This isn’t the only nutrient with an important role here, although it’s a must in the proper formation of bones –especially during childhood and adolescence.

High blood pressure and heart health

No doubt the presence of potassium in the diet is one of the key elements for people with high blood pressure. Calcium and magnesium are also important since they have an inverse correlation with cardiovascular events.

The role of diet is important as studies cast doubt on the efficacy of supplements. Hence the recommendation to follow the DASH diet, which is low in sodium.

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Antioxidant function

Oxidative stress can cause many negative effects on the body, such as deterioration, and DNA and protein damage. Furthermore, the human body has specialized enzymes to slow it down. This is due to their antioxidant activity. Some elements such as selenium, manganese, copper, and zinc are also a part of these mechanisms.

The role of minerals and their classification

As the Spanish Nutrition Foundation points out, one can divide these essential nutrients into two large groups: macro and micro minerals. Both are equally important in terms of their role in the human body. Their main difference lies in the amount required.

The essential macroelements

Your body needs 100 mg or more per day of these. The main ones are calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, chlorine, magnesium, and sulfur.

The lack of macrominerals is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies. This often happens with calcium as it becomes harder to obtain it after the age of 50, both in men and in women. It leads to serious long-term health problems, such as osteoporosis.

Microelements or trace elements

Your body requires these in smaller amounts than the 100 mg for macroelements. The elements that have an important biochemical function in the human organism, within this category, are iron, zinc, fluorine, selenium, copper, chromium, iodine, manganese, and molybdenum.

In healthy people, trace element deficiencies don’t usually happen when they follow a well-balanced diet. This happens with the exception of iron, iodine, and zinc. Instead, they can be toxic in some cases. Especially when consumed in large amounts over a long period of time.

Types of food that are high in iron.
Iron is a micromineral involved in pathologies such as anemia.

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The role of minerals in maintaining life

Minerals are essential because they’re involved in many basic bodily functions, such as oxygen transport, tissue formation, hormone synthesis, and enzyme activity. You can classify them into two large groups according to the amount in which you must consume them. All are equally important and their supply happens exclusively through the diet.

A well-balanced diet adapted to your needs can provide all the daily minerals your body requires. Generally, the best sources are vegetables, fish, dairy, legumes, and nuts.

Thanks for reading.

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