Trace Elements: Why Are They Important?

Trace elements are essential micronutrients for various functions of the body. Not having enough can cause metabolic disorders and chronic diseases.
Trace Elements: Why Are They Important?
Florencia Villafañe

Written and verified by the nutritionist Florencia Villafañe.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

Trace elements play an important role in health functions. In fact, experts estimate that they fulfill at least five functions in living organisms. They’re also known as trace metals, and you can usually get them through food.

What do they consist of? What organs are they involved in? In this article, we want to tell you everything you need to know about trace elements. In addition, we’ll tell you the most important things about them, and what tasks they perform in the body.

What are trace elements?

Trace elements are minerals we find in very small amounts in the body. Additionally, they’re essential for the body to function normally.

In general, they help with metabolic functions, like regulation and formation of structures like hormones or cell membranes. Also, they participate in enzymatic activities.

Foods that contain trace elements.

Why are they important?

As we already mentioned, trace elements fulfill different functions in the body. For example here are some of the most important:

  • Calcium: It intervenes in the nervous system. Additionally, it intervenes with bones, teeth, and blood clotting.
  • Copper: This is part of body tissues, like the liver, brain, kidneys and heart.
  • Fluorine: This is part of the teeth.
  • Phosphorus: Helps with protein formation.
  • Iron: This integrates hemoglobin. Also, it’s involved in cellular respiration, glucose oxidation, fatty acid oxidation and DNA synthesis.
  • Manganese: It’s a part of certain enzymes. If you don’t have enough, it can cause weight loss, dermatitis and nausea. Additionally, it may play a role in sexual and reproductive functions.
  • Magnesium: This helps with glucose metabolism.
  • Potassium: It balances the internal environment.
  • Sodium: Like potassium, this also balances the internal environment.
  • Iodine: This is necessary for thyroid function.
  • Zinc: It’s involved in the metabolism of proteins and nucleic acids. Therefore, it plays a very important role in pregnancy and fetal development. Also, it promotes the activity of many enzymes.

What happens if there’s a deficiency?

It’s important to be clear that some trace elements are considered essential, so not getting enough causes metabolic and physiological changes called deficiency diseases. Also, they’re associated with metabolic diseases.

In fact, several studies suggest that iron deficiency is one of the most frequent aspects of malnutrition worldwide. In developing countries, iron deficiency generally goes with other deficiencies. For example, it often accompanies zinc and iodine; vitamins A, B12 and folic acid; among others.

Causes of iron deficiency

Some of the most common causes of iron deficiency are:

  • Reduced iron diet: poor nutrition, chronic alcoholism, decreased consumption of animal protein and vitamin C.
  • Situations where you need more: pregnancy, surgery, menstruation, childhood and adolescence, gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney disease and more.
  • Inadequate gastrointestinal absorption: there may be interference with absorption with certain foods or medications.
Iron deficiency in the blood.

For other trace elements, deficiency can cause the following symptoms:

  • Folic acid: neural tube defects or miscarriages.
  • Iodine: loss of pregnancy or intellectual disabilities.
  • Selenium, copper, calcium: they are associated with pregnancy complications and issues with fetal development.
  • Magnesium: preeclampsia and preterm birth.
  • Zinc: preeclampsia and the threat of premature delivery.

Do we all need the same amount of trace elements?

This is something we need to be clear about. Also, there are different situations or periods of life where you’ll need to consume more trace elements. As we already mentioned, this includes pregnancy, lactation, childhood, or adolescence.

Also, remember that there are some diseases that can change how much you need. In any of these cases, you’ll want to make sure to get enough.

Prevent deficiency of trace elements

The best way to avoid deficiency is to follow a balanced diet. That includes eating as many different foods as possible, both animal and vegetable. Additionally, don’t forget that the best way to consume trace minerals is to get them through food.

In specific cases like pregnancy, childhood, or certain diseases, it’s best to talk to your doctor about what he recommends to prevent deficiencies. Also, he can tell you what supplements you might need to meet the requirements.

Final thoughts

Trace elements carry out lots of bodily functions, therefore not getting enough can cause health problems.

Finally, to prevent deficiencies, which is the most common problem, you need to follow a balanced diet. Sometimes, you might need to take supplements to avoid future problems.

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All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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The contents of this publication are for informational purposes only. At no time can they serve to facilitate or replace the diagnoses, treatments, or recommendations of a professional. Consult with your trusted specialist if you have any doubts and seek their approval before beginning any procedure.