The human body cannot make it’s own minerals, and they must be maintained within the body through adequate consumption. (See Part 1 on the Importance of Minerals here) However, consumption alone is not enough, we must be able to actually digest and absorb them.
Minerals are very difficult for the body to extract from food. It takes adequate stomach acid to pull the minerals from food, and we also need good fats to utilize them too. If the pH of the stomach is not acidic enough the minerals will pass right through the small intestine. Any undigested food in the stool shows you are likely not getting your minerals. We need good stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes to properly digest our minerals from food.
Mineral imbalance is epidemic these days. It can actually take the body several years to re-mineralize. It's important to consume adequate minerals, but to also ensure they are digesting properly. GAPS is a great protocol to follow to help one do this very thing. Bone broth is an absolute must to get minerals in their most ionic absorbable form. Most minerals are only moderately absorbed even when digestion is optimal.
Below are just a few of the signs & symptoms that indicate different mineral deficiencies and is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully can shed some light on symptoms we’ve either all faced or know someone that has.
Signs & Symptoms of Mineral Deficiencies
- Cuts heal slowly and/or scar easily – this is a sign of zinc deficiency. Zinc is critical in wound healing. It’s also important to have zinc to help build the stomach acid you need in order to pull the minerals from your food to begin with.
- Calf, foot or toe cramps at rest – (Okay, who hasn’t experienced this symptom from time to time?) This is a sign of calcium, magnesium or potassium deficiency. Remember we need adequate HCL and good fatty acids to absorb those minerals. So keep that in mind if you decide to supplement. In the meantime, enjoy more bone broth.
- Lost vitality and sense of awareness or someone who ‘fakes’ their energy- This person is lacking in minerals and likely quite imbalanced. Remember minerals are the ‘spark plugs’ of life. Minerals act as cofactors for enzyme reactions. Enzymes do not work without minerals. Enzymes are your bodies work horses. In Chinese medicine enzymes are what give the body it’s ‘chi’.
- Feet have a strong odor - This is a common sign of magnesium deficiency. Keep in mind every gram of sugar consumed uses up 54 of magnesium. This means most Americans are magnesium deficient. And that’s only one reason we have such and epidemic of magnesium deficiency. Thankfully, there are lots of great ways to get magnesium into the body, such as magnesium oil. This would be great to rub all over the feet and legs and whole body for that matter.
- White spots on fingernails – this is very telling again of zinc deficiency. Remember it can take years to remineralize the body. If you do decide to supplement with zinc make sure you take it with an overall mineral supplement as other minerals support zinc. Liquid/ionic zinc is best as it is most easily absorbed. Of course you could always eat some raw oysters.
- Abnormal cravings for substances other than food, such as paper, dirt, clay, rubber as well as ice are indicative of an iron deficiency. These are signs of Pica, affecting mostly women and children.
- Yeast & Fungal Infections – often indicate low iron and zinc deficiencies, while the tissue copper levels are elevated. Excessive copper can produce an environment that encourages yeast and fungus to grow and proliferate. Chronic candida usually indicates high tissue copper levels.
- Hypertension & Cardiac Arrhythmias – this is a common sign of potassium deficiency. Potassium plays a major role in the muscle contraction of the heart, as well as the heart beat, it’s also an important regulator of blood pressure.
There are a vast number of signs of mineral deficiencies to many to cover within this post. Suffice it to say, that to avoid deficiency one must work to get adequate minerals into the diet. Avoid processed foods at all costs, and purchase foods grown in good soil and organic. Consider working on your overall digestion either through a protocol like GAPS or with the help of a holistic practitioner of some sort.
Avoid these Factors which are Causes of Common Mineral Deficiencies:
Soil Depletion – This is the number one reason that most Americans are mineral deficient. Soil depletion has been well documented since the US Senate made their study back in 1936. Even organically grown vegetables are lacking in minerals – organic farming only addresses the pesticide/chemical issues most typically. The best way to get mineral rich grown fruits and vegetables is through bio-dynamic produce, local CSA’s that practice crop rotation and soil supplementation through compost and other means, and of course growing your own garden you can work on the integrity of the soil. Not to mention, the animals we consume also need to be raised on good quality pastures with good soil conditions as well.
Antacids & Acid blockers – deplete calcium, but often people are unaware as testing is done on blood levels and only 1% of the calcium in the body is in the blood. This doesn’t indicate the loss in the bones/tissues. Antacids/Acid Blockers contain aluminum hydroxide which prevents the absorption of calcium from the intestinal tract. This includes carbonation in sodas.
Low Stomach Acid/Hypochlorhydria – the body needs appropriate stomach acid in order to break down minerals, namely calcium. Also, low stomach acid can be a sign of low zinc because zinc is needed in the body to help produce stomach acid.
Cortisone – used for pain and inflammation can contribute to severe calcium loss with prolonged use. It also depletes potassium.
Pharmaceutical Drugs – this is too vast to go into, suffice it to say all drugs deplete the body of a vast amount of nutrients.
Birth Control Pills – deplete magnesium and zinc, along with numerous other vitamins. And since they have a direct impact on our hormones this also plays with our ability to get the minerals needed. They cause excess copper in the body, which can be toxic, this is why zinc becomes depleted as these two minerals are antagonistic to each other.
Coffee – calcium/magnesium are lost in our urine with coffee. It’s a diuretic. You will be losing potassium and sodium as well. The same goes for caffeine in general.
Alcohol- speeds up the excretion of magnesium through the kidneys. It can also deplete, calcium, zinc, iron, manganese, potassium and chromium.
Soda and carbonation consumption – contains excess phosphorous which leads to reduced body storage of calcium because they compete for absorption in the intestines. Soda also causes potassium loss.
Sugar- for every molecule of sugar our bodies use 54 molecules of magnesium to process it. Insulin surges use up our zinc. Sugar also depletes magnesium, potassium and robs your bones of minerals in general. A high sugar diet results in increased losses of chromium through the urine.
Excess Insulin- causes calcium to be retained by the body through re-absorption by the kidneys.
Excess Estrogen – decreases calcium excretion. Same effects as birth control also apply.
Hyperthyroidism- causes increased calcium losses and increased calcium resorption from the bone. Creates the need for more magnesium. Often more copper is needed, along with iodine. Perhaps it would be better stated that deficiencies of selenium play a role in low thyroid hormone production
Stress- depletes magnesium.
The Standard American Diet (S.A.D diet) – the typical diet of minimal fresh foods, higher amounts of refined and processed foods, foods grown on poor/depleted soils, excess phosphorous in these foods depletes calcium and has been shown to cause bone loss. Magnesium and chromium, (and all minerals really) are also lost in processing and due to poor soil.
Excess Grains- phytic acid binds with the minerals in the intestine and blocks absorption, causing them to be excreted unused.
Oxalates- oxalic acid is a substance which binds with calcium in the intestinal tract and actually prevents calcium absorption. (oxalates are found in spinach, beet greens, rhubarb and chard)
Dietary Insufficiency – source of food, how it’s prepared, is it processed or whole real natural foods. And of course, was the food raised properly on mineral rich soils.
Athletes/Excessive exercising- taxes magnesium reserves.
Pregnancy- it takes a lot of nutrients to make a baby, and minerals are no exception. If mother is already low in mineral stores she will become further depleted as her body takes the nutrients to build a healthy baby. Iron is one common mineral deficiency in pregnant and breastfeeding women, namely because the needs for it increase immensely during this time.
Vegetarian/Vegan Diet - the best sources of many minerals are in animal foods. Plant foods grown in poor soil are not enough to supply the dietary needs of minerals. Vegetarians are more vulnerable to iron deficiency as well.
Heavy Metal Toxicity-
- Mercury – amalgam fillings, in certain fish, vaccines. Blocks magnesium and zinc. Mercury binds with magnesium and renders it void. Supplementing won’t be enough, must detoxify the metals.
• Aluminum – Antacids/Anti-perspirants/Cosmetics – aluminum foil – aluminum penetrates the blood brain barrier and is very difficult to detoxify. Impedes the utilization of calcium/magnesium/phosphorous. Neutralizes pepsin.
• Lead – binds with calcium and makes it unusable for the body.
Also an excess of certain minerals in the body can antagonize other minerals and cause depletion. For example, excess sodium depletes potassium. Excess calcium depletes magnesium by dominating over it. Too much of one will dominate the other. Iron and copper need to be in the right proportion and work together. They are co-factors. Potassium deficiency it’s not enough to just take potassium, you also need magnesium. Potassium inside the cell needs magnesium to maintain it. Copper/zinc – copper tells the body to retain estrogen. Copper toxicity is commonly known in hyperactive violent individuals. It is a primary cause of miscarriages and susceptibility to postpartum depression.
What To Do If You Are Mineral Deficient
Supplementation with minerals is not a simple solution. It is not enough to supplement with one mineral to fix a specific deficiency, though for short periods of time with extreme symptoms it can certainly be helpful. But, knowing how to approach this can be tricky. I personally suggest working with someone qualified to help you balance your minerals safely if you are looking to supplement. Not only will minerals need to be considered but underlying issues as to why you may not be utilizing the minerals you are getting in the first place. It’s important to work with someone so you do not take too much of one and throw off your balance of another or become toxic.
It’s not enough to test the blood to find out the body’s mineral status. It is rare that a single mineral deficiency will develop. This is why supplementing with just iron, or just magnesium is not a good approach. Also, you can’t just take a pill and address all the issues related to an ‘iron deficiency’. You have to understand that the body can only utilize iron if the stomach is acid enough to absorb it in the first place. Also, iron can hide itself in the body when a bacterial infection is present, so it won’t show up in blood tests. This is just one example of the issues surrounding one specific mineral and why it is not wise to haphazardly supplement with any individual mineral alone, or without knowing all the cofactors involved.
The best way to ensure you are getting a wide array of minerals is by a whole foods, properly prepared nutrient dense diet. Understanding traditional foods and what our ancestors and indigenous tribes and cultures ate throughout history can really help us in our modern day peril of industrialized processed foods and depleted soils. It is critical in my opinion to learn how to make mineral rich bone broth and consume it regularly. This is one of the absolute best options and most absorbable forms available to us. Mineral rich salts are another great source.
Following the dietary principles as taught in; Nourishing Traditions, Traditional Foods Our Bodies Best Medicine, Deep Nutrition, Real Food: What to Eat and Why, The Primal Blueprint, The Primal Blueprint Cookbook, Primal Body Primal Mind, Eat Naked, The Paleo Solution, Super Nutrition For Babies, along with Dr. Natasha’s GAPS dietary protocol will ensure that you have the right raw ingredients to work with.
Consider getting support from a holistic practitioner/nutritionist that understands these dietary principles. Also consider getting hair tissue mineral analysis to assess your mineral levels, especially if you have health conditions that won’t resolve after following a good diet protocol for any length of time. You may have some foundational things that need to be worked on that you are not aware of. Diet does usually help health issues resolve, but when it doesn’t typically there is need for supplemental therapy or even further work that you will need guidance with.
Recommended Mineral Supplement Products:
(Click photo for link)
Concen-Trace - I like to use these supplements when I'm not taking Sole (see my post here on how to make sole)
You can put these minerals in a regular bath or foot bath.
I also Make a magnesium oil with these minerals and rub it on my skin. The oil is easy, just heat it in a pot with 1 cup minerals and one cup water and just rub it on your torso and your skin will absorb it.
I also make a Bone broth soup. See here how to make it.
I like these Sea minerals as well. (I take these only when I'm not taking concen-trace minerals or making sole)
If you are spending the money to take vitamins supplements, make sure you are getting enough minerals to help you absorb theml! (See the supplements I take here)
Understanding Cravings & Mineral Deficiencies:
See the full blog on how to overcome food cravings here
Causes and symptoms of mineral deficiencies – part 3
Calcium and phosphorus deficiencies
Calcium and phosphorus are plentiful in foods, and dietary deficiencies are rare. Vitamin D deficiency impairs the absorption of dietary calcium and can provoke calcium deficiency (hypocalcemia) even when adequate calcium is consumed. Vitamin D deficiency can be found among young infants and the elderly who may be shielded from sunshine for prolonged periods. As women age, reductions in the hormone estrogen can affect the rate of calcium loss. Significant depletion of calcium stores can lead to osteoporosis. Deficiency of calcium or imbalances with phosphorus and magnesium can produce muscle cramping and digestive problems. Symptoms of calcium deficiency include joint pain , brittle nails, eczema, high cholesterol , insomnia, high blood pressure, nervousness, and tooth decay . Calcium deficiency can also contribute to cognitive problems (confusion, inattention, learning, and memory), convulsions, depression, and hyperactivity. Phosphorus deficiency can produce anxiety .
Sodium and potassium deficiencies
Deficiency or imbalance in sodium and potassium does not usually result from a lack of these minerals in the diet, but from imbalances in body fluids. This can be caused by excessive losses of body fluid (dehydration) from severe diarrhea or vomiting; laxative abuse; or during treatment of heart disease or high blood pressure (hypertension) with diuretic drugs, which are used to reduce fluid overload. Sodium and potassium imbalances can cause cardiac arrhythmias and shock (a reduced flow of blood and oxygen to tissues throughout the body). Although diarrheal fluids deplete a number of electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium), the main concern in avoiding shock is replacing sodium and water. Potassium deficiency alone can also affect nerve function.
Dietary magnesium deficiency is rare because the mineral is found in nearly all foods, but it can occur through poor diet or in malnutrition, or result from excessive losses due to severe diarrhea or vomiting. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include faulty transmission of nerve and muscle impulses, irritability, nervousness, and tantrums . Confusion, poor digestion, rapid or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), and seizures can also result. Magnesium deficiency is associated with cardiac arrest, asthma , chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, depression, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome , and lung conditions.
Boron deficiency is rare, although reduced levels do occur with aging and with reduced levels of vitamin D. Because boron is involved in the absorption of calcium, the only symptom may be reduced levels of calcium or the inability to absorb supplemental calcium.
Many Americans are deficient in dietary chromium, which can be associated with poor regulation of insulin and related imbalances in glucose (either diabetes or hypoglycemia ). Symptoms include fatigue, anxiety, poor protein metabolism, and glucose intolerance (as in diabetes). In adults, chromium deficiency can be a sign of coronary artery disease.
Copper is obtained through a balanced diet and deficiency is rare. Signs of copper deficiency may include anemia, diarrhea, weakness, poor respiratory function, baldness, skin sores, and increased lipid (fat) levels in the blood. Severe alterations in copper metabolism are seen in two rare genetic diseases: Wilson disease and Menkes' disease, which occur in about one in 100,000 births. Both diseases involve mutations in copper transport proteins, special channels that allow copper ions to pass through cell membranes. Menkes' disease, called the "kinky hair disease," results in tangled, grayish, steely, or kinky hair and chubby, rosy cheeks. Untreated Menkes' disease is associated with mental retardation and death before three years of age. Wilson disease involves decreases in copper in blood cells, the liver and brain; and increases in copper (copper toxicosis) in the cells of the intestines and kidneys. It results in degenerative changes in the brain, liver disease, and hemolytic anemia. Children older than five years who have any form of liver disease are often evaluated for serum and cellular copper levels to determine if Wilson disease is present.
Germanium deficiency is rare; in fact, there is no established deficiency level.
Iodine deficiency occurs when soil is iodine-poor and foods grown in the soil are correspondingly low in iodine. An iodine intake of 0.10–0.15 mg/day is considered to be nutritionally adequate. Iodine deficiency occurs when intake is below 0.05 mg/day. Goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland in the neck, results from iodine deficiency. Although goiter continues to be a problem in other parts of the world, it no longer occurs in the United States because of the fortification of foods with iodine. Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in cretinism in newborns, involving mental retardation and a large tongue.
Iron deficiency occurs most often because of poor iron intake and poor absorption. In children, iron deficiency is due to periods of dietary deficiency and heavy demands for iron during rapid growth. Human milk and cow's milk both contain low levels of iron; however, the iron in human milk is in a highly absorbable form. Infants are at risk for acquiring iron deficiency because their rapid rate of growth needs a corresponding increased supply of dietary iron, for use in making blood and muscles. Cow's milk formula is fortified with iron. Human milk is a better source of iron than cow's milk, since about half of the iron in human breast milk is absorbed by the infant's digestive tract. In contrast, only 10 percent of the iron in cow's milk is absorbed by the infant. Toddlers who drink excessive whole cow's milk are at risk for iron deficiency. Iron deficiency can also be caused by excess phosphorus in the diet, chronic intestinal bleeding, poor digestion and absorption, prolonged illness, ulcers, and the use of antacids. In women and teenage girls, blood loss through menstruation can result in iron deficiency. Symptoms of iron deficiency include anemia and resulting fatigue and weakness, especially during physical exertion. Fragile bones, brittle hair and nails, hair loss, spoon-shaped fingernails or ridges from the base of the nails to the ends, difficulty swallowing, nervousness, paleness, and lagging mental responses are also possible iron deficiency symptoms.
Deficiency of manganese is very rare. Experimental studies of individuals fed a manganese deficient diet have revealed that the deficiency produces a scaly, red rash on the skin of the upper torso.
Selenium deficiency may occur in premature infants who naturally tend to have about one-third the selenium levels of full-term infants. It is not known if these lower levels result in adverse consequences. Selenium deficiency occurs in regions of the world containing low-selenium soils, including parts of China, New Zealand, and Finland. In Keshan Province, China, a condition (Keshan disease) occurs that results in deterioration of regions of the heart and the development of fibers in these areas. Keshan disease, which may be fatal, is thought to result from a combination of selenium deficiency and a virus.
Zinc deficiency can be caused by diarrhea, liver and kidney disease, alcoholism , diabetes, malabsorption, and overconsumption of fiber. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include acne , recurrent colds and flu, loss of senses of taste and smell, poor night vision, slow growth, lack of sexual maturation, lack of pubic hair, and small stature. Studies have shown that signs of zinc deficiency are detectable after two to five weeks of consuming a zinc-free diet. Signs include a rash on the face, groin, hands and feet, and diarrhea. Administering zinc will correct these symptoms.
When to call the doctor
Mineral deficiencies present with a wide variety of symptoms. Parents should observe children closely and report any unusual symptoms to the pediatrician, such as tiredness, weakness, depression or anxiety, irritability, nervousness, skin irritations, dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea, and slow growth or development of skills. Other than providing regular vitamin supplements and a balanced diet to prevent deficiencies, parents should not attempt to diagnose and treat deficiencies on their own.
Individual minerals can be measured in blood serum, red blood cells, tissue cells, or urine, to estimate available levels and determine normal or abnormal status. Since each mineral performs strikingly different functions, tests to confirm deficiency are markedly different from each other.
Normal serum magnesium levels are 1.2–2.0 mE/l, while levels in deficiency (hypomagnesemia) are below 0.8 mE/l. Because calcium and magnesium must remain balanced, magnesium levels below 0.5 mE/l can provoke a decline in serum calcium levels. Hypomagnesemia can also result in low serum potassium. Symptoms of hypomagnesemia, such as twitching and convulsions, may actually result from the hypocalcemia. Other symptoms, such as cardiac arrhythmias, actually occur because of low potassium. All three minerals will be measured.
Iodine deficiency is diagnosed by measuring the concentration of iodine in urine. A urinary level greater than 0.05 mg iodine per gram of creatinine (another metabolite excreted in urine) indicates adequate iodine status. Levels under 0.025 mg iodine/gram creatinine indicate serious risk. The doctor may also examine the neck with the eyes and hands to see if a goiter is present.
Urinary zinc levels will differ between normal dietary intake (16 mg per day) and low-zinc diets (0.3 mg per day); normal urinary zinc is about 0.45 mg per day while low-zinc urinary levels are about 0.150 mg per day. Plasma zinc levels tend to be maintained during a dietary deficiency in zinc. Plasma and urinary zinc levels can be influenced by a variety of factors, and for this reason cannot provide a clear picture of zinc status.
Selenium can be measured in plasma or red blood cells and compared to normal values. The activity of an enzyme (glutathione peroxidase) in platelets (small blood cells essential in blood clotting) may be evaluated to assess selenium status.
By utilizing the information presented on this site, you agree to and understand that author, Bill Farr is not a doctor or any other type of certified health care professional, and his opinion is not a substitute for professional medical prevention, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with your doctor or your other health care providers concerning your symptoms and medical requirements before following any of the remedies or other suggestions he offers. His opinion is based on his own research and is to be used for educational purposes only. Bill Farr’s wellness plans and advice are meant to be used in conjunction with standard allopathic or osteopathic medical treatment and care.