When Dr. Richard Lord and our team were authoring the textbook Laboratory Evaluations for Integrative and Functional Medicine (LEIFM) in 2008, a major focus of mine was on the Elements Chapter. As I drilled down into the literature around minerals, I became enamored with each of them and their unique roles. Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve wanted to share some of this journey with you, in particular the figures we developed for the book—I think they illustrate nicely the wonderment of our essential minerals.
A major “ah ha” for me during the writing of LEIFM was realizing that our intracellular environment, including the pH, the saline-rich broth, the temperature, the minerals, are all basically the same as when life emerged, 3 thousand million years ago. We are a timeless connection with our creation.
As Jill Tarter says from her TED talk “…we are the products of a billion-year lineage of wandering startdust.”….
Despite our lofty origins and lineage, mineral deficiencies are wildly common for myriad reasons: inadequate intake, poor mineral status in food supply, maldigestion (the scourge of acid blockers alone) and absorption. Under times of increased stress, inflammation, or energy demands, there is an increased utilization of minerals. It’s no wonder that Table 1 below illustrates that many top causes of death are associated with key mineral deficiencies.
Magnesium deficiency alone is associated with 7 of the top 10 causes of death!
Table 1: Top causes of death (2005) and associated mineral deficiencies. This table isn’t exhaustive, but at a glance, you can see how repletion in magnesium alone would likely reduce the incidence of almost every common cause of death. Or, imagine if we were replete in all of the minerals here, the associated reduction in deaths due to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, stroke. Amazing!
Figure 1: The negative effects of minerals can be from either deficient or excess intake, creating a “U curve” distribution. This has been best studied with regard to iron. Men commonly consume excess heme iron (in meat), which can lead to increased risk for cardiovascular disease, oxidative stress and inflammation. Premenopausal women are commonly low in iron, leading to poor oxygen utilization, fatigue and anemia.
Figure 2: Hands down, this is one of my favorite figures from LEIFM. This shows magnesium complexed to ATP. As you know, any active energy pathway in the body requires magnesium. Why? Magnesium hangs onto those highly energetic phosphate groups until hydrolysis of the bonds liberates the energy for metabolic reactions. I read once that if we were to total the amount of magnesium used in ATP-generated reactions over a day, it would be kilograms. Of course, since it’s constantly recycled and reused, the amount actually used is much less. Total body magnesium is only about 25 grams, and most of that is in the bone. Understanding magnesium’s fundamental role with ATP hits home nicely why insufficient intake is so readily problematic and magnesium deficiency is associated with a wide range of conditions.
Figure 2: Meet zinc in its epigenetic role. In Functional Medicine, we’re well-versed in epigenetics involving DNA methylation, acetylation, or histone modification. But zinc, in its role stabilizing zinc finger proteins, which sit on DNA and elsewhere, is an epigenetic transcription and post-transcription factor regulating gene expression and more. Not surprisingly, zinc fingers are being closely researched for medical applications.
Figure 3: Selenocysteine. Did you know that active selenium exists as the amino acid selenocysteine? (It’s identical to cysteine, except selenium replaces the sulfur moiety) We produce this amino acid de novo—meaning that it’s a part of our universal genetic code– as we do our other 20 essential amino acids. Selenocysteine is then incorporated into selenoproteins, including glutathione peroxidase, iodothyronine deiodinase and thioredoxin reductase. Thioredoxin reductase regulates metallothionine- so if you’re selenium deficient, methallothionine may release bound metals like lead, contributing to toxicity.
Figure 4: This is a cool, involved figure of selenium metabolism. We worked long and hard on this baby! You can see selenoprotein synthesis at the top of the figure. Below, note that ALL forms of non-amino acid selenium are metabolized via a SAM-dependent methyltransferases. In the process of generating this figure, I learned that we want a full complement of selenium sources in the diet (you can see in mid right portion of the figure that they’re all utilized), not just selenomethionine, which is the common supplemental form. The one food that provides ALL of these selenium forms? GARLIC!
There are a variety of selenium compounds that we want to include in a good diet. The ONE food source that provides every one? Garlic!
Figure 5: Chromium is amazing in its role potentiating insulin sensitivity. It’s complexed to the protein chromodulin. As insulin docks to an insulin receptor site, tyrosine kinase is phosphorylated, activating chromium transport into the cell, resulting in the activation of apo-chromodulin to chromodulin…chromodulin then to binds to the beta subunits of the insulin receptor, allowing for rapid cellular glucose uptake. Chromium is essential for anyone with any degree of insulin resistance. In fact, it’s been proposed that the best evidence for chromium deficiency is elevated blood sugar or insulin.
Figure 6: If I were to give ONE SINGLE TIP for detoxification support (besides avoiding exposures to toxins) it would be based on this figure. The basic point? We’re looking at mineral transport in the GI. Divalent metal transporter 1 (DMT1) is an example of primary transport protein for a number of minerals, including iron (and zinc, copper, and probably magnesium). When we’re deficient in minerals, we increase the number of transport proteins to allow for more ready uptake—iron is the example used above. But toxic metals can also use these same transport proteins to gain entry into circulation. So if we’re deficient in our essential minerals, and the number of transport proteins is high, we’re vulnerable to absorbing higher amounts of toxic metals— in this figure, lead, cadmium and the potentially toxic manganese are shown being absorbed at higher rates. This same process occurs at the blood brain barrier- allowing absorption of toxic metals into the central nervous system.
MY SINGLE TIP FOR DETOX SUPPORT? Keep the essential mineral intake high to inhibit toxic metal absorption through the gut or brain barriers