Major Minerals

The major minerals present in the body include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and sulfur.

Functions. The fluid balance in the body, vital for all life processes, is maintained largely by sodium, potassium, and chloride. Fluid balance is regulated by charged sodium and chloride ions in the extracellular fluid (outside the cell) and potassium in the intracellular fluid (inside the cell), and by some other electrolytes across cell membranes. Tight control is critical for normal muscle contraction, nerve impulse transmission, heart function, and blood pressure. Sodium plays an important role in the absorption of other nutrients, such as glucose, amino acids, and water. Chloride is a component of hydrochloric acid, an important part of gastric juice (an acidic liquid secreted by glands in the stomach lining) and aids in food digestion. Potassium and sodium act as cofactors for certain enzymes.

Calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus are known for their structural roles, as they are essential for the development and maintenance of bones and teeth. They are also needed for maintaining cell membranes and connective tissue. Several enzymes, hormones, and proteins that regulate energy and fat metabolism require calcium, magnesium and/or phosphorus to become active. Calcium also aids in blood clotting. Sulfur is a key component of various proteins and vitamins and participates in drug-detoxifying pathways in the body.

Disease prevention and treatment. Sodium, chloride, and potassium are linked to high blood pressure (hypertension) due to their role in the body's fluid balance. High salt or sodium chloride intake has been linked to cardiovascular disease as well. High potassium intakes, on the other hand, have been associated with a lower risk of stroke, particularly in people with hypertension. Research also suggests a preventive role for magnesium in hypertension and cardiovascular disease, as well as a beneficial effect in the treatment of diabetes, osteoporosis, and migraine headaches.

Osteoporosis is a bone disorder in which bone strength is compromised, leading to an increased risk of fracture. Along with other lifestyle factors, intake of calcium and vitamin D plays an important role in the maintenance of bone health and the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Good calcium nutrition, along with low salt and high potassium intake, has been linked to prevention of hypertension and kidney stones.

  1. Dietary deficiency is unlikely for most major minerals, except in starving people or those with protein-energy malnutrition in developing countries, or people on poor diets for an extended period, such as those suffering from alcoholism, anorexia nervosa, or bulimia. Most people in the world consume a lot of salt, and it is recommended that they moderate their intake to prevent chronic diseases (high salt intake has been associated with an increased risk of death from stroke and cardiovascular disease). However, certain conditions, such as severe or prolonged vomiting or diarrhea, the use of diuretics, and some forms of kidney disease, lead to an increased loss of minerals, particularly sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium. Calcium intakes tend to be lower in women and vegans who do not consume dairy products. Elderly people with suboptimal diets are also at risk of mineral deficiencies because of decreased absorption and increased excretion of minerals in the urine.
  2. Toxicity from excessive dietary intake of major minerals rarely occurs in healthy individuals. Kidneys that are functioning normally can regulate mineral concentrations in the body by excreting the excess amounts in urine. Toxicity symptoms from excess intakes are more likely to appear with acute or chronic kidney failure.

Sodium and chloride toxicity can develop due to low intake or excess loss of water. Accumulation of excess potassium in plasma may result from the use of potassium-sparing diuretics (medications used to treat high blood pressure, which increase urine production, excreting sodium but not potassium), insufficient aldosterone secretion (a hormone that acts on the kidney to decrease sodium secretion and increase potassium secretion), or tissue damage (e.g., from severe burns). Magnesium intake from foods has no adverse effects, but a high intake from supplements when kidney function is limited increases the risk of toxicity. The most serious complication of potassium or magnesium toxicity is cardiac arrest. Adverse effects from excess calcium have been reported only with consumption of large quantities of supplements. Phosphate toxicity can occur due to absorption from phosphate salts taken by mouth or in enemas.

Blood Pressure Health

Blood Pressure Health

Your heart pumps blood throughout your body using a network of tubing called arteries and capillaries which return the blood back to your heart via your veins. Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as your heart beats.Learn more...

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