Minerals, like vitamins, are essential to good health. Calcium and zinc, for example, are essential for bone growth and immune system support. Calcium plays an important role in everything from our bones to our cell membranes, while zinc promotes wound healing and supports the immune system. Unfortunately, it has become more difficult to get enough minerals simply from the food we eat.
Minerals are naturally occurring elements found in rock formations. As erosion gradually breaks down the rock and stone through a process that can take millions of years, the resulting dust and sand forms the basis of soil which in turn passes these minerals to plants. Our bodies obtain these minerals by consuming plants. However, modern agricultural and food preparation practices rob our food of many of their life-giving nutrients, especially minerals.
Having moved away from nature's cycle, in which animals consume plants and then return minerals to the soil through excretion and death, minerals are now ending up in the sea or landfill sites instead of back in the soil. The modern flush toilet, monoculture and long-range transportation of produce are but a few of the factors exacerbating this situation. Under ideal circumstances plants typically absorb some 70-80 different minerals from the soil: the number being returned by farmers can now often be counted on the fingers of one hand.
For this reason crops are now often grown in depleted soils; in fact, most American farmland is severely depleted of selenium and often contains only marginal levels of zinc, magnesium , calcium and other minerals. Once harvested, the food is often stored for long periods and then processed into bread or other refined products. All of these practices strip foods of their essential vitamins and minerals.
One example is the milling of grains, such as wheat, where great nutritional losses occur. When wheat is processed into white flour, many minerals are lost including 59% of magnesium and 72% of zinc. More than 70% of other essential trace minerals such as manganese, boron, chromium and selenium also are lost. Purchasing whole grain foods that are organically grown and as minimally processed as possible are steps in the right direction. Many feel that mineral supplementation has become a requirement of modern living.
This is due, in part, to the high-stress lifestyles that most of us lead. Studies have shown that stress depletes our bodies of vitamins and minerals. If the food we eat isn't supplying us with enough minerals to begin with and then our stressful lifestyles destroy more nutrients - we end up deficient. Mineral deficiency can take the form of everything from a lowered immunity - causing frequent colds and flu - to muscle cramps, slow wound healing and fatigue.
Taking mineral supplements requires knowledge and caution, since once minerals enter the body, they compete with one another for absorption. For example, too much zinc can deplete the body of copper, while excessive calcium intake can affect magnesium absorption. Supplemental minerals should always be taken in balanced amounts and under an expert's guidance.
A good multi-mineral product may provide actual benefit or at least provide insurance value against unknown deficiencies. For example, there is a 2% likelihood of falling outside of the bell-shaped curve for a particular nutrient (if the RDA is based on the amount of a specific nutrient intake that is required to prevent disease in 98% of the population). In other words, a person doesn't know if they have a higher requirement than average, but there is a 2% chance of being deficient for that one nutrient. For 2 nutrients it would be 4%…and for 40 nutrients it would be 80%. So, with an average unsupplemented diet, there may be an 80% chance of anyone not getting enough of a particular nutrient, and not know which one or ones it could be. A good multiple is cheap insurance against this likely event.