Trace minerals, nutritional stepchildren

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

November 2013

Trace minerals are the stepchildren of the nutrition world, usually ignored, infrequent subjects of medical research and seldom considered when physicians struggle with a difficult diagnosis. This leaves the door open to exaggerated claims by internet purveyors of mineral supplements.

Trace minerals are so named because they are present in very small amounts in a normal diet when compared to calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium, for example. Most people recognize the importance of iron and some are aware that zinc is an essential component of the diet. Fewer know that copper, manganese, iodine, chromium, cobalt and boron are important to health.

Iodine deficiency is now rare because manufacturers add it to table salt. A century ago persons who lived at a considerable distance from the ocean suffered from goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland in the neck, most often the result of a lack of dietary iodine. Sea salt, seafood and seaweed are all iodine-rich but even some coastal dwellers may not include them in their diet.

Vegetarians sometimes suffer from a deficiency of iron or zinc or both. These minerals are abundant in animal meats. Many plant foods, including legendary iron-rich spinach, contain antinutrients that bind iron and zinc and prevent their absorption in the intestinal tract. Babies are sometimes born with a rare genetic disorder that causes an inability to absorb zinc from the diet. They suffer from poor growth, mental retardation and a variety of skin problems. Fortunately they respond to high doses of zinc.

It was not long ago that physicians made the connection between a deficiency of folic acid during pregnancy and birth defects that included the brain and the heart. Still later they uncovered the link between iron deficiency, behavioral disorders and mental deficiency. Considering that trace minerals play a role in hundreds of biochemical processes, some presently challenging diseases may eventually be found to be caused by an inadequate intake of elements such as boron, cobalt, chromium and manganese, to name just a few.

Trace minerals are present in sufficient amounts in a balanced diet. That includes whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seafood and at least some animal meats. Unfortunately our junk food-filled lifestyle includes few of these except for meat.

What cannot be provided by diet alone can easily be found in a quality multivitamin/multimineral supplement. These nearly always contain a variety of trace minerals.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at