Trace minerals and their functions in the body

Published 11:27 am Tuesday, June 27, 2023

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“Good things come in small packages” is a phrase that definitely could be said of dietary trace minerals. Trace minerals are chemical elements required by the body in very small amounts. These are essential nutrients utilized by animals and other organisms to perform specific functions necessary for life. 

Macrominerals needed by the body in larger amounts, usually over 100 mg per day, include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur. Microminerals, or trace elements, on the other hand, are required in much smaller quantities, usually 1-100 mg per day. Identifying the number of trace minerals needed by the body can be a bit more difficult, depending on a mineral’s classification. Also, because of the minute amounts of trace elements needed by the body, there are usually no specific clinical features associated with their deficiencies.   

Trace minerals perform most of their tasks within the body as catalysts, substances that allow chemical reactions to take place. They are the “match” to the fuel, if you will.  

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Here are a few trace elements, and their specific functions in the body. 

Selenium: This nutrient is essential for reproduction, thyroid gland function, and DNA production. Selenium also acts as a powerful antioxidant, protecting the body’s cells from free radical damage. 

Iron: This mineral is a key component of hemoglobin, a sort of iron-rich glue that binds oxygen molecules to red blood cells, for transport throughout the body. Iron also boosts the immune system, in that it is capable of regulating both innate and adaptive immunity. This mineral is so crucial that in pregnant women, iron deficiency puts babies at risk of developmental delays.  However, ingesting improper amounts of iron can be dangerous, so check with your physician before beginning an iron regimen. 

Zinc: Next to iron, zinc is the most common mineral in the body, and is found in every cell. This essential micronutrient is involved in a multitude of enzymatic reactions and is a component of over 300 unique enzymes. Zinc plays a specific role in all aspects of taste function in humans, including taste buds, nerve transmission, taste information, and the brain’s interpretation.

Chromium: This mineral plays a role in how efficiently insulin regulates the body’s blood sugar levels. Chromium is also involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. 

Manganese: Like zinc, manganese too, assists in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats, but this valuable mineral also supports the body’s ability to form connective tissue, bone, blood clotting factors and hormones. 

Iodine: Iodine is a necessary component of thyroxine, the hormone produced by the thyroid gland. Thyroxine is crucial for the formation of bones and nerves. It also helps determine how the body utilizes proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Although kelp is the best natural source of dietary iodine, most folks get their iodine from milk. Though not a natural component of milk, iodine supplements are often added to cattle feed. Iodine also makes an excellent disinfectant. 

Cobalt: This gray metal element is needed for the formation of vitamin B12. Cobalt is also vital for the manufacturing of red blood cells. It is also essential in forming amino acids and the proteins that fashion the myelin sheath, an insulating layer that forms around nerves, including those in the brain and spinal cord. 

Molybdenum: Many folks have probably never even heard of this trace mineral, but this essential element is crucial for both humans and nearly all organisms. Molybdenum plays a fundamental role in various biological processes. It is a crucial component of the body’s detoxification pathways. Molybdenum is stored in the liver, kidneys, and bone. The kidneys are efficient at removing excess amounts from the body. 



David Crocker is a nutritionist and master personal trainer. Questions? Email David at or text to 864-494-6215.