fruits and vegetables on a rack

What are trace elements and how are they essential for health?

Trace elements are found both in the human organism and in the solar system. What they have in common is that they only occur in small quantities, yet they are vital. We often refer to the trace elements present or supplied in the body as micronutrients.

The micronutrients that are essential for humans can cause deficiency symptoms if not ingested enough through food supplements or food.

Too little iron or iodine leads to anemia or an enlarged thyroid or an underactive thyroid. An excess, however, can incur serious dysfunctions with micronutrients.

Therefore, you must optimize the balance of nutrients. Usually, it is enough for people to eat healthy foods. These contain all the micronutrients that the body needs.

Incorrect eating habits, as the preference for highly processed foods, manufactured industrially or unilateral nutrition can create a shortage of micronutrients.

Poor soil and water quality, a loss of micronutrients due to persistent diarrhea or frequent sweating, or the presence of metabolic diseases or absorption disorders also contribute to nutrient deficiency.

What micronutrients are there?

The most important trace elements that people should consume include iron, chromium, cobalt, iodine, manganesecopper, molybdenum, seleniumzinc, and silicon. Other micronutrients such as vanadium, tin, arsenic, nickel, or rubidium, it is not known very well if they are vital as trace elements.

Micronutrient Sources

Iron is present in different amounts in foods such as liver, egg yolk, spinach, lentils, white beans, oats, or sauerkraut. However, the problem is that some of these foods contain other substances that hinder the absorption of iron.

In spinach, these are oxalic acids and tannins. Coffee or black tea also hinders the absorption of iron in the body.

Iron is more difficult to absorb from food sources of plant origin than from animal sources. However, additional administration of vitamin C is useful for iron supply, which means that the absorption rate can be seven times higher.

Raw spinach with tomatoes can be a good source of iron. Also a green smoothie with orange juice.

Chromium is found mainly in whole grains, meat, vegetable oils, and beer. Cobalt is a trace element in all animal products. Iodine is found in edible seaweed, for example, in the sushi wrapper, or in fish and marine crustaceans. The copper supply can be maintained by frequent consumption of whole wheat bread, nuts and cocoa, some green vegetables, fish and shellfish, and ruminant offal.

The body can obtain manganese from nuts, whole grains, black tea, and green leafy vegetables. Molybdenum is found everywhere. Therefore, it is not necessary to mention specific food sources. Selenium can be found in the eggs and meat of animals that receive foods that contain selenium. The supply of zinc can be guaranteed by eating cheese, offal, and meat, certain types of fish and shellfish. Silicon, on the other hand, only occurs in beer or millet.

What are the benefits of micronutrients in the body?

Iron is essential for blood formation since it is a component of hemoglobin and many enzymes. With chromium, we still don’t know exactly what the effect on the organism is. Until now, only participation in glucose metabolism is known. Cobalt is a component of vitamin B 12. Iodine is essential for the thyroid hormone. Copper is a component of numerous enzymes. Manganese activates several enzymes and is contained in them. Enzymes regulate, among other things, the synthesis of bones and cartilage, antioxidant metabolism, or the course of glucose utilization.

Selenium is contained in numerous proteins. Silicon is found in the body in large quantities, in mucopolial saccharides, which are present in the epithelium and connective tissue. It is unknown whether vanadium is essential or not. Above all, it stimulates the breakdown of simple sugars in the liver and at the same time inhibits gluconeogenesis. Zinc is involved in numerous body processes. It is mixed with many enzymes, contributes to the synthesis of collagen, raises testosterone, and decomposes alcohol. Zinc also strengthens immune function.

Almost all the mentioned elements have been investigated in their basic effects, but they are certainly not complete enough. It is difficult to isolate individual elements in their complex action from other micronutrients, and it is even more difficult to investigate them in interaction within an organism. Science will take many years for the results to be good enough.

a bowl of oatmeal

What amounts of these trace elements should be taken?

Not only are the recommended daily doses interesting, but also the question of how these trace elements can be absorbed and processed better.

Iron is required in a daily intake of 10 to 15 milligrams.

Women need more iron because they have menstrual bleeding. Iron supply should also be taken into account in vegan people since animal foods with a notable iron content promise better iron utilization.

Vegetable iron should always be taken together with vitamin C. Supplementation can be useful so that blood formation is not disturbed. Chromium may be required in amounts of 20-100 micrograms.

There are no recommendations for cobalt. Since it is a component of vitamin B12, its inclusion is relevant. However, vitamin B12 is a storage vitamin, whose supplies last a long time. In this regard, only vegan and others whose vitamin B12 status is at risk should consider sufficient intake of the vitamin.

An intake of 200 micrograms of iodine is assumed, with 50-100 micrograms of molybdenum.

Copper and manganese are required in large quantities of 1-1.5 and 1-2.5 milligrams.

With 30-70 micrograms of selenium, daily needs are met. 30 milligrams of silicon are required in the body. In contrast, less than 10 micrograms of vanadium are sufficient. Daily intake of zinc through food is estimated at 10-15 milligrams per day.

What deficiency symptoms can occur with trace elements?

A deficiency of trace elements can be caused by various circumstances.

In most cases, an insufficiently nutritious diet is the cause of such deficiencies. In addition, altered intestinal activity, a reduced intake of micronutrients in the case of diarrhea and vomiting, or an increased need in the body can cause symptoms of deficiency.

The need for micronutrients may increase during pregnancy, lactation, persistent stress, physical exertion, long-term alcohol addiction, nicotine abuse, as well as certain diseases or medications.

As a result, considerable functional disorders can occur in the body.

The best known disorder arises from iron deficiency: anemia, muscle weakness, stunted growth and persistent fatigue.

Zinc deficiency can lead to a weakened immune system, fine cracks in the corners of the mouth, skin damage, hair loss, or loss of appetite.

Lack of selenium manifests itself in diarrhea or intestinal disease, liver cirrhosis or heart muscle damage.

A deficiency of iodine leads to a thyroid, slow heartbeat and weight fluctuations.

If copper is missing, loss of appetite, insomnia and anemia can be expected.

Manganese deficiency leads to skeletal growth disorders and fertility problems.

Chromium deficiency affects weight and glucose tolerance. If cobalt is missing, blood cells are altered and the gastric mucosa bends.

Molybdenum deficiencies lead to a low concentration of uric acid and excessive absorption of copper ions.

a plate with quinoa and vegetables

What are the side effects of an overdose?

Micronutrient overdoses are less common than deficiencies, no toxic effect is found with much of the micronutrients mentioned above.

With a balanced diet, there will be no overdosing of the trace elements mentioned. However, it may be different if certain substances are added through functional foods, nutritional supplements in high doses. In addition, trace elements can also be absorbed through the air we breathe or, in certain circumstances, in a workplace.

Many people take nutritional supplements for their own safety and to maintain health. Acute zinc poisoning can occur, for example, if excessively high doses of zinc are combined from different sources. Signs of this include nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and headache.

Serious alterations throughout the body only occur in the case of long-term overdose. They affect, for example, iron balance, immune activity, or fat metabolism.

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