It seems that most of what you read about nutrition focuses on the big five nutrients – protein, fat, carbohydrate, water, and vitamins. There are all the debates about what are “good” and what are “bad”, make sure you drink your eight glasses of water, oh no my doctor just told me I’m Vitamin D deficient! Outside of calcium for our bones we do not hear a lot about the sixth classification of macronutrients – minerals. I’ve decided to devote the next couple of articles to them. We’ll start today with the minerals most important for bone health – calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Just a quick back primer on why minerals are important to us. First, they assist the body in energy production – minerals contain no calories or energy. They work with vitamins and enzymes to fuel all your metabolic processes. We do not make minerals so they must come from the earth and what we eat. Unfortunately, due to soil conditions in much of the country, many of the minerals have been depleted, so they are not as readily available in the food we eat.
Calcium is one of the most talked about minerals and for good reason. It supports strong bone structure, teeth, and muscle tissue, aids in blood clotting function, supports cardiovascular and nerve functions, and helps in normal functioning of many enzymes. We often hear about it in conjunction with osteoporosis. Everyone needs more calcium to build their bones, so everyone is throwing down a whole bunch of calcium supplements. Well, there are a couple of problems.
First off – is the biggest problem with this strategy. While it is true that we need calcium to build our bones, it is one of 18 nutrients that are required. And let’s get a little better understanding of how our bones work. They are constantly breaking down and rebuilding. What happens in osteopenia and osteoporosis? The breakdown process occurs, but the bone does not rebuild. Why? One reason is the lack of the other nutrients required to build bone. Medications are designed to slow down the breakdown process and subsequent bone density scans will show more bone. Unfortunately for many people, it is weak bone and still may fracture. There are many other resources you can go to read more on this.
Second – most of the calcium in supplements is not very absorbable for our bodies. We need to be able to utilize the calcium we take in. One of the more absorbable forms of calcium is Calcium Lactate.
What else contributes to our calcium shortages? Would you believe soft drink (soda) consumption? The reason is that phosphorus is added to them. Phosphorus and calcium need to be in a specific relationship in our body. So, when we take in excessive phosphorus and don’t have sufficient calcium intakes, our body must take it from a storage location. You guessed it – the bones!
The best sources of calcium are of course from food. It is also a misconception that this has to come from milk. Leafy green vegetables are a great source of calcium. For calcium choose: bone meal, cheese (best are Cheddar, mozzarella, and Swiss), collard greens, flaxseed, liver, milk, molasses, mustard greens, sesame seeds, spinach, turnip greens, wheat germ and yogurt.
We are bombarded with messages about the importance of calcium for our bones. Well, without phosphorus all the calcium in the world will not do you much good. In fact, it may cause harm if there is too much calcium and not sufficient phosphorus. Phosphorus is the second key mineral by content in our bones. It supports healthy bone formation, energy production, cell growth and repair (remember blood cells are made in our bones), collagen synthesis (that’s what helps make the bone), cardiovascular function, and nerve and muscle activity. It is a key part of calcium and sugar metabolism.
What happens when the calcium to phosphorus ratio is out of balance? Too much phosphorus and less calcium cause the body to pull calcium out of its storage spots and we get teeth and bone erosion ultimately leading to osteoporosis. On the reverse, too much calcium and not enough phosphorus causes excess calcium in the tissues. This leads to things like kidney stones, cataracts, and arthritis.
Food sources of phosphorus include almonds, brewer’s yeast, eggs, fish (halibut, salmon), glandular meats, lean beef, lentils, liver, milk, peanuts, poultry, pumpkin seeds, wheat bran, and yogurt.
Phosphorus is supporting many body systems including the circulatory, digestive, liver, metabolic, nervous, kidney, and most important the musculoskeletal.
Magnesium is certainly one of the most important minerals to the body. It is the third most important mineral for bone health. Magnesium supports normal acid/alkaline and blood pH balance. Are you in balance? A quick way to check is to get some pH paper and check your saliva and urine. Saliva pH should be around 7.4.
Magnesium aids in enzyme activation. Enzymes make everything happen in the body! It helps metabolize blood sugar and produce cortisone. Keeping your blood sugar levels under control is the key to health! Another important role of magnesium is to support healthy nerve and muscle function. It works with calcium to keep the nerves firing and the muscles moving! It is involved in nerve signal transmission, muscle contraction, and heart rhythm. Keeps the heart beating! And along with calcium and phosphorus it assists in forming bones and teeth. It is one of the 18 nutrients critical to bone health.
As you can see, this is definitely something we need to consume! Magnesium is found in artichokes, beans and seeds (black, green, navy, pinto, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower), cashews, broccoli, organ meats, seafood (halibut, salmon, shrimp), spinach, Swiss chard, and tomatoes.
Manganese may be one of those minerals that you’ve never even considered for how important it is for the human body. While calcium gets all the attention regarding bone health, manganese is also very important for bone formation. In fact, there are 18 different nutrients required for the body to build healthy bone.
Manganese is also important in the formation and activation of enzymes that metabolize oxygen, carbohydrates, amino acids, and cholesterol. And perhaps even more critical is that manganese is required to detoxify our body from any naturally produced ammonia. Ammonia is poison to the body, so it must be removed.
The blood, liver, immune, musculoskeletal, nervous, and reproductive systems all utilize manganese.
There are lots of food sources of manganese. It is prevalent in nuts and seeds (almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts), legumes (garbanzo beans, green peas, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans), grains (brown rice, wheat germ, oats, rye), vegetables (beets, broccoli, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes), cloves, liver, nutritional yeast, pineapple, and raspberries.
Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. His office is in Thiensville. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (262) 389-9907 or go to www.brwellness.com.