There are 16 minerals that are absolutely essential for human life. However, since we cannot synthesize them within our bodies, we must consume them. The major minerals within the body are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and magnesium. Then there are a series of trace minerals such as zinc, copper, chromium, iodine, selenium, manganese, and others. All of these minerals that are essential for life are derived from the earth. Bacteria in the soil break these minerals down, plants then take them up and humans subsequently eat those very same plants (or eat the animals that ate the plants). It is in this way humans obtain their minerals.
Minerals form the most important building blocks for the human body and play many roles from helping to develop and maintain strong bones, to transmitting nerve impulses and regulating heartbeat, to assisting in the production of hormones and enzymes. Minerals are so important that noted medical figures like Nobel laureate Dr. Linus Pauling suggested that every disease may well be traced back to a mineral deficiency.
How common is mineral inadequacy?
Even though we in the US are amongst the wealthiest people in the world, we don’t have the highest nutrient intakes. In fact, great numbers of us are not consuming adequate amounts of these essential minerals. There are many reasons for our low mineral intake including poor eating habits, industrialized farming methods, and soil depletion.
Sampling of current US mineral intake
Potassium: The recommended intake for potassium is 4,700 mg per day. However, the average person is only consuming roughly half that at 2,500 mg. Overall, fewer than 2% of US adults consume the recommended amount of potassium.
Zinc: The US NHANES III national survey reported that 35 to 45% of adults aged 60 and over had zinc intakes below the average requirement.
Magnesium: 64% of all men and 67% of women in the US have an inadequate dietary intake of magnesium.
Calcium: Only about ⅓ of Americans are estimated to consume adequate calcium, with females having even more inadequate intakes than males.
Anthropological approach: Are humans really suited for such a low-mineral diet?
Today scientists have documented the link between mineral deficiency and illness.
- In the case of potassium, several studies demonstrate that groups of people consuming low-potassium diets have more incidences of high blood pressure and heart disease.
- As for zinc, a deficiency can result in slow growth, loss of appetite, and impaired immune function. More severe zinc deficiencies result in hair loss, diarrhea, impotence, and eye and skin lesions. Sometimes weight loss, inability to heal wounds quickly, and taste abnormalities can occur.
- In the case of chronically low magnesium levels, associations have been found between magnesium deficiencies and diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, and osteoporosis.
- With calcium, low intake during childhood and adolescence will result in bones not being able to reach peak mass, which creates the possibility of developing osteoporosis in the future. One survey examining women in 12 countries identified a direct correlation between high calcium intake and low risk for osteoporosis. In Finland, where women consumed the highest amount of calcium, it was found that these women had a lower number of fractures. Meanwhile, in Japan, where women consumed the lowest amounts of calcium, the highest number of fractures were recorded.
As an anthropologist myself, I would say that humans are not biologically or genetically suited for a low-mineral diet. From an anthropological perspective we see that humans evolved in a very mineral-rich environment and that the low mineral intakes we are experiencing today are rather exceptional. As anthropologists have documented, our ancestral mineral intake was 2 to 8 times higher than it is today for most minerals. Potassium intake was estimated to be 10,500 mg a day, which is 4 times higher than our intake today. Iron intake was up to 8 times higher in the past and manganese intake was 4 times higher. The one exception is sodium, where today, to our detriment, we consume 5 times more sodium than our ancestors did.
A Simple Urine Test for Mineral Adequacy
Over the last three decades, while researching the best natural ways to maximize bone health, I have uncovered a very simple, low- or no-cost way to estimate your mineral adequacy. This simple procedure uses hydrion pH paper to test the alkalinity of the first-morning urine. By obtaining the urine pH we can estimate our mineral adequacy because the alkalizing compounds in the body that help the body become more alkaline are attached to minerals. So if you’re not able to alkalize the urine, it is more likely that you do not have adequate minerals in your body, particularly magnesium and potassium. For more details on the science behind this method see my book, The Acid Alkaline Food Guide or buy our Alkaline Diet Starter Kit which contains my book as well as some pH paper.
To conduct this test, simply obtain a roll of hydrion pH paper which measures between 5.5 and 8.0 on the pH scale. Tear off a few inches of this paper and wet it in your first-morning urine stream. Measure when you get up in the morning before drinking or eating anything. A reading of 6.5 to 7.5 suggests some level of mineral adequacy. If, on the other hand, the pH reading is less than 6.5, you would do well to enhance your mineral intake, particularly by increasing your consumption of foods high in magnesium and potassium. Magnesium supplements are also helpful. Using vitamin C in the form of a fully buffered L-ascorbate, or Alkalizing Minerals +also delivers minerals and alkalizes the chemistry of your body.