Minerals - as essential as vitamins
Many minerals are just as essential to human health as vitamins are. They are required for a range of metabolic processes. The most important minerals are:
Any mineral that constitutes less than 0.01% of body mass is known as a "trace element".
Minerals regulate water and electrolytes, vascular tone and the functioning of the nerves. They are also essential to the various body's muscular processes. Trace elements in particular are important as a component of enzymes.
Calcium constitutes around 1kg of body mass, and is the most abundant mineral in the body. 99% of the body's calcium is found in the skeleton, and is therefore essential for the development of an optimal bone structure. Thus, calcium has long been the focus of research on treatments for osteoporosis, a bone-wasting disease. In addition, calcium is an important factor in the coagulation process of blood and is needed in balance with other minerals for the proper functioning of the muscles.
Magnesium is found in relatively low quantities in the body; around 20-30g, but is used in a variety of processes such as energy-producing metabolic reactions in which ATP and ADP are involved. Magnesium also helps regulate the normal function of the central nervous system. As an antagonist of calcium, magnesium prevents the overload of calcium in the cell mitochondria, a vital mechanism for the heart muscle. Along with calcium and phosphorus, magnesium plays a role in the formation of bones and teeth.
Potassium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body. This element is antagonist of sodium and important in regulating of the acid-base balance. Various cellular enzyme systems are dependent on the potassium balance and it plays a small role in orthomolecular medicine.
Phosphorus is found in quantities of around 700g in the body, and in terms of volume is the second most abundant mineral. Many common food products such as cheese, sausages and soft drinks are known to contain a large amount of phosphorus. Therefore, a deficiency in this mineral is rarely observed in the modern day, so phosphorus plays no significant role in orthomolecular medicine.
Sodium in the form of salt (sodium chloride) was formerly a scarce and highly valued raw material. Today, salt is available cheaply and in huge quantities, and is commonly used as table salt and in processed foods. Often, salt is consumed in considerably excessive quantities, leading to a range of potential health complications. The German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommends a salt intake of 5-6 g per day, however in practise around double that amount is consumed by Western Europeans. Sodium does therefore not play a role in orthomolecular medicine or as a dietary supplement.