Vitamins and Minerals Part IV: Major Trace Metals

Trace Metals - SalubriousUIn the first three installments of this series, I covered B-complex Vitamins, Vitamin C and the Fatties, and Electrolytes, respectively.  In part IV, I’m going to focus on three essential trace metals: copper, iron, and zinc.  Unlike certain nutrients, these trace minerals cannot be produced, or synthesized, in the body.  Although they are only needed in small quantities, they are needed throughout one’s lifetime for the body to function properly.  Additionally, these three trace metals have an interesting relationship in that taking too much of one may cause a deficiency in another, as they compete for absorption in the body.

(*Note: This information can be found in many forms.  Throughout the following series I will be referencing information found in Vitamins and Minerals – A Basic Guide by Karen Sullivan, but there are plenty of great sources of this information online and elsewhere.)

(**Note: I include sections which foods are good sources of each vitamin.  This DOES NOT mean that I am recommending you eat those foods specifically.  Those just happen to be some of the foods that contain a significant amount of the vitamin or mineral in question.)



Copper – CuTrace Metals - SalubriousU

U.S. Safe adequate intake: 2-3 mg

Copper is an essential trace mineral and is necessary for the act of respiration–iron and copper are required for hemoglobin to be produced in red blood cells.  Copper is also essential for the production of collagen, which is responsible for the health of our bones, cartilage, and skin.  Copper is one of the antioxidant minerals, which protect against free-radical damage.  Most copper is not obtained from fresh foods, but from copper pipes (water), cooking utensils, and ironically, from questionable sources, such as processed foods, birth control pills, cigarettes, and pollution, particularly from automobiles.

  • Necessary for production of adrenal hormones
  • Helps in iron absorption
  • Necessary to maintain blood vessels and connective tissues
  • Necessary for the production of energy
  • Antioxidant
  • Maintains nerve fibers
  • Essential for the utilization of vitamin C
  • Makes tyrosine usable, which produces skin and hair color
  • Regulates cholesterol
  • Inactivates histamine

Deficiency symptoms: Anemia, edema, skin pigmentation problems, hair problems, hemorrhaging, irritability, and loss of taste

Goods sources: Avocados, animal livers, molasses, whole grains, shellfish, nuts, fruit, oysters, kidneys, legumes

Therapeutic uses: Anemia, rheumatism, arthritis, some cancers, and energy problems

Special notes:

  • Excess intake, i.e. 10 mg, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, muscular pain, depression, irritability, nervousness, and dementia, but toxicity is low and very rare
  • Eating a good diet will preclude supplementation
  • Children are at higher risk of copper poisoning and it is recommended that all supplements be kept out of their reach
  •  Supplements that do not contain copper can cause a deficiency by providing nutrients that compete with copper for absorption, such as zinc.  Zinc and copper should not be taken at the same time (take them some hours apart instead), unless in a well-balanced form
  • Supplementation can lower the levels of zinc in the body and cause insomnia; however, therapeutic use of copper can be undertaken by a trained nutritionist who will take these side effects into account



Iron – FeTrace Metals - SalubriousU

U.S. R.D.A. (Recommended Daily/Dietary Allowance): 15 mg (women); 10 mg (men)

Iron is an essential trace metal.  It is a component of hemoglobin and myoglobin molecules–the hemoglobin in red blood cells transports oxygen from the lungs to body cells and returns waste carbon dioxide from the cells to the lungs.  The myoglobin in red muscle tissues transports oxygen into the tissues for energy storage.  Iron is also a component of certain metabolic enzyme and iron in the body that is not used is stored in the spleen, bone marrow, and liver.  Iron-deficiency anemia, which is the condition most commonly associated with deficiency, was described by Egyptian physicists as long ago as 1500 B.C.E.  Today, more than 500 million people around the world suffer from this condition.  On average, women lose about twice as much iron as men, and therefore women are most often iron deficient.

  • Necessary for production of hemoglobin and certain enzymes
  • Necessary for immune activity
  • Required to supply oxygen to the cells
  • Required by the liver
  • Protects against some free radicals

Deficiency symptoms: Anemia, growth problems, some forms of deafness, pallor, tiredness, breathlessness, and reduced bone density

Goods sources: Liver, kidney, raw clams, cocoa powder, beans, dark chocolate, shellfish, nuts, pulses, broccoli, red meat, egg yolks, molasses

Therapeutic uses: Anemia, hearing loss, menstrual pain, restless leg syndrome, growth problems, poor resistance to infection, fatigue

Special notes:

  • Toxicity is rare, but excess iron can cause constipation
  • Like copper supplements, keep iron supplements away from children
  • Ferric iron, and inorganic form, will destroy vitamin E (ferrous iron, an organic form, is best)
  • Consuming caffeine drinks with, or within an hour of, a meal can inhibit absorption of iron by up to 80 percent
  • Only about 8 percent of iron taken orally will actually be absorbed by the bloodstream
  • Copper, cobalt, manganese, and vitamin C are required for iron to be used by the body, and should be taken at the same time
  • Women with heavy menstrual periods will require iron supplements, as may pregnant and lactating women



Zinc– ZnTrace Metals - SalubriousU

U.S. R.D.A.: 15 mg

Zinc is one of the most important trace metals and elements in our diet, and it is required for more than 200 enzymes activities within the body.  This mineral is the principal protector of the immune system and is crucial for the regulation of our genetic information.  Zinc is also essential for the structure and function of cell membranes.  Mild zinc deficiency is very common and may cause a number of conditions, including male infertility, low birth weight, and teenage acne.

  • Needed for male fertility and improves male sex drive and testosterone levels
  • Required for hormones, immunity, growth, energy metabolism, hemoglobin
  • Zinc is necessary for storage of insulin
  • Transports carbon dioxide
  • Necessary for prostaglandin synthesis
  • Necessary for the synthesis of collagen
  • Necessary for vitamin A metabolism and distribution
  • Detoxifies alcohol
  • Prevents cancer
  • Prevents blindness associated with aging
  • May help to protect against the degenerative effects of aging
  • Antioxidant

Zinc rocks.  And is found in rocks.

Deficiency symptoms: White spots on fingernails, skin rashes, poor hair growth, skin problems, abnormal hair loss, acne, anorexia, depression, irritability, mental illness, underfunctioning sex glands, lethargy, infertility in men, poor growth in children, slow wound healing, and impaired sense of taste and smell.  Zinc supplements may help to lower the risk of cancer, boost brain power, and balance blood sugar.  Zinc is also necessary for the sense organs that provide hearing, vision, taste, and smell.

Goods sources: Oysters, offal (organ meats), meat, mushrooms, seeds, nuts, eggs, whole grain products, brewer’s yeast

Therapeutic uses: Male infertility, acne, anorexia, mouth ulcers, viral infections (including the common cold), herpes, postsurgically, sickle-cell anemia, tinnitus, thyroid function, immune problems, arthritis, ulcers, growth problems, cancer, allergies, alcoholism

Special notes:

  • Zinc is generally thought to be nontoxic, although at very high doses (~225 mg) it can be
  • Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding will have increased zinc requirements
  • Chronic illness, surgery, wounds, and infections require extra zinc in order for healing to take place
  • Drinking tea or coffee in the same meal as zinc-rich foods or supplements can inhibit its metabolism
  • Zinc deficiency may also be high in those taking the contraceptive pill, or taking iron or folic acid supplements
  • The best forms of zinc are zinc citrate, zinc gluconate, zinc picolinate, and zinc monomethionine

I personally prefer oysters though :)



So that’s it for these three major trace metals.  Since they compete for absorption, supplementation can be tricky and many multivitamins don’t provide a good balance, which is no bueno.  Otherwise, they aren’t commonly lacking in a mindful diet unless you personally meet one of the aforementioned criteria (i.e. pregnant, lactating, and aggressively menstruating women, men with low libidos, anemic individuals, and those who take in excessive minerals that may compete for absorption like copper and zinc.)

Make sure you’re getting enough zinc for those entering cold and flu season!  Take care of yourselves–it’s a jungle out there ;)

About Cael

Cael holds academic degrees in Supply Chain and Information Systems, Spanish, and Global and International Studies. He is a Certified Professional [Life] Coach (CPC), a Certified Weight Loss Coach (CWLC), a certified TESOL/TEFL educator, and a professional clairvoyant and healer. He is an avid researcher, autodidact, and self-experimenter. His areas of interest and study include bioenergetics, metaphysics, game theory, parapsychology, vocal performance, massage therapy, poetry, and lifestyle design.

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