Health is linked to, and the result of, a diet that has a high nutrient content. Foods have both macronutrients and micronutrients.
- Macronutrients are water, carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Apart from water, the macronutrients provide energy, as calories or kilojoules.
- Micronutrients do not provide energy, but are essential components of foods for health. They include vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and the various phytochemicals. Phytochemicals refer to a wide variety of compounds produced by plants. These chemical compounds occur naturally in plants (phyto means 'plant' in Greek). They include antioxidants, flavonoids, carotenoids, polyphenols, and anthocyanidins (see my January 2010 newsletter Phytochemicals).
There are various definitions of trace elements.
- In analytical chemistry, a trace element is an element in a sample that has an average concentration of less than 100 parts per million, measured in atomic count, or less than 100 micrograms per gram.
- In geochemistry, a trace element is a chemical element whose concentration is less than 1,000 parts per million or 0.1% of a rock's composition.
- In biochemistry, a trace element is a dietary mineral that is needed in very minute quantities for the proper growth, development, and physiology of the organism.
Thus, a trace element is a micronutrient, and in biology, any chemical element required by living organisms in minute amounts, usually as part of a vital enzyme or a cell-produced catalytic protein, is referred to as a 'trace element'. Trace elements are essential for many physiological and biochemical processes in the body.
Trace elements include:
Most people who consume a balanced diet, especially one that is nutrient dense, meet the daily requirements of trace elements from their food. The following is a brief overview of these trace elements.
Iodine is essential for normal thyroid functioning and the development of the nervous system. Long-term iodine deficiency can lead to goitre (enlarged thyroid gland) and/or hypothyroidism (under active thyroid).
Discussion of this important trace element is set out in my July 2012 newsletter Iodine and Heath.
This trace element is a powerful antioxidant, helping the body deal with free radicals, and helping to prevent the damage that they cause.
Details of this necessary trace element can be found in my May 2013 newsletter Selenium, and more information about free radicals is set out in my January 2007 newsletter Free Radicals - Antioxidants.
Iron is essential to all body cells. It is part of haemoglobin in the red cells of the blood, and is responsible for the transportation of oxygen by the blood. It is also part of myoglobin in the muscles, where it accepts, stores, transports and releases oxygen in the muscles. Iron functions primarily as a carrier of oxygen in the body.
The amount of iron in the body is such that it often referred to a mineral rather than a trace element.
A detailed description of iron in the body is set out in my April 2008 newsletter Iron. This details why we need iron, the symptoms of iron deficiency, types of dietary iron, the metabolism of iron, recommended dietary allowances and the dietary sources, especially for vegetarians.
Zinc plays a central role in growth and development, and is found in virtually every tissue of the human body. It is an essential element, necessary for sustaining all life. Zinc has a crucial role in some 200 or more enzymes. These enzymes depend on zinc to work properly. It is also essential for the body to be able to make many hormones. It is essential for human health.
Details of this important trace element, including the symptoms of deficiency and food sources, are set out in my January 2009 newsletter Zinc.
Copper is widely distributed in the body. It is involved in a range of essential processes such as the formation of haemoglobin, red cells and bones. It is also involved in the formation of elastin and collagen, making it essential for wound healing. Copper and zinc absorption are closely related. Copper protects the body from heart disease.
My January 2013 newsletter Copper and Health explores this essential trace element.
Chromium plays a key role in processing fats and carbohydrates. Sufficient chromium levels are needed for the effective working of insulin, and hence the control of blood sugar in the blood.
Chromium is found in small amounts in most foods. Good sources of chromium include whole-grain breads and cereals, potatoes, mushrooms and seafood. Full details about this trace element are found in my September 2010 newsletter Chromium in Health and Disease.
Strontium is chemically similar to calcium and therefore it can replace calcium to some extent in various biochemical processes in the body. This includes replacing a small proportion of the calcium in the hydroxyapatite crystals of calcified tissues such as bones and teeth. Strontium in these crystals imparts additional strength to bones and teeth.
Strontium-rich foods, and their role in preventing and reversing osteoporosis, is discussed in my October 2012 newsletter Healthy Bones (Part 1) - Strontium for Bone Health.
Boron is an essential nutrient for all green plants and is present in all plants. Boron is essential for the integrity and function of cell walls and for the way signals are transmitted across membranes. It is also essential for healthy bones and joint function, by regulating the absorption and metabolism of calcium, magnesium and phosphorus via its influence on the parathyroid glands.
Dietary sources of boron and its role in bone health are detailed in my October 2012 newsletter Healthy Bones (Part 2) - Boron for Better Bones.
Trace Elements are minerals that are needed by the body in very small amounts for health.
*Copyright 2013: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material in the huntlycentre.com.au website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.
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