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The Importance of Minerals to Health

by David E Marsh(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 48 - January 2000

Before biological life was to emerge, to swim in the nurturing nutritious primordial broth, minerals had been around for a long, long time, having been born in the thermo-nuclear furnace of a star. In that sense, our bodies are made from particles of star dust. Apart from (perhaps) our DNA, they are the only part of our physical presence we can be sure of leaving behind: a few pounds of minerals and trace elements. (Trace elements are also minerals but present only in tiny particles and tiny amounts in our soil, water and food – sometimes only a fraction of a part per million.)

World agriculture

At a time when we have just begun to get our minds around the 43 or so "essential nutrients", we are now informed there may be some 40 more: many of which, unless we were familiar with the list of the so called 'periodic elements', we barely knew existed.

The story of the trace element selenium illustrates the still unfolding mystery of the significance of minerals. Before 1957 selenium was not considered important in the diet. But now we know it's essential.

When genes replicate they are always producing incorrect copies of DNA. However, we have a 'DNA correction unit' which destroys inaccurately replicated DNA. This process involves a certain enzyme reaction which requires selenium in order to function. If there's not enough selenium available, the unit shuts down and allows faulty DNA to be released into the system. Selenium deficiency is now linked with cancer (as are vitamins A,C,E, essential fatty acids, zinc and other minerals). Many soils in different parts of the world are deficient in selenium (Se).

There are said to be over 7,000 enzymic processes involved in body metabolism, many of them requiring minerals and trace elements.

This article is about why minerals are essential, where they are found and how they find their way into our bloodstream. In England and Wales today, statistically 8 out of 10 of us can expect to die of either heart disease or cancer, it is perhaps as good a time as any to consider the subject in some of its colourful detail.

When our tiny bit of broken-off star cooled, and water eventually covered the earth, this primordial soup in which life first formed, was rich in minerals. When dry land appeared, and life emerged, the mineral and nutrient-rich environment provided the building blocks of life and helped power evolution. Much later, when animal life made its entrance, the soils were rich in minerals. Now after thousands of years of weathering, farming, cropping and grazing, most of the minerals have been removed and washed back to the oceans.

Two hundred years of industrial food refining has made the problem worse. What few minerals survive the above processes are often removed from the plate, not least through our practice of chopping and boiling food and discarding the water.

Three of the great nutritional pioneers of this century, Lady Eve Balfour, founder of the British Soil Association; the American dentist and researcher Weston Price,[1] and British medical research doctor Sir Robert McCarrison[2,3] all spoke at length about the importance of minerals, in soils and the food chain.

Today, the rapidly growing organic movement is happily beginning to get the attention it deserves. With roughly 7,000 industrial chemicals in regular use, the demand for unpolluted food and drink cannot be met. Less often mentioned by writers on organic produce is that it often contains more nutrients: vitamins, minerals and trace elements – without genetic modification. Well organically-manured soil provides the minerals and trace elements that plants can take up and use (they cannot make their own), rendering them stronger to fight disease. The ensuing food from such crops will, as McCarrison stated 60 years ago, be a more complete food for the humans and animals that eat it.

Livestock breeders understand cribbing, a disease that causes animals to chew the wooden doors or hayracks of their stalls.

Pregnant ewes will lick clay, as human mums are sometimes known to eat coal, or children may lick paintwork. All these types of unusual behaviour are caused by a (subconscious) craving for the minerals that wood, coal, clay and paint contain. Farmers frequently put mineral salt licks in the fields for their animals: minerals also get added to their feed. Animals are therefore a good source of minerals (animal feed has often a better mineral spectrum than baby food). Vegetarians have to be more careful in food choice in this regard, or they will suffer from anaemia caused by iron deficiency, or any number of different mineral and trace mineral deficiencies.

Human mineral availability is being questioned following recent discoveries of deficiencies connected with cancer, certain types of heart disorder and cystic fibrosis. Deficiencies are seen most often in bone problems such as arthritis and osteoporosis. Examples can be seen in older people losing several inches of height as calcium is leached out of the bones; either: (i) through not getting enough calcium in the diet; (ii) ingesting it in unassimilable forms; (iii) not having the other minerals (including magnesium, selenium, boron, actinium) and vitamins (e.g. vitamin D) necessary for its healthy uptake and metabolism; (iv) adverse drug effects; or (v) a diet too high in salt, fibre or protein.

A current leader in the mineral field, possibly the most vociferous, and certainly the most academically stimulating, is a highly qualified veterinary surgeon of thirty years practice, who re-qualified as a doctor of naturopathic medicine, which he practised for ten years. Dr Joel Wallach's veterinary work included the discovery of selenium deficiency heralding the onset of cystic fibrosis in animals. He went on to propose a model for the onset of cystic fibrosis in humans. It was for this work he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1991.[4] Wallach is a latter day Gayelord Hauser, having the additional benefit of decades of scientific training and experience in agriculture, veterinary and human medicine.

Wallach is now a nutritional consultant, lecturing worldwide, addressing some 300 audiences annually, in addition to having his own weekly radio programme in Palm Springs, California. His scientific papers, books and collaborations with his Chinese surgeon wife Ma Lan[5] will put most learned commentators at ease. His somewhat combative approach may not suit everyone, but he can be seen as coming directly from the stables of Balfour, McCarrison and Weston Price.

Plant, or colloidal minerals (colloidal refers to size – with a diameter of less than 0.0002 cm) are small enough to be absorbed into our digestive system. Minerals are often present in food in larger particles, particularly in pill type supplements, but many of these cannot be absorbed.

Current debate centres on: (i) how many of the 78 known minerals are essential to human health and maintenance (60 have been found in human blood and are known to be needed in the diet on a regular basis; (ii) what is the best way to get them on a regular basis and (iii) in what form.

So first, what's essential? A hundred years ago the body was believed to consist of 14 elements, ten of them minerals: phosphorus, sulphur, calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, fluorine, silicon and iron.

By 1950 copper, manganese, zinc and cobalt were found to be essential, followed shortly by molybdenum, then selenium (1957). 1975 saw the inclusion of fluorine and silicon (after they had been deleted from earlier lists); boron followed a few years later.

In 1962 new guidelines were established re-defining 'essentiality'. These placed elements in to the following four categories:

(i) Main (or constituent);
(ii) Integrating (essential);
(iii) Facultative (partly essential or beneficial);
(iv) Indifferent (or negative).

Under this new classification, previously unresearched elements are now being examined. This has already resulted in the discovery that depletion of trace elements can occur both in embryonic development and post-natal periods. Deficiencies of trace elements in sucklers were discovered in animals being suckled by mothers running trace element deficiencies. Human milk contains 60 trace elements including aluminium, bromine, vanadium and nickel, which were previously considered unimportant.

So the list grows. Professor GN Schrauzer[6] admits that 'since the number of essential or beneficial trace elements may be much larger than is presently assumed, the claim that we need 90 nutrients for health can be rationalised'.

There are many different ways in which minerals and trace elements can be obtained. Traditional fish and seaweed eating cultures such as the Japanese would get their supplies from their diet. Mountain dwellers obtain their minerals from water and food. Organic gardeners obtain theirs through using good organic manure such as seaweed manure, leaf mould, ground volcanic rock, etc.

Mineral baths and spas, with highly mineralised water, were once widely used as mineral sources in Europe. How many cures at Lourdes may have stemmed not just from faith alone, but by the mineralised water drunk by pilgrims there, containing micro-nutrients their bodies may have been starved of for decades?

Many people today rely on supplements, in pills, powders or liquids. Sources include ready made drinks, as in organic vegetable and fruit juice. Seaweeds; blue/green algae such as chlorella and spirulina, and rigorously tested aphanizomenon flos aquae are also good sources of many trace elements.

Vitamin and mineral supplements have now become a big industry (on which the pharmaceutical giants have their sights). Yet speculation continues concerning the bioavailabilty and absorption of some of the varied preparations now on the market.

In a recent article Prof. GN Schrauzer[7] explains how "bioavailability has been defined as 'the proportion of the nutrient in food that can be absorbed for use and storage; absorption as the physiological processes which facilitates transport of nutrients from the intestinal lumen to the body fluids and tissues'[8]".

Schrauzer continues: "Since bioavailability is a prerequisite of absorption, solid supplements must be soluble in the stomach fluid. Most supplements are formulated to meet this requirement, but along with their increasing complexity, this is difficult to achieve.

"In liquid supplements, vitamins and minerals are already dissolved and thus immediately bioavailable. The liquid supplements usually are also acidic; specifically, they are formulated to contain citric acid, ascorbic acid and other substances which increase bioavailabilty of minerals, i.e. carbohydrates (glucose, lactose), amino acids (arginine, lysine, etc) vegetable gum, peptides; emulsifying agents. Solid vitamin-mineral preparations instead contain inert exipients and are usually buffered so as not to cause gastric discomfort on ingestion, although this may reduce mineral bioavailabilty."

Schrauzer goes on to describe how "active transport systems have evolved to ensure absorption of minerals and vitamins; some require specific carrier proteins and co-factors".[9] "Carrier proteins," he explains, "are often highly specific; but in the case of metals, the same carrier can bind several different metals with similar ionic radii and charges" (when a molecule or atom becomes electrically charged, it is known as an ion). He describes how "absorption occurs mainly by diffusion and is a non energy-dependent process; the driving force is the concentration difference of the ion between the two sides of the membrane".[9]

This may interest researchers of biomagnetic medicine, whose attention has been focused on treatments for cancer, in association with nutritional medicine. It is easy to forget that electricity has been used for less than a century. As all nutrients are transported within the body as ions, on electrical circuits, our domestic and work-place electromagnetic environments (EME) could be significant. For EME may be a co-factor, more deeply involved in our contemporary plague of cancers than is realised. Rates of oesophagus, colon and rectal cancer are currently increasing.[10]

The widespread use of electricity affects our living environment in so many ways today that we ignore this at our peril. Ring-wiring in houses, electrical gadgets such as televisions, computers, microwave ovens, electric blankets and mobile telephones, to take but a few examples, all affect our immediate electromagnetic environment and possibly the ionic charges of our cells.

In the late 18th century, the Societé Royale de Medicine in Paris oversaw scrupulous research into medical aspects of magnetism. This was the society which condemned Mesmer's concept of animal magnetism (and rejected him as a member). They concluded in 1777 after three years' research that `the magnet will one day play as important a role in medicine as it does in physics'. Two hundred and twenty odd years later it looks increasingly as if the wheel will turn full circle.[11]

References

1. Price Weston. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. Price Pottinger Nutrition Foundation Inc, P.O. Box 2614, La Mesa, CA 92041, USA. 1945 (11th printing1982).
2. McCarrison Robert. Nutrition and Health. 1953, McCarrison Society reprint, 1982.
3. Professor M.A. Crawford, PhD., CBiol; FIBiol; FRCPath; Chairman, The McCarrison Society for Nutrition & Health, Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, University of North London, 166-222 Holloway Road, London N7 8DB. UK.
4. Wallach JD. Cystic Fibrosis: A proposal of Etiology and Pathogenesis. Workshop on Model Systems for the Study of Cystic Fibrosis. N.I.H., Bethesda, Md. May 25 –26, 1978.
5. Wallach, JD and Lan Ma. Let's Play Doctor! Happiness Publishing Co. 1993.
Wallach, JD and Lan Ma. Rare Earths, Forbidden Cures. Happiness Publishing Co. 1996.
Wallach, JD and Lan Ma. Dead Doctors Don't Lie. Happiness Publishing Co. e-mail: wvnpintl@aol.com. 1999.
6. Professor Emeritus G. N. Schrauzer of the Biological Trace Element Research Institute, San Diego, USA.
7. Schrauzer; G. N. An Evaluation of liquid vitamin-mineral supplement technology. Journal of Medical Food. 1(3). 1998.
8. Bender AE. Nutrient availability: Chemical and Biological aspects. In Southgate D, Johnson I and Fenwick GR. Eds. Meeting of the Royal Society. Cambridge, U.K. 1989.
9. Serfaty-Lacronniere C, Rosenberg IH and Wood RJ. The Process of Mineral Absorption. In Berthon, G; Handbook of Metal-Liquid Interactions in Biological Fluids. Marcel Dekker Inc; New York. Vol 1, Part 3: pp322-330. 1995.
10. Professor E. G. D. Tuddenham, MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, Imperial College School of Medicine, Du Cane Road, London W12 0NN.
11. Marsh DE. Magnetic and Energy Medicine; Science or Science Fiction? Adam & Eve Publishing; 15 Argyll Mansions, London. 1999.

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About David E Marsh

David Marsh trained initially in agriculture (Shuttleworth, Cranfield) with ten years experience farming in Bedfordshire. He moved to human nutrition and co-authored The Driving Force; Food in Evolution & the Future18 (1989) – later Nutrition and Evolution19 (1995), with Professor Michael Crawford (Inst. Brain Chem. & Human Nutrition, Imperial College London). He has since written broadly (for Resurgence, Positive Health, Healthy Eating, Nutrition and Health amongst other publications) about nutrition, evolution, environment and integrated medicine, including a series in the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine on energy or vibrational medicine. This article is of particular interest to the author as it brings his special interests in nutrition and food production together in full circle. The Origins of Diversity: Darwin's Conditions and Epigenetic Variations. Nutrition & Health 2008. Editor of McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health newsletter, and various articles with it, and for the society's Journal Nutrition & Health. Currently working on a new book on evolution. Occasional lecturing on the History of evolution theories. Michael Crawford & David Marsh's forthcoming book The Brain Under Siege is set to be published 2020. David can be reached at contact@davidmarsh.org.uk  www.davidmarsh.org.uk

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