Minerals: The Keys to Metabolism Part 1 (The Enzyme Connection + Sodium and Potassium)
Updated: Oct 10, 2022
At any given second, your body has trillions of reactions occurring simultaneously . These reactions can break things down such as the carbohydrates you consumed or build things up such as creating new proteins or energy. However big or small the reaction may be, they all require additional proteins called enzymes to help the reaction function efficiently by speeding up or slowing down. When you shift a car into drive without your foot on the pedal, the car may start to drift but it will drift very slowly at no practical pace to get you where you need to go. To make this more efficient, a driver has to be present to decide whether to press the gas or the brake pedal. In similar fashion, enzymes function as the driver in order to keep up with demands of the body and allow these trillions of reactions to occur efficiently. But if we zoom out of this picture a little more, the driver would never have the option to press the gas pedal if the key was not in the ignition. Enzymes also require a key to kick start their reactions; these keys are known as cofactors.
Vitamins, minerals and ATP (energy molecules) are the most common cofactors for reactions. Research in recent years has highlighted minerals as the star of the show because even vitamins and ATP cannot be utilized or produced without minerals present. Deficiencies, suboptimal levels and imbalances of essential minerals have been strongly correlated with metabolic diseases and have been identified as predictors of future health outcomes [2,3].
There are 16 essential minerals (essential meaning they must be consumed from dietary sources): calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, zine, iodine, sulfur, cobalt, copper, fluoride, manganese and selenium. As the keys to metabolic health involved in thousands of reactions, it would be impossible to explain every critical role a mineral plays so instead, we will highlight the major minerals and emphasize how they may be impacting your metabolic health.
SODIUM + POTASSIUM
Sodium, in lay terms ‘salt’, is often wrongly demonized as the causative factor in hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes leaving most Americans cautious of consumption. But the evidence clearly proves salt is not the culprit and, in fact, most Americans are not consuming enough of it . On every one of the 37 trillion cells in the body, there are channels for minerals, nutrients and water to pass in and out of the cell. There are multiple different channels for different minerals but the presence of channels for sodium and potassium, known as the sodium-potassium pumps, are perhaps the most abundant and most important .
Potassium is primarily found inside of the cell (estimated around 99%) while sodium is primarily found in the bloodstream; together they function as gatekeepers of the cell for their specific pump. When sodium binds to the gate outside of the cell, potassium binds on the inside and together they unlock the gate to allow water to flow freely in carrying other molecules and nutrients with it. Once inside, minerals, water and nutrients can be transformed and utilized for energy production and transcribing your genetic material into instructional proteins for your body to know how to function.
Based on your consumption of sodium and potassium the body is able to regulate, excrete or reabsorb excess amounts via the adrenal gland. You may have heard mention of the adrenal gland before as it is commonly referred to as the ‘stress’ gland but it also is responsible for regulating blood pressure through management of sodium and potassium. When potassium levels are high, the gland secretes a hormone called aldosterone which tells the kidneys (where urine is produced) to not let any more sodium pass into the urine for excretion so it can be reabsorbed into the bloodstream and utilized; consequently it allows extra potassium through to be excreted in the urine to lower blood levels .
When the body is under stress, meaning the demands of the body are exceeding the resources available, the adrenal gland is put into action and therefore more aldosterone, alongside cortisol, is produced leading to higher retention of sodium in relation to the amount of potassium . High levels of cortisol interfere with a myriad of processes in the body but specifically interfere with the production of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) (two hormones required for ovulation) . A study assessed the impacts of salt intake on the stress hormone, cortisol, and demonstrated that liberal salt intake lowered overall serum cortisol levels . This suggests consuming adequate salt, especially during periods of stress, could reduce the burden and workload on the adrenal glands and reduce the risk for further metabolic complications involving the thyroid and reproductive system.
In part 2, I will be sharing more about calcium and magnesium, and in part 3, I will cover other minerals and the HTMA test.