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Minerals: The Keys To Metabolism Part 3 (Trace Minerals and Oxidative Stress)

Updated: Oct 10, 2022


Free radicals are ions or molecules circulating your body with a free oxygen attached providing a negative charge [15]. A negative charge means it is not stable and has the ability to freely bind to something with a positive charge to neutralize it or attack and destroy. These molecules develop as a by-product of reactions and, to some degree, is a normal physiological part of the aging process [15]. What becomes harmful is when excess amounts of free radicals are circulating throughout your system binding to your tissues, lipids and proteins causing damage or complete destruction. You may be familiar with certain foods termed as antioxidants such as blueberries, this is because they contain the properties (vitamins and positive charges) to bind to these free radicals and neutralize them [16]. When neutralized, they no longer have the ability to bind to your cells and cause harm. When there is a significant imbalance in the amount of free radicals (or pro-oxidants) and the presence of antioxidants, the body enters a state of oxidative stress [15,16].

Copper, manganese, selenium and zinc are required cofactors (helper molecules) of antioxidants to protect your body against these free radicals [15,16]. Conversely, iron functions as a pro-oxidant mineral [15]. This does not mean iron is a scapegoat because iron is still required for crucial functions in the body such as thyroid hormone production, glucose, lipid metabolism, and normal cellular functioning [14]. It only serves as a reminder that too much of a good thing can be bad and not enough of a good thing can also be bad.

Oxidative stress is not only caused by inadequate consumption of mineral rich, antioxidant foods; it can also be caused by air pollution, x-rays, cigarette smoke, injury and exercise [15]. Significant endurance training has been shown to increase stress and deplete minerals as more energy is required from the mitochondria (in the form of ATP which also uses up magnesium) creating excess free radicals as a by-product [15]. With repetition and without appropriate replenishment, this can be a major driver of oxidative stress. Additionally, heavy metals such as cadmium and lead can enable the production of free radicals [14,15]. These toxic metals can be found through pollution in the environment but also are present in deodorants, water, hair dyes and dental products [14]. The more free radicals produced, the more these essential minerals are being pulled from other functions in the body in an attempt to neutralize this oxidative stress.

I know this has been a lot of information so let’s try to bring it all together and connect the dots. Let’s say you are someone who struggles to manage your blood sugar and frequently consumes carbohydrates without adequate protein. Because of this, you utilize a lot more magnesium to attempt to manage the blood sugar-insulin response at a cellular level. You also utilize significant zinc in order to produce insulin and make the cell more sensitive to it. Simultaneously, you happen to be training for a half marathon (hence the high carbohydrate load). Because of the high endurance training, you require a lot more ATP (energy molecules) which utilize even more magnesium but also creates more free radicals as by-products in the process. Before the big race, you were due for your hair appointment and decided to go with a balayage which exposed you to more toxic metals such as cadmium.

Your diet is not rich in magnesium or zinc and you don’t replenish with sodium and potassium sufficiently after your long runs despite your body’s high demand. Your magnesium and zinc are being used up quickly to manage your blood sugar and create energy that you no longer have any stores to combat the toxic free radicals created from your hair dye. Not only did the cadmium from your hair dye create more free radicals but it’s replacing zinc stores in your tissue decreasing the amount of antioxidants you have to fight this growing oxidative stress. Because of this significant mineral depletion, your cells are struggling to be sensitive to hormones such as insulin and thyroxine while your adrenal glands are taxed trying to keep up with sodium and potassium imbalances. While independently none of these circumstances appear to be harmful, together they are depleting your minerals and creating symptoms and diagnosis’ in line with subfertility, insulin resistance and hypothyroidism. Of course this may not be your story, but maybe you can now start to zoom out on your life and identify areas you now realize may be depleting your minerals and creating metabolic stress.

It is difficult to diagnose a mineral deficiency with regular serum blood work as minerals are constantly in action and some are primarily contained in the cell, such as potassium and magnesium rather than outside which is representative of serum blood work. Sometimes, mineral blood work can also be seen as within normal limits but maybe within normal limits is not optimal for what your body needs based on environmental factors, internal stressors and genetics. Waiting to take action until your blood serum levels suggest a metabolic link means your cells have been fighting to maintain homeostasis for some time and are now already depleted to the point of exhaustion.

Fortunately, Hair Mineral Testing Analysis (HMTA) has become more accessible in recent years and has been shown to be able to provide a snapshot of your mineral status averaging the previous three months with the added benefit of identifying toxic metals and ratios of minerals. Minerals all work synergistically: sodium cannot open the cell gates alone without potassium, vitamin D cannot be utilized without magnesium and copper, calcium is not released from the bone without magnesium. Because of this, looking at highs or lows of a mineral level does not provide an accurate picture of metabolic status; rather looking at the ratios of minerals together can show imbalances towards trends for a more accurate predictor of metabolic health.

Diet culture glorifies macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) as a predictor and preventer of disease and health. But macronutrients without essential micronutrients are only as beneficial as a car drifting in neutral.


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