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Know your minerals and deficiency signs
January 1st, 2020 + The Naturopathic Co.

Minerals interact with each other and impact absorption levels. Deficiencies can cause a multitude of issues, particularly to growing bodies (infants, childhood growth spurts, adolescents).

Mineral deficiencies have been linked to impaired growth, cognitive ability, lowered immune function, and behavioral changes, making it so important to be aware of dietary intake and ensuring a balanced food intake across all food groups.

Any suspicion of deficiency should be investigated and nutritional levels restored.

Below are a list of some minerals, how they interact with each other, and good dietary sources.


Iron is one of the most abundant elements in the earth’s crust, yet it is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies worldwide. It is also essential to every human cell. Iron-containing proteins carry or store oxygen for the body to use for many metabolic processes. The body creates approximately 10 billion red blood cells per hour, and they die off at relatively the same rate.

The average adult contains 3-4 grams of iron. Absorption takes place in the duodenum and is transported across the mucosal barrier into the blood where it circulates bound to transferrin.

Dietary intake of iron can be in both haem or non-haem form, however the haem form (animal products and meats) has higher bioavailability. The use of proton pump inhibitors (antacids) greatly inhibits absorption.

Conditions that degrade the duodenal mucosa often lead to iron deficiency, such as coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease, Colitis, and cancer.

Low iron stores can impair growth, cognitive ability, behaviour, resistance to infection, and hormone balance. Fatigue is the most common symptom of iron deficiency. However other symptoms are palor/paleness, hair loss, dizziness, shortness of breath, restless legs, and palpitations.

Consumption of vitamin C alongside iron-rich foods aids the absorption.

Good dietary sources of iron: almonds, apricots, avocado, liver, oysters, parsley, pine nuts, soy beans, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, chicken, red wine.


More than half of the body’s magnesium is located in the bone, another third is found in muscles and soft tissues. It is second only in abundance to potassium. It plays an important role in almost every metabolic and biochemical process in the body (energy metabolism, protein synthesis, glucose and insulin metabolism, and over 600 enzymatic reactions in the body).

Dietary factors significantly impact magnesium absorption. Very high fibre diets have been found to lower magnesium absorption (due to phytates binding to the mineral). Very high protein diets, very low protein diets, excessive exercise, high alcohol intake, and highly processed diets can also all negatively impact the body’s ability to absorb magnesium.

Low magnesium states can precipitate losses in potassium and calcium, leading to electrolyte imbalance. Symptoms of low magnesium can include depressive moods, tiredness, muscular spasms, and weakness.

Good dietary sources of magnesium: almonds, cashews, cod, eggs, figs, kelp, leafy greens, legumes, parsnips, soy beans, wholegrains.


Manganese occurs naturally in the earth’s crust. It is a necessary co-factor for several important enzymes which are required for processes that regulate development, energy metabolism, digestion, immune function, wound healing, thyroid function, and reproduction.

The highest concentrations of manganese are found in the liver, kidneys, pancreas, bone, thyroid gland, and brain, due to the high energy demands of those tissues. Manganese is absorbed through the intestinal wall via the same transporters as iron, and so the bioavailabilty of manganese is affected by dietary iron levels. Other minerals that compete with manganese absorption are calcium and zinc.

Manganese is mostly obtained from legumes, whole grains, nuts, and rice, however only about 3-5% of ingested manganese is absorbed.

There is an association between low manganese levels and impaired cognition, depressive symptoms, impaired growth, poor bone formation, and altered carbohydrate metabolism.

Good dietary sources of manganese: almonds, avocado, beans, broccoli, carrots, coconuts, corn, kelp, legumes, liver, olives, organ meats. oysters, pecans, sunflower seeds, walnuts.


Potassium plays an important role in electrolyte balance, blood pressure regulation, the metabolism of glucose and insulin, and is also involved in muscular, neuronal, metabolic, and cardiac systems.

Fatcors that affect an individual’s potassium needs include their level of exercise, the climate (exposure to high temperatures), fluid levels (vomiting, diarrhea, excessive sweating) and electrolyte balance. There is a link between high-protein/salt intake and low potassium, which may lead to bone demineralisation or kidney stones.

Good dietary sources of potassium: apricots, avocados, bananas, citrus fruit, dates, nuts, parsley, potatoes, raisins, sunflower seeds.


Zinc is the second most abundant mineral in the body – second only to iron. Zinc has important regulatory roles in the body such as DNA replication, maintenance and repair, growth and reproduction and immune regulation. Zinc is mainly absorbed via the intestines.

Dietary factors that influence zinc requirements include the amount of fibre ingested, life stage, and health status. Zinc absorption is higher in diets high in animal protein, and vegetarian requirements may be higher due to higher fibre intake and phytates binding to the mineral.

Those at risk of zinc deficiency are vegetarians, severely underweight, high alcohol intake, the elderly, those with gastrointestinal pathologies, and sexually active men. Extra zinc is also required during times of rapid growth, infection, and pregnancy.

Zinc deficiency may result is loss of smell, altered taste, poor appetite, diarrhea, skin rashes, alopecia, delayed wound healing, night blindness, and skin lesions.

Unlike most minerals, zinc is not stored in a dedicated location. In the presence of a zinc deficiency, copper absorption becomes heightened, and high intakes of iron or calcium can also interfere with absorption.

Good dietary sources of zinc: beef, capsicum, egg yolks, ginger, liver, lamb, oysters, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, seafood.


Copper is required as a cofactor in many critical enzyme reactions and in its crucial role as a potent antioxidant. Copper is involved in the detoxification of free radicals in order to minimise oxidative stress on the body.

Copper absorption takes place mainly in the stomach and small intestine, and after this, copper can be taken up from the blood by other tissues.

Excessive zinc may deplete copper stores. Low dietary copper may decrease the absorption of iron. The highest levels of copper are found in the liver and the brain, followed by the heart, kidney, pancreas, and spleen.

Deficiency is rare, however it can occur due to high zinc intake, malabsorption, or malnutrition. Deficiency can cause bone and connective tissue disorders, vision loss, and poor wound healing. Lower levels of copper has been linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Alzheimer disease, and other conditions linked to oxidative stress.

Good dietary sources of copper: shellfish, avocados, beans, broccoli, chocolate, mushrooms, pecans, pork, prunes, seeds, whole grains, and organ meats.

Yvette is a qualified Melbourne-based Naturopath and Nutritionist, MINDD Practitioner, member of the Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia, and Complementary Medicine Association. Yvette specialises in the treatment of conditions commonly affecting women and children, with a key interest in children’s digestive and neurological conditions, as well as women’s hormonal concerns, digestive issues, fatigue, anxiety, and skin concerns. Yvette consults in South Yarra, Melbourne, as well as Australia-wide via skype/zoom/phone. 


The Naturopathic Co. Melbourne Naturopath 2020

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