Our bodies need vitamins and minerals to function. If we don’t get enough, we develop deficiencies. And getting too much of certain vitamins and minerals can be just as dangerous.
In our last post, we looked at 13 vitamins that are needed for optimal brain health. In this post, we’re going to look at 9 minerals our brains need to function optimally. But first, what exactly are minerals?
What Are Minerals?
Minerals are essential nutrients that our bodies and brains need to function. Since they are usually measured in milligrams or micrograms, minerals are considered micronutrients. Nutrients that we need in large quantities (proteins, carbohydrates, and fats) are called macronutrients.
All of the minerals our bodies need are elements that can be found on the periodic table. We are not able to produce them ourselves, so we must get them through what we eat and drink. The five major minerals we need are calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and phosphorus. All of the others are called trace elements since we only need small quantities of them.
Minerals For Optimal Brain Health
This mineral plays a number of important roles in the human body and brain. Calcium is needed for proper muscle, digestive, and heart health, to build bone, to create blood cells, and for proper nervous system function.
In the brain and the rest of the central nervous system, calcium helps cells to communicate with each other. It lets neurons (nerve cells) know when it’s time to release certain neurotransmitters, chemicals that send messages throughout the body and brain.
Calcium can be found in a number of foods including dairy products, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, and canned fish. Hypocalcaemia is the name for calcium deficiency and can cause muscle spasms, seizures, numbness, confusion, and even cardiac arrest. Too much calcium is called hypercalcaemia and can cause weakness, depression, confusion, kidney stones, abdominal pain, and heart problems.
Potassium is a mineral that has several roles in the body and brain. It is essential for proper fluid and electrolyte balance. And like calcium, potassium helps neurons to communicate with each other.
Potassium can be found in a variety of foods including potatoes, tomatoes, beans, lentils, seafood, dairy products, sweet potatoes, bananas, prunes, oranges, and carrots. Not getting enough potassium can result in hypokalemia, another name for potassium deficiency. Symptoms can include fatigue, weakness, leg cramps, constipation, and abnormal hearth rhythms. Interestingly, the symptoms of hyperkalemia or excessive potassium are very similar.
Low potassium levels are associated with high blood pressure and heart problems. To maintain healthy blood pressure, it’s important to keep potassium levels balanced with our next mineral, sodium.
This mineral plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy blood pressure. Along with potassium, sodium helps the body to regulate this important vital sign. Sodium also plays a role in how neurons communicate, although in a less direct manner than calcium.
The main dietary source of sodium is table salt. This abundant seasoning is made up of equal parts sodium and chlorine. Sodium can also be found in some foods like spinach, milk, and sea vegetables.
Sodium deficiency is called hyponatremia. Symptoms can include headaches, difficulty balancing, nausea, confusion, seizures, and coma. Having excessive sodium levels is called hypernatremia and can result in twitching, confusion, and bleeding around the brain.
This mineral is involved in a number of biochemical reactions in the human body. Magnesium is involved in protein synthesis, blood glucose levels, blood pressure regulation, and nerve function.
A variety of foods contain magnesium including nuts, seeds, spinach, legumes, whole grains, avocado, and peanut butter. Magnesium deficiency, also known as hypomagnesemia, can cause muscle spasms, tremor, loss of appetite, personality changes, and nystagmus.
Excessive magnesium is called hypermagnesemia and symptoms may include confusion, weakness, slowed breathing, and decreased reflexes. However, slightly increasing magnesium intake may actually improve brain function. A 2009 study showed that taking magnesium could enhance learning and memory.
This mineral is involved in several biological processes including bone formation, macronutrient metabolism, and defense against free radicals. Manganese is also important for brain function and plays a role in neurotransmitter release.
Manganese is found in nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, tea, coffee, and leafy vegetables. Deficiency can cause skeletal deformation, slow the healing of wounds, and may affect mood.
Manganism is another name for manganese poisoning. This condition, caused by excessive manganese intake, can cause a variety of psychiatric and motor problems resulting in mood changes, irritability, and compulsive behaviors.
This is an trace mineral that is absolutely essential for optimal brain health. Zinc is involved in numerous metabolic processes. It plays a role in immune function, wound healing, protein synthesis, DNA synthesis, and cell division.
Zinc is found in a number of foods including red meat, oysters, poultry, whole grains, nuts, and dairy products. In the brain, zinc plays a key role in learning and synaptic plasticity. Maintaining proper zinc levels is crucial for regulating how the central nervous system – including the brain – functions.
Deficiency can cause a wide variety of symptoms including skin, nail, and hair problems, oral ulcers, swelling of the tongue and mouth, impaired immune function, diarrhea, loss of appetite, depression, behavioral changes, and decreased testosterone production in men. Too much zinc, on the other hand, can cause vomiting, nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and decreases the body’s ability to absorb iron and copper.
When we think about this mineral, we usually think about blood. That’s because iron is an essential component of hemoglobin which is found in red blood cells. But iron also plays a variety of roles in the brain.
Iron is absolutely needed for normal brain function because it is involved in oxidative metabolism. It’s also a cofactor in the creation of several neurotransmitters and myelin. These neurotransmitters include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. They play a role in everything from mood to motivation, anxiety to appetite.
Iron is found in a number of foods including many breakfast cereals, oysters, white beans, dark chocolate, liver, lentils, spinach, and others to a lesser degree. Deficiency in this mineral is somewhat common. In fact, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world. Also known as sideropaenia, iron deficiency can eventually lead to anemia. This condition can causes weakness, shortness of breath, confusion, increased thirst, and pale skin.
This is an essential trace mineral that serves a number of purposes in the human body. One of iodine’s main functions is to create the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones are necessary for the body and brain to produce several important neurotransmitters.
One of these neurotransmitters is gamma-aminobutyric acid, better known as GABA. Without proper thyroid function, GABA production could be affected. This neurotransmitter is found throughout the body and helps you to relax. Drugs like Valium, Xanax, and Ativan work by binding to GABA receptors in the brain.
Iodine can be found in seaweed, some fish, yogurt, milk, bread, shrimp, and other foods. Deficiency can cause a variety of problems including low thyroid hormone levels, goiter, and intellectual disability.
This is the last essential element on our list of minerals for optimal brain health. Like the others on this list, copper has a number of important functions in the human body. It is involved in making several neurotransmitters, energy production, connective tissue repair, and neuropeptide activation.
Copper is involved in the production of several neurotransmitters including dopamine. It also helps to create myelin and new blood vessels in the brain. Additionally, copper is needed for normal synapse development. Synapses are the spaces between nerve cells with which they use to communicate with each other.
Copper is found in beef, oysters, sesame seeds, baking chocolate, potatoes, cashews, and many other foods. Deficiency is rare in humans. But when it happens, symptoms include high cholesterol, anemia, osteoporosis, bone defects, and increased risk of infection.
As you can see, our bodies and brains need a variety of minerals to function optimally. If you read our last post, you know that we also need a number of vitamins, too. Fortunately, the planet provides us with all the vitamins and minerals our bodies need through a vast selection of fruits, vegetables, meats, and other foods. However, sometimes it can be hard to get all of these essential nutrients through food alone.
If you eat between 5-10 fruits and vegetables a day, regularly consume seafood and red meat, and often snack on nuts and seeds, you’re probably already getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. But if you’re like most people in the US, UK, Canada, and several other countries, you could probably benefit from taking a multivitamin everyday.
Multivitamins aren’t meant to replace eating a balanced diet. But for those of us who don’t always get as much variety in our diets as we probably should, taking a multivitamin ensures that we don’t develop any nasty deficiencies.