Chelated minerals are specially formulated mineral supplements designed to improve absorption of these essential nutrients into the body. What makes a mineral a chelated compound is the bonding of the mineral to nitrogen and the ligand that surrounds the mineral and protects it from interacting with other compounds. Although chelated minerals are believed to be better absorbed within the body, studies have shown no significant difference between chelated and nonchelated forms.
The importance of minerals
Minerals are vital to health because they are the building blocks that make up muscles, tissues, and bones. They also are important components of many life-supporting systems and activities, and are important to hormones, oxygen transport, and enzyme systems.
Minerals participate in the chemical reactions that occur inside the body. These nutrients may work as cofactors or helpers. As cofactors, minerals help enzymes function properly. Minerals may also work as catalysts to initiate and speed up these enzymatic reactions.
Minerals are the electrolytes that the body needs to maintain normal body fluids and the acid-base balance. As electrolytes, minerals act as stop gates to control nerve signal movements throughout the body. Because nerves control muscle movements, minerals also regulate muscle contraction and relaxation.
Many minerals such as zinc, copper, selenium, and manganese act as antioxidants. They protect the body against the damaging effects of free radicals (reactive molecules). They scavenge or mop up these highly reactive radicals and change them into inactive, less harmful compounds. In so doing, these minerals help prevent cancer and many other degenerative diseases such as premature aging, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, cataracts, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes.
There are two kinds of minerals: the major (or macro) minerals and the trace minerals. Major minerals are the minerals that the body needs in large amounts. The following minerals are classified as major: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, sulfur, and chloride. They are needed to build muscles, blood, nerve cells, teeth, and bones. They are also essential electrolytes that the body requires to regulate blood volume and the acid-base balance.
Unlike the major minerals, trace minerals are needed only in tiny amounts. Even though they can be found in the body in exceedingly small amounts, they are also very important. These minerals participate in most chemical reactions in the body. They are also needed to manufacture important hormones. The following are classified as trace minerals: iron, zinc, iodine, copper, manganese, fluoride, chromium, selenium, molybdenum, and boron.
Why supplements are used
Recent studies have shown that mineral supplements are needed because most Americans don't get adequate amounts of minerals in their diets. More and more people now take chelated minerals daily to ensure that the body has enough of these nutrients to function properly. Many healthy people take minerals to boost their body's immune system and to achieve maximal levels of energy and mental alertness.
Treatment and prevention of diseases
People take individual minerals to prevent or treat certain diseases and conditions. The following are the benefits/uses of key minerals and the optimum daily intake (ODI) of each mineral. ODI is the amount most people require to function at their best level.
CALCIUM (ODI = 1,000–1,500 MG). Calcium supplements are commonly used for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis (a bone thinning disease). However, calcium supplements also provide other benefits as well. Studies have shown that calcium may also be effective in treating high blood pressure and relieving symptoms of leg cramps and arthritis. It may also prevent colon cancer.
Calcium supplements may be contaminated with lead, which is highly toxic. A study by the Department of Environmental Toxicology, University of California, Santa Cruz, indicates that for calcium supplements, chelation may be a bad idea. They found that non-chelated calcium supplements had lower levels of lead contamination than the chelated products.
PHOSPHORUS (ODI = 200–400 MG). Phosphorus is an important mineral in our body. However, because Americans often exceed their phosphorus requirements due to high consumption of sodas and meat, phosphorus supplements are neither necessary nor recommended. Excessive consumption of phosphorus accelerates bone loss leading to osteoporosis.
MAGNESIUM (ODI = 500–750 MG). Magnesium supplements have been used to promote healthy teeth and bones, treat muscle spasms, relieve premenstrual pain, and lower high blood pressure in patients with low magnesium levels. Magnesium has also been used to prevent premature labor and low birth weight.
ZINC (ODI = 22.5–50 MG). Zinc is one of the most frequently used supplements. A strong antioxidant, zinc protects the body against damaging free radicals and boosts the body's immune system. It helps heal burns and wounds, offers some protection against common infections such as colds or flu, and helps prevent cancer. It may be effective in the prevention and/or treatment of age-related macular degeneration (an eye disease), infertility, hair loss, anorexia nervosa (an eating disorder), prostate enlargement, and common skin problems like acne.
IRON (ODI = 15–25 MG FOR MEN; 18–30 MG FOR WOMEN) Iron supplements are most often prescribed to treat iron deficiency anemia. Iron is also used to increase energy and mental sharpness.
COPPER (ODI = 0.5–2 MG). Copper deficiency is relatively rare due to the abundance of it in natural food sources and in drinking water. Because of the potential risk of severe toxicity, copper is best taken as part of a multivitamin-mineral formula.
MANGANESE (ODI = 15–30 MG). Supplements of this trace mineral have been used to prevent cancer, to improve blood sugar control, and to treat arthritic symptoms.
CHROMIUM (ODI = 200–600 MICROGRAMS OR MCG). This trace mineral may help prevent or treat low blood sugar levels and diabetes. It may also offer protection against heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels.
POTASSIUM (ODI = 99–300 MG). Potassium supplements are most often prescribed to treat potassium deficiency caused by chronic diuretic use. Diuretics are products that make the body eliminate more urine.
Prevention of drug-induced side effects
Mineral supplements are used to prevent drug-induced mineral deficiencies. A mineral deficiency sometimes occurs after prolonged use of certain drugs. For example, patients who receive diuretics such as hydrochlorothiazide or furosemide for high blood pressure often have low potassium levels. The condition is so common that doctors routinely prescribe potassium supplements together with diuretics. Because high potassium levels are toxic to the body, patients shouldn't take more potassium than the doctor has ordered.
One major problem associated with mineral supplements has been poor absorption. Traditional forms of mineral supplements, the mineral salts, are very inexpensive. However, they don't absorb well into the body. Most of the minerals contained in these tablets pass right through the body and aren't absorbed into the blood.
Chelation has been used as a means of improving absorption of minerals from supplements, but the value of this method is limited at best. Generally, chelated minerals are not absorbed more than 5% more effectively than unchelated supplements. This minor benefit rarely justifies the higher prices charged for chelated products. The poor absorption of minerals is taken into account when the daily diet recommendations are developed, so that the recommended intake should be enough of the mineral to provide the levels that are actually desired.
People should remember several guidelines when using chelated mineral supplements.
- Mineral supplements are not substitutes for a healthy diet. In addition, they are not absorbed well by a malnourished body. Therefore, it is important to adhere to a low-fat, high-fiber diet. People should eat lots of fruits and vegetables and limit consumption of coffee, alcohol, red meat, processed foods, and foods high in fat or sugar.
- A naturopath or a nutritionist may recommend one or several individual supplements for short-term treatment for a specific mineral deficiency. However, if continued for too long, this may upset the mineral balance inside the body and cause deficiencies of other minerals. For general good health, it is best to use multiple vitamin and mineral supplements with the minerals in the form of chelates.
- Because of potential interactions between minerals (such as calcium, iron, or zinc) and other herbal supplements or medications, people should inform their doctor about all supplements they are taking.
- Unlike vitamins, minerals are easily over used and can become toxic. People should not take minerals at dosages far exceeding the recommended ODI.
The following are some of the adverse effects associated with high-dose individual mineral supplementation.
- Copper. Copper toxicity is a serious condition. Abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, general fatigue, headache, depression, insomnia, and poor brain function are some of the adverse reactions associated with copper toxicity.
- Fluoride. High fluoride levels in the body may cause stomach ulcers and increase the risk of bone cancer.
- Iron. Iron toxicity causes nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Too much iron in the diet has been associated with increased risk of infections and cancer.
- Zinc. Excessive zinc supplementation may cause copper deficiency, nausea, and vomiting.
- Potassium. Potassium toxicity can occur if a person takes more than 18 g of supplement per day. Symptoms of potassium toxicity include irregular heart beat, muscle fatigue, and heart failure.
- Selenium. Symptoms of selenium toxicity include hair loss, brittle fingernails, skin irritation, nausea, fatigue, garlic odor on the breath, and increased risk of infections.
Foods increase absorption of minerals. Therefore, mineral supplements should be taken with food for better absorption.
Minerals such as calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, copper, or zinc can bind to many drugs when taken together and can decrease their effectiveness. Therefore, mineral supplements should be taken two hours before or two hours after any of the following medications:
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American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. 601 Valley St., Suite 105. Seattle, WA 98109. (206) 298-0126. Fax: (206) 298-0129. <http://www.naturopathic.org>.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. NCCAM Clearinghouse. National Institute of Health. PO Box 8218. Silver Spring, MD 20907-8218. (888) 644-6226. Fax: (301) 495-4957. <http://nccam.nih.gov>.
Samuel Uretsky, Pharm.D.