Supplement Savvy: Minerals
Many individuals mindlessly down vitamin and mineral supplements like candy. Many people don’t realize that supplements of any kind interact with various health conditions, medications, herbal supplements and even one another. Furthermore, taking megadoses (very large amounts) on a regular basis can be toxic to your body. That’s why it’s important to consult a physician or registered dietitian before choosing your supplement regimen.
Iron is the most common deficiency in the world; the U.S. is no exception. This doesn’t mean that everyone should be taking an iron supplement; too much can be toxic. Red blood cells count on iron to carry oxygen throughout your body. If you have too little it can result in fatigue, dizziness, weakness and pale skin. A blood test can indicate if you have iron-deficiency anemia. The first step to correct this condition is to increase iron-rich foods like red meat, chicken, green leafy veggies and beans. Sometimes the deficiency calls for iron supplements. Taking iron pills without getting tested for deficiency, or taking numerous supplements with iron can result in iron overload—this can lead to liver damage.
Calcium is most known for helping to strengthen bones, but it also helps with muscle contractions (including the heart), blood clotting and a healthy nervous system. Not getting enough calcium over years can lead to osteoporosis or brittle bones. Most folks need 1,000 milligrams per day. A registered dietitian can determine if you’re getting in the recommended amount of calcium by looking at what you eat. Here are 10 ways to add more calcium in your diet through food. If a supplement is needed, a variety are available that range from pills to chewable pieces of chocolate.
This mineral is found in every cell in our bodies. It helps heal wounds, form bones and protects cells from free radical damage. It’s also involved in taste perception and helps vitamin A do its job. Scientific studies show mixed results on the effectiveness of taking zinc to help fight the common cold but more research is needed at this time. Zinc is commonly found in protein-rich foods like seafood, meat, poultry, dairy foods, whole grains and fortified cereals. Low levels of zinc can sometimes occur in pregnant women, young kids, older individuals and vegetarians. Taking more than 40 milligrams per day can be fatal; supplements are recommended only with the approval of a health professional.
This antioxidant mineral helps protect cells from being damaged. It’s also involved in immune function and hormone metabolism. Since there’s plenty of zinc found in vegetables and grains, deficiency is rare. Too much selenium, however, can lead to toxicity with symptoms like an upset stomach, white blotchy nails, hair loss and possible nerve damage. Taking very high doses or taking selenium supplements over a long period of time can increase the risk of developing type-2 diabetes and can even increase the risk of death.
Bottom Line: Although most mineral supplements are readily available over the counter, taking too many can be extremely dangerous. It’s best to get your minerals from food unless you suffer from a serious deficiency. Consult your doctor or registered dietitian to know when a supplement is right for you.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »