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A lack of minerals means that there are not enough minerals that the body urgently needs. This can have far-reaching consequences, because without these minerals we cannot form blood and bones, our nerves cannot work and ultimately even our brain “starves”. A lack of certain minerals mainly affects certain groups: pregnant women, toddlers and children, for example, suffer from iron deficiency particularly frequently.
Iron plays an essential role in health, because without the vital trace element, many bodily functions would only work poorly. Iron deficiency is either due to the fact that we absorb too little iron, cannot process what is available, or that we lose blood. Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, the protein in the red blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to the body.
There are two types of mineral that play a role in the human organism: iron from animal sources on the one hand and iron from plant origin on the other. The former is more easily absorbed by the blood. Iron-rich foods include beef, liver, oysters, and dark leafy greens such as broccoli.
Anemia due to iron deficiency arises when we introduce too little iron into our diet. Typical symptoms are extreme fatigue and chronic fatigue. This is because the body cannot transport oxygen into the cells without iron, and without the oxygen there is no energy.
In addition, a lack of this mineral leads to an increased susceptibility to infections in those affected. If the red blood cells lack the iron, facial pallor occurs - the skin appears pale. The affected people appear to be bloodless, which is why the symptoms are misinterpreted as "vampire disease": However, they do not lack blood, but iron and oxygen in the blood.
The so-called restless legs syndrome (“restless legs syndrome”) also occurs. Those affected feel a tingling sensation in their legs that prevents them from sleeping. Iron deficiency is not a harmless affair. Without balancing it, it can lead to death.
Menstruation and pregnancy
In women of childbearing age, the main reason for iron deficiency is the loss of blood and iron due to heavy menstrual bleeding or pregnancy. Internal diseases that prevent iron absorption can also cause undersupply. Doctors usually treat this deficit successfully with iron supplements or create a nutritional plan.
In children, iron deficiency is typical of periods of malnutrition and a high need for iron during the growth phases. Breast milk and cow's milk contain small doses of the mineral, but this can be processed by the body in breast milk: infants absorb approximately half of the iron contained in breast milk, but only 10% of that in cow's milk.
The body needs zinc in many forms. The trace element is mainly found in protein-rich foods of animal origin: beef, pork and lamb provide more zinc than fish, beef contains the highest values and also a lot of vitamin B12 and iron. Vegetarians and vegans can use nuts, whole grains, cereal flakes and lentils. Fruits and vegetables, however, are not a good source.
The essential trace element is important for the absorption of nutrients, the hormonal balance, wound healing, healthy skin and hair growth, a functioning immune system, the functions of the eyes and above all cell division.
Zinc is particularly important for fertility, during pregnancy and during mammals - pregnant women, nursing mothers and babies are most at risk of not taking in enough of the mineral.
Magnesium is the eighth most abundant mineral on the planet, and the third most abundant in sea water. It is also the fourth most common mineral in the human body and is necessary for over 300 bodily functions.
It is essential for the biochemical reactions in the organism. This includes the muscles and nerves and a healthy immune system. Magnesium deficiency can cause problems such as disturbed nerve impulses, muscle contractions and muscle cramps.
Migraines and muscle weakness
Early signs of magnesium deficiency include physical and mental fatigue, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, headache. The danger is a long-term deficiency: this can lead to feelings of numbness in the arms and legs, muscle spasms and disturbances in the heart rhythm. An undersupply of magnesium is also a trigger for migraines.
A lack of the mineral can upset the metabolism so that the risk of a heart attack or stroke may increase. According to studies, higher levels of magnesium in the blood lead to a lower risk of heart disease.
Magnesium deficiency is generally due to inadequate nutrition. Nuts, green vegetables, seeds and whole grains contain good amounts of the mineral. However, vegetables can only store as much of them as the soil contains. Mineral water with a high magnesium content also helps to ensure an adequate supply of the substance.
Peeled white rice or white flour hardly contain any magnesium. Caffeine even ensures that the vital substance is removed from the body. Alcohol blocks the absorption of the mineral, and chronic alcoholism can even lead to a general lack of minerals. Intestinal diseases also cause the body to no longer be able to store the magnesium.
Copper is important for the bones and the nerves. A copper deficiency can therefore affect the body in many ways.
Even before birth, fetuses receive large amounts of copper from their mother's blood for storage in the liver. In this way, nature ensures the growth of the tissue, especially the red blood cells, the connective tissue, the brain and nerve tissue, before the baby can ingest the mineral itself through food.
The red blood cells
People with copper deficiency suffer from poor red blood cell function and poor red blood cell lifespan. The consequences are low energy levels, weakness and an insufficient intake of oxygen.
Thrombosis and bone defects
If there is a lack of copper, the collagens can form poorly, and the health of the tissue suffers as a result. Injuries heal more slowly. Thrombosis, bone defects, an increase in cholesterol are other possible consequences, as well as an irregular heartbeat.
Potassium is mainly present in the cells, more precisely in the spaces between the cells. In the rest of the body there is little of the mineral. Potassium and sodium control the body's water balance.
Potassium is essential to transmit impulses in the nerve and muscle cells, the mineral has a very special meaning because this also applies to the cells of the heart muscle. Without potassium, it cannot work.
We still need the mineral to build protein and start various enzymes. Converting carbohydrates into energy is also not possible without potassium.
Acne and bloating
If the potassium level in the body falls below 3.2 mmol / l, there is a potassium deficiency. It shows through exhaustion, concentration problems, nervousness and loss of appetite. There is also a sluggish bowel, bloating and constipation. Headaches such as dizziness and tired muscles are typical symptoms.
Wounds heal poorly, the skin dries out, acne spreads, and people have trouble urinating. Potassium is necessary for stable blood pressure, and blood pressure has a direct effect on the heartbeat.
Caution, risk of death
If we have less than 2.5 mmol / l potassium in the organism, this is no longer just uncomfortable, but can lead to death. Then the transmitters between nerve and muscle cells are out of action and the whole system collapses. The heart rhythm runs irregularly or too quickly, edema forms in the tissue. If you have heart disease before, it can mean the end.
Muscle weakness increases to paralysis, you lose consciousness and fall into a coma.
Inadequate nutrition can cause potassium deficiency: if you ingest too much salt and at the same time you eat too little potassium-containing food, this can lead to an insufficient supply.
Another cause is illness. Excessive vomiting and severe diarrhea can cause the body to stop taking potassium. An overactive thyroid also blocks potassium intake. When the thyroid produces too much hormones, there is an imbalance between the individual minerals in the body, including potassium.
Diuretics (water tablets) and laxatives should also be mentioned as possible triggers.
Phosphorus is the second most common mineral in the body. If there is a deficiency, this is reflected in weak bones and brittle teeth, general weakness, loss of appetite, fatigue, joint pain, confusion and high susceptibility to infections. Almost every area of the body can be affected because phosphorus can be found in practically every cell in the body.
In the long run, such a deficiency can lead to serious diseases: osteoporosis, arthritis, decayed teeth and periodontitis.
Muscle weakness, muscle loss and muscle damage, as well as neurological damage go hand in hand with prolonged phosphorus deficiency.
A phosphorus deficiency can also lead to calcium loss in the bones. The bones become porous - the disease is called osteoporosis. The bones lose their mass and break.
A deficit in phosphorus can be observed in liver failure, as well as in liver cell transplants and kidney transplants. Sometimes the cause is an overactive parathyroid gland or drugs such as antacids.
Adults should consume between 700 and 1250 milligrams of phosphorus daily, depending on their age, children between 500 and 1250 milligrams. A deficiency can be compensated for by preparations, but also by foods that contain a lot of phosphorus. These include dairy products, wheat bran and walnuts.
A lack of iodine can have serious consequences. In newborns, this includes mental damage, hearing loss and growth disorders, a congenital goiter, miscarriages and stillbirths. In children it damages the development of the brain and the growth of the body, hearing defects often occur.
In young people, this can result in a young goiter, the risk of developing atherosclerosis and the structure of the thyroid gland can change. Problems with learning and reduced memory are typical phenomena.
An iodine deficiency in adults can lead to an imbalance in the thyroid, either to an underactive thyroid - or an overactive one.
If the thyroid gland becomes ill as a result of a lack of iodine, then this is shown by the feeling of having a "frog in the throat", those affected feel pressure and tightness in the throat, breathing is difficult and swallowing problems occur. The neck circumference increases significantly, which is colloquially referred to as "thick neck".
Patients suffer from sleep disorders, are unable to concentrate and are permanently tired. They have digestion problems, their skin changes, becomes dry or moist, and their hair falls out.
A global problem
Iodine deficiency is one of the most common health problems worldwide. Around 2 billion people are exposed to it. In Europe alone, more than 390 million citizens are tormented by the consequences.
Germany is not an explicit iodine deficiency area, but in this country too many people do not get enough iodine. Almost a third of people have an enlarged thyroid here.
That doesn't threaten their lives, but hormonal disorders go hand in hand. The costs for therapies and diagnoses of iodine deficiency in Germany amount to about one billion euros per year.
Selenium is a trace element that we get from food. Plants get it from the earth. It strengthens our immune system and helps build proteins. However, the amount of selenium in the soil is falling, and this is due to climate change.
Without selenium, the activity of our heart suffers, heart failure and heart attacks are a possible consequence.
Oxygen, carbon and clay
How much selenium is formed depends, among other things, on the oxygen content, carbon and clay in the soil, and also on the pH value. Northern European countries such as Denmark, Finland, Scotland and Germany are poor in selenium.
Swiss researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute for Water Supply, Wastewater Treatment and Water Protection have now examined the global amount of selenium using 33,241 soil samples taken between 1994 and 2016.
They came to the conclusion that the relationship between climate and soil is crucial for the concentration of selenium. Precipitation and evaporation are essential. A lot of rain washes away the soil and thus the selenium.
However, the equation of a lot of rain and a little of selenium is not true, because soil soaked in rain contains less oxygen and a lower pH value, and so the selenium remains bound to the soil.
Selenium loss of nine percent
By the end of this century, the amount of selenium in around 66% of all agricultural areas will decrease by nine percent. Europe, South Africa, the western United States and southern South America are most severely affected. According to the study, selenium deficiency already affects a billion people.
To date, however, it has not been clarified what exactly causes an insufficient supply of the mineral. There is also no verifiable information about how much selenium a person should consume.
Selenium deficiency is generally recognized as a cause of diseases of the bones, cartilage and joints. The muscles also decrease, muscle weakness follows.
In Kashin-Beck disease, which is characterized by deformed joints on the arms and legs, scientists discuss selenium deficiency as a possible cause. An infection with the Coxsackie virus or a genetic disposition are also possible.
Some evidence suggests that selenium deficiency indirectly provokes various muscle and nerve disorders. It does not directly cause damage, but the deficiency makes the brain more sensitive to neurotoxins.
Selenium deficiency probably also reduces sperm motility, because the enzyme glutathione peroxidase 4 is dependent on the trace element and in turn ensures the quality of the sperm.
Undersupply could also affect the immune system and may also promote liver necrosis. Conversely, the supply of selenium can prevent the death of liver cells.
Selenium strengthens blood cells from oxidative stress, and conversely, selenium deficiency promotes anemia.
Sodium is salt, and low blood sodium is medically called hyponatremia. The substance is mainly found in body fluids outside the cells.
The salt is very important to stabilize blood pressure. In addition, nerves, muscles and other body tissues need sodium to function.
Water in the cells
Without a sufficient amount of sodium in the body fluids, water flows into the cells to balance the level. This in turn causes the cells to fill up too much with water, and the brain cells in particular are sensitive to such swelling. Complaints are the result.
Sodium deficiency in the diet is associated with blood pressure problems, heart attacks, kidney problems and diseases of the hypothalamus. They are all serious damage to the organism. Symptoms of a lack of care include diarrhea, excessive sweating and vomiting.
Enemas and medications that counteract high blood pressure can lead to a lack of sodium. The same applies to blood loss - which is why not only water, but also a saline solution is important for the wounded.
Other possible causes include kidney disease, heart failure, cirrhosis of the liver and the effects of chemotherapy for cancer.
Competitive athletes, especially marathon runners, may be deficient in sodium if the fluids and electrolytes they lose while exercising are not adequately replaced.
Manganese is also a trace element. If we don't eat enough of it with food, then there will be a deficiency. This occurs relatively rarely, compared with, for example, an iodine deficiency.
The cause of an insufficient supply of manganese is usually a general malnutrition or an organic problem in processing the mineral from the food. Likewise, certain substances in the food can displace the manganese when the body absorbs them.
As an undersupply of manganese is mostly due to general malnutrition and malnutrition, people in industrialized countries are particularly often affected who suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa (anorexia), alcoholism or substance abuse.
Homeless people, Hartz IV recipients, impoverished pensioners or people in nursing homes are also at risk. In nursing homes in Germany, however, it is hardly due to a lack of opportunities to eat, but rather to the unwillingness or inability of those affected to eat.
Not able and not wanting
For example, people who have had chemotherapy, suffer from severe pain, take certain medications or suffer from specific illnesses often eat too little or too little nutritious food.
Diseases such as phenylketonuria in turn mean that patients cannot eat enough manganese from their diet.
Circumstances that promote deficiency are: growth in adolescence, smoking, disorders of protein metabolism.
How does a lack of manganese express itself?
An undersupply of the trace element leads to loss of appetite and weight loss, it can go hand in hand with reduced fertility, delay or damage growth.
Deformations of the skeleton and a reduced bone density are symptoms as well as increased bone fractures.
Affected people are susceptible to infections, their blood clots poorly, and they often suffer from diseases of the nervous system such as cramps.
Whether manganese deficiency is the cause of forms of schizophrenia cannot be adequately proven, but there are indications.
If insufficient care has been diagnosed by a doctor, manganese tablets and a change in diet help to balance the trace element.
However, if gastrointestinal diseases or the said phenylketonuria are the cause, then these diseases must be treated, for example with medication. Those affected should consume enough manganese daily and permanently.
Early symptoms are nervousness, irritation and constant exhaustion.
A lack of boron could affect bone formation, especially the structure and strength of the bones. An undersupply with the trace element also known as “boron” affects the calcium and magnesium balance. This reduces the body's ability to absorb these minerals.
People who suffer from a boron deficiency increasingly excrete calcium in the urine, which is then no longer available to the body.
A lack of boron may also cause kidney stones to form as a result of high levels of magnesium and calcium in the blood.
A lack of boron presumably also causes damage in cognitive development and problems with learning and storing information, because boron is considered a “brain nutrient”, ie a substance that supports attention and even short-term memory.
The mineral plays an essential role in integrating calcium into the joints and thus prevents arthritis. So people with a boron deficiency are more likely to suffer from arthritis. (Somayeh Khaleseh Ranjbar, translated by Dr. Utz Anhalt)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
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ICD codes for this disease: E61ICD codes are internationally valid encodings for medical diagnoses. You can find yourself e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.