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What Is the Difference Between Major & Trace Minerals?

By Sue Roberts, M.P.H., R.D.

Major and trace minerals are essential for growth and overall health. Every mineral has its own function, in addition to working together to support body processes. Minerals are classified as either major or trace, depending upon the amount required by the body. They play important roles in making proteins such as hormones and enzymes, healing wounds, forming teeth and bones, maintaining fluid balance, and other body functions.

Background

Major minerals are found in the body in amounts greater than 5 g, while the trace minerals exist in quantities less than 5 g. This difference in amount says nothing about importance, as all minerals contribute to essential bodily functions. A deficiency of a few micrograms of one mineral can be just as harmful as a deficiency of several milligrams of another. Both types of minerals are chemically indestructible.

Major Minerals

The major minerals include calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, sodium, potassium, chloride and magnesium. All of the major minerals play roles in maintaining body fluid balance, however each has unique functions, too. Calcium is essential for healthy bones, muscle contractions, blood clotting, hormone secretion and enzyme activation. Sodium, along with potassium, regulates body fluid volume. It also plays a role in muscle contraction, nerve transmission and helps to maintain acid-base balance. Magnesium is involved with energy production, muscle contraction, blood pressure regulation and heart and lung functioning. Magnesium is needed to help prevent dental caries by holding calcium in teeth enamel. Most of the body's phosphorus is found in the bones and teeth. but it also helps with energy production. Sulfur is needed as a component of some amino acids, the building blocks of protein.

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Trace Minerals with Known Requirements

The trace minerals, or minor minerals as they are sometimes called, include iron, zinc, iodine, selenium, copper, manganese, fluoride, chromium and molybdenum. Requirements have been established for each of these. Most body iron exists either as hemoglobin in the red blood cells or myoglobin in the muscle cells. Iron is needed by enzymes in order to make amino acids, collagen, hormones and neurotransmitters. Zinc is important for proper enzyme activity, immunity, body protein synthesis, taste, wound healing and reproduction. Iodine is part of the hormone thyroxine, which helps to regulate metabolism. Selenium is an antioxidant that helps to protect cells from oxidative damage. Copper is a component of hemoglobin and collagen. Manganese works together with enzymes that regulate different body functions. Fluoride helps to prevent dental caries. Chromium works together with insulin for energy production. Molybdenum is a component of various enzymes.

Trace Minerals with Unknown Requirements

Scientists know there are other trace minerals which are needed to support human life, yet the exact amounts required are still unknown. These include arsenic, boron, nickel, silicon and vanadium.

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