Trace Minerals and Your Health

5 min. read

Written by:

Almost daily, there’s some new research paper or report being released touting the benefits of having adequate amounts of minerals in your diet. By now, everyone has been alerted to the problems caused by having a diet low in such minerals as calcium and iron. Even trace minerals like zinc and iodine play a major role in your health. Now, the importance of so-called “ultra-trace” minerals has come to light.


One particular ultra-trace mineral has been in the news lately—selenium. It has been shown in many studies both in this country and abroad to either totally prevent, or at least delay the appearance of cancer. Some studies have shown overwhelmingly that those patients with either low blood levels or diets low in selenium had proportionately greater incidence of cancer of the ovary, breast, prostate, rectum, colon, esophagus, stomach, liver, lungs and lymphatic system.

The selenium contained in most foods is a direct result of the soil content where they were grown. Most soil is now lacking selenium, and as a result typical selenium consumption in the US is now estimated at around 100 mcg daily. However, before you head for the nearest health food store in search of a selenium supplement, let me give you a few more details.

Selenium can become toxic. Most authorities don’t recommend over 250 mcg daily. The first signs of toxicity are the breath, urine, and sweat taking on a garlic-like smell. Other signs and symptoms include yellow skin, hair loss, liver and kidney dysfunction, diabetes, and a metallic taste in the mouth.

It’s possible to get enough selenium in your diet without having to take a selenium supplement. As you’ll find with most trace and ultra-trace minerals, seafood is one of the very best sources. Eggs, mushrooms, whole grains, organ meats, and dairy products are also good sources, but the best source by far is Brazil nuts.

Since the soil of the Amazon is selenium-rich and the home of most Brazil nut trees, the nuts are loaded with selenium. The researchers found that you can increase the selenium levels of your blood 100 to 350 percent safely and almost immediately, by eating six Brazil nuts daily. Other nuts are excellent sources for beneficial fats and trace minerals, but none come close to Brazil nuts for selenium. In testing 12 different nuts that included acorns, almonds, pecans, pistachios, et cetera, Brazil nuts had 2,500 times the selenium as did the others!

The wide range of cancer protection selenium provides makes it important that we all eat varied diets containing seafood, whole grains, etc. A selenium-containing multivitamin that contains at least 50 mcg is also in order. And, if you subject yourself to increased cancer risks (smoking, excess alcohol, chronic constipation, etc.) or if you have a personal or family history of cancer, a selenium supplement in the range of 100 mcg to 200 mcg daily might be something to consider.


Another ultra-trace mineral that has been receiving an increased amount of popularity lately is boron. A new animal study has indicated that the amount of boron in the diet is directly related to the calcium content in the bones of the spinal column (vertebra). Researchers found that by increasing dietary boron they could increase the calcium content which resulted in stronger bones.

In another study, postmenopausal women were first fed a low boron diet followed by a diet supplemented with 3 mg of boron daily. With the boron supplementation their urinary excretion of calcium and magnesium decreased, while increases were noted in serum concentrations of ionized calcium, testosterone, and estrogen. For these reasons many researchers now feel adequate amounts of boron in the diet are absolutely necessary for both the treatment and the prevention of osteoporosis.

Some very interesting epidemiological data also indicates a link between boron and arthritis. Researchers evaluated the soil content of boron in 13 different countries. They discovered that those countries with the highest boron levels also had the lowest amounts of arthritis in their native populations.

Most of our dietary boron comes from green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, and legumes. Estimates are that adults in this country are getting about .5 mg in their diet each day. This is probably inadequate. Some researchers are now suggesting an intake of at least 1 mg daily. (European animal studies have shown that 3 mg daily may benefit arthritis sufferers.)


Manganese (not to be confused with magnesium) serves as a vital link in many chemical processes in the body. Without sufficient manganese, a whole list of problems occur.

Manganese can help some cases of muscular dystrophy, myasthenia gravis, tardive dyskinesia, and epilepsy. So-called "growing pains" in children have also been linked to manganese. It is necessary for the elastic integrity of ligaments and tendons. Chiropractors have learned that adjustments hold better when manganese is added to the diet. Athletes tend to have more injuries, especially to the knees, when manganese levels are low.

Clinically, manganese has also helped stubborn cases of diabetes and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). It plays a role in activating the enzymes involved in carbohydrate production. Low tissue levels of manganese can actually depress insulin formation by the pancreas.

It has been shown to strengthen the killer cells of the immune system. It is also necessary for the formation of SOD, DNA and RNA molecules.

I have had success treating many inner ear problems with manganese combined with other trace minerals. By itself, it can improve balance and sometimes stop tinnitus or ear noise. 

Manganese deficiencies may be common for several reasons. First, it is very difficult to absorb. Second, while the average diet contains about 4 mg daily, estimates are that the body needs from 3 to 25 mg daily. The average intake doesn’t leave much room for reserves. To top it off, certain minerals taken in high dosages, like calcium, zinc and phosphorus, tend to depress manganese levels.

One of the best manganese sources is the germ of cereal grains. Others include nuts, legumes, tropical fruits (especially bananas and pineapple), egg yolks, and small amounts are contained in some green, leafy vegetables. If you don’t eat whole grain products, you may want to consider adding manganese to your diet. Check your multivitamin content also. A good one will contain at least enough for a maintenance dose (2 to 4 mg).

Most deficiency problems require that a manganese supplement be taken. Depending on the condition, daily therapeutic dosages may range from 50 to 200 mg. Since manganese is absorbed so poorly, it is best to use the chelated or salt form like manganese gluconate (manganese citrate is also available).

If you’re taking high dosages of calcium or zinc, you may benefit from taking these at a time different from when you take manganese.

Dr. David Williams

Meet Dr. David Williams

For more than 25 years, Dr. David Williams has traveled the world researching alternative therapies for our most common health problems—therapies that are inexpensive and easy to use, and therapies that treat the root cause of a problem rather than just its symptoms.

More About Dr. David Williams