To Your Health
April, 2011 (Vol. 05, Issue 04)
Why you need it: Iron is part of the protein hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the body, but is also found in the protein myoglobin, which makes oxygen available for muscle contractions.
An iron deficiency causes a hindrance in the delivery of oxygen to the cells, which can result in fatigue, decreased immunity and anemia – a condition in which red blood cells are immature, small or contain too little hemoglobin to carry the normal amount of oxygen to the tissues.
Where to get it: There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron is derived from the protein in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells and is contained in animal foods such as red meats, fish and poultry. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods such as lentils, beans, black-strap molasses, dried apricots, and raisins. Iron is a double-edged sword, however, as you need enough but not too much. Menstruating women lose blood on a monthly basis, for example, and may require supplementation, whereas most postmenopausal women do not need supplemental iron.
Why you need it: Zinc is another mineral that is vital to healthy living, as even a small deficiency can cause decreased immunity. This mineral is most widely known for preventing and shortening the duration of colds, which is due to its powerful ability to strengthen the immune system and increase white blood cell count. Zinc is necessary for the function of many enzymes in the body, effectively assists in regulating hormones and has even been shown to increase fertility. This is a critical mineral in any supplement program, as it aids the body's absorption of minerals such as calcium, which can help to prevent osteoporosis. Finally, the anti-inflammatory and tissue-healing benefits of zinc can help improve numerous conditions such as acne and poor skin health, among others.
Where to get it: People who want to turn to dietary sources of zinc should consider foods such as oysters and pumpkin seeds, which are known to be rich in zinc. Other zinc-rich foods include most types of meat products, beans, nuts, whole grains, and many other seeds.
Why you need it: Iodine was one of the first minerals recognized as essential to human health. It has been known to prevent and treat various thyroid issues, such as enlargement of the thyroid gland, which is important since hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency are associated with a higher incidence of breast cancer. There is also evidence of a link between low thyroid function and fibrocystic breast disease (FBD). This mineral strongly influences nutrient metabolism, detoxification, nerve and muscle function, nail, hair, skin and tooth condition, and has a profound impact on physical and mental development. It is especially important for women who are pregnant to monitor both their iodine levels as well as levels in their babies in order to prevent certain developmental problems.
Where to get it: In addition to supplementation, various foods provide the body with healthy levels of iodine, including most types of seafood, seaweeds such as kelp, clams, lobsters, oysters, and sardines. It is essential to monitor your intake of some seafood, however, as you may also put yourself at risk of consuming too much mercury.
Why you need it: Selenium is also important for optimum health, as it is reported to mimic the action of insulin. Studies have shown that selenium effectively stimulates glucose uptake and regulates metabolic processes including glycolysis [glucose conversion that ultimately yields energy in the form of ATP], gluconeogenesis [which helps keep blood glucose from dropping too low] and fatty acid synthesis, among other key functions. Selenium also plays a role in reducing the oxidative stress associated with diabetes, which can help reduce the risk of developing the potential side effects of diabetes such as neuropathy, retinopathy and cataracts. Selenium deficiency can result in a number of functional disorders, including skeletal muscle dysfunction, cardiac dysfunction and pancreatic degeneration. Selenium acts as an antioxidant against free radicals that damage DNA and is often included with vitamins C and E to help fight against cancer, heart disease and even aging.