Our brain and metals

What is a Metal?

Our body is composed of almost every natural element found in nature. This is as true for metals as it is for water or carbon.

Let’s define metal before going any further: in astronomy, a “metal” is any element other than hydrogen or helium. Astronomers feel justified in grouping this diverse group of chemicals together because they only contribute 2% of the atomic matter in the universe. 75% is hydrogen and the other 23% is helium. This definition has an interesting perspective.

Metals in our body enable the healthy function of the brain and organs.

Metals are elements that are required for several purposes, such as the formation of blood, bones, teeth and other tissues; osmoregulation of body fluids, and the control of physicochemical processes. Some of these metals are only needed in trace amounts.

These metals are generally found in a typical, diverse diet. If a person is low in specific metals, this deficiency can create different types of problems and diseases. Excess metals, caused by supplementation, can also cause health problems.

Here is a review of the roles of some minerals:

Macro Elements

  • Calcium (Ca)
    Structure of bone and teeth. Also plays a role in the growth of nerve cells.
  • Phosphorous (Ph)
    Structure of bone and teeth. Required for ATP, the energy carrier in animals.
  • Magnesium (Mg)
    Important in bone structure. Deficiency results in tetany (muscle spasms) and can lead to a calcium deficiency.
  • Sodium (Na)
    Major electrolyte of blood and extracellular fluid. Required for maintenance of pH and osmotic balance.
  • Potassium (K)
    Major electrolyte of blood and intracellular fluid. Required for maintenance of pH and osmotic balance.
  • Chlorine (Cl)
    Major electrolyte of blood and extracellular and intracellular fluid. Required for maintenance of pH and osmotic balance.
  • Sulfur (S)
    Element of the essential amino acids methionine and cysteine. Contained in the vitamins thiamin and biotin. As part of glutathione it is required for detoxification. Poor growth due to reduced protein synthesis and lower glutathione levels potentially increasing oxidative or xenobiotic damage are consequences of low sulfur and methionine and/or cysteine intake.

Micro Elements

  • Iron (Fe)
    Contained in hemoglobin and myoglobin which are required for oxygen transport in the body. Part of the cytochrome p450 family of enzymes. Anemia is the primary consequence of iron deficiency. Excess iron levels can enlarge the liver, may provoke diabetes and cardiac falurer. The genetic disease hemochromatosis results from excess iron absorption. Similar symptoms can be produced through excessive transfusions required for the treatment of other diseases.
  • Copper (Cu)
    Contained in enzymes of the ferroxidase (ceruloplasmin?) system which regulates iron transport and facilitates release from storage. A structural element in the enzymes tyrosinase, cytochrome c oxidase, ascorbic acid oxidase, amine oxidases, and the antioxidant enzyme copper zinc superoxide dismutase. A copper deficiency can result in anemia from reduced ferroxidase function. Excess copper levels cause liver malfunction and are associated with genetic disorder Wilson’s Disease.
  • Manganese (Mn)
    Major component of the mitochondrial antioxidant enzyme manganese superoxide dismutase. A manganese deficiency can lead to improper bone formation and reproductive disorders. An excess of manganese can lead to poor iron absorption.
  • Iodine (I)
    Required for production of thyroxine which plays an important role in metabolic rate. Deficient or excessive iodine intake can cause goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland).
  • Zinc (Zn)
    Important for reproductive function due to its use in FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (leutinizing hormone). Required for DNA binding of zinc finger proteins which regulate a variety of activities. A component of the enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase, lactic dehydrogenase carbonic anhydrase, ribonuclease, DNA Polymerase and the antioxidant copper zinc superoxide dismutase. An excess of zinc may cause anemia or reduced bone formation.
  • Selenium (Se)
    Contained in the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase and heme oxidase. Deficiency results in oxidative membrane damage with different effects in different species. Human deficiency causes cardiomyopathy (heart damage) and is known as Keshan’s disease.
  • Fluorine (Fl)
    Fluorine is essential for the maintenance of solidity of our bones. Fluorine can also protect us from dental decay
  • Cobalt (Co)
    Contained in vitamin B12. An excess may cause cardiac failure.
  • Molybdenum (Mo)
    Contained in the enzyme xanthine oxidase. Required for the excretion of nitrogen in uric acid in birds. An excess can cause diarrhea and growth reduction.
  • Chromium (Cr)
    A cofactor in the regulation of sugar levels. Chromium deficiency may cause hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar) and glucosuria (glucose in the urine).

The role of macro-elements in the human body
Lakatos B, Balla J, Vinkler P, Szentmihályi K.
Orv Hetil. 2006 May 21;147(20):925-30. Review. Hungarian.

The absorption of iron, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and zinc in the jejunum-ileum of control and iron-deficient rats.
Gómez-Ayala AE, Lisbona F, López-Aliaga I, Pallarés I, Barrionuevo M, Hartiti S, Rodríguez-Matas MC, Campos MS.
Lab Anim. 1998 Jan;32(1):72-9.

Ion regulation in the brain: implications for pathophysiology.
Somjen GG.
Neuroscientist. 2002 Jun;8(3):254-67. Review.

Macroelements, water, and electrolytes in sports nutrition
By Judy Anne Driskell, Ira Wolinsky
Edition: illustrated
Published by CRC Press, 1999
ISBN 0849381967, 9780849381966

16 replies
        • Mendability
          Mendability says:

          Yes, of course, but there are a few things to consider with which we have no expertise, such as whether the skin can absorb these metals efficiently by wearing jewelry and whether the quantities and formats absorbed are what the body needs.

  1. Sonja Taljaard
    Sonja Taljaard says:

    This was a very good article! Interesting what you say there about Cobalt that is in Vit.B12 – that an excess amount can cause cardiac failure. I would then be very cautious to give so much Vit B12 to autistic children as some people do.


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