Minerals are the inorganic elements that are required for a number of essential human functions. Minerals take their name from the fact that in their natural state, these are substances capable of being mined from the ground. The minerals relied on by the body in its natural processes are distinct from the organic compounds within the body, each of which has one of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, or oxygen, alone or in combined compositions.

Minerals are primarily absorbed into the body through the foods consumed in the typical human diet. As minerals are a part of the soil where plants are grown and cultivated, minerals become a part of the formation of the cellular structure of most plants that are directly harvested for food; plant minerals are also present in the feeds consumed by animals that are subsequently used for human food.

Minerals are utilized by the body in many different ways, both in the growth and the sustenance of the musculoskeletal structure, as well as in the effective function of the systems that carry out the operations of the body. Minerals play an indispensable role in many aspects of human function including: bone and tooth formation, construction, and maintenance; skin, tissue, and internal organ function; the transmission of messages through the central nervous system into the peripheral nervous system, the muscle function directed by the somatic and autonomic nervous systems; blood function and heartbeat regulation within the cardiovascular system; and aid to the digestion and the conversion of foods into energy sources.

Minerals are classified as one of two subtypes: macrominerals, which are those nutrients that the body requires in a minimum amount of 200 mg per day as a recommended daily allowance (RDA), and microminerals, which are often as important as macronutrients, but are required in trace amounts of a RDA less than 200 mg per day. The most notable macrominerals are calcium, chlorine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulphur. The chief microminerals are cobalt, iodine, iron, and zinc.

Calcium is the most productive mineral in the body, essential to bone and tooth construction. It is also present in a lesser capacity in the bloodstream, where it influences the mechanism of blood clotting. Calcium is an important component in the transmission of nerve impulses and resulting muscle contractions controlled by neurons. Calcium is most commonly found in dairy products, but many green vegetables are also a source of this mineral. Calcium is absorbed into the body through the companion action of vitamin D, a fat-soluble compound. Phosphorus is found in dairy products, and it is a mineral that is also chiefly related to the development and construction of bones, possessing a similar linkage to vitamin D as that of calcium. Phosphorus is a mineral that is present throughout the entire human body by virtue of its presence in the nucleic acid that forms a part of every cell.

Magnesium is a mineral whose chemical influence is exhibited across a range of human function, as it is also present in all human cells. Ingested through plant products such as nuts and soy beans, magnesium is a necessary component in the metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins.

Sodium is a another of the omnipresent minerals. Sodium is primarily found in table salt, in the form of sodium chloride, as well as in green vegetables such as spinach. Sodium, as an electrolyte (a metal capable of transmitting an electrical charge), is essential to the body's ability to maintain homeostasis, or ongoing balance of both its fluid levels, through kidney function, as well as the ability of the muscles to respond to signals directed to them from the central nervous system and the brain. Potassium has a similar chemical composition and a companion effect on muscle function. Potassium is also an essential part of the regulation of heartbeat, as well as the metabolism of carbohydrates. Beans, whole grains, and bananas are the most abundant sources of potassium in the diet.

Chlorine is a substance found in various bodily fluids, where it assists in the maintenance of the balance between acids and bases in the body known as the pH balance. Chlorine is of particular utility in the stomach and the digestive processes through its contributions to the formation of the stomach acids used to break down foods. Chlorine is primarily obtained through the chloride component of table salt.

Sulphur is a mineral that is employed by the body as a component in the formation of the proteins used to build muscle. Sulphur is also an agent in the various detoxification processes centered in the liver. Sulphur is usually significant in foods that are a part of the protein group in the human diet, including eggs, some meats, and some varieties of beans.

The microminerals are ingested into the body in vastly smaller quantities than many of the macrominerals, but the importance of micromineral function is out of proportion to the quantities of these minerals. Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, which permits the red blood cells of the cardiovascular system to transport oxygen. Cobalt is a vital aspect to the function of vitamin B12, a part of the vitamin B complex. Iodine, often added to table salt, is essential to thyroid gland function and the production of growth hormone. Zinc, in addition to assisting in general cell growth, is a constituent of insulin, the hormone essential to the regulation of glucose in the bloodstream.

SEE ALSO Calcium; Diet; Magnesium; Nutrition.