The last issue of the newsletter was an introduction to the impact of minerals and mineral dysregulation on our health. To summarize, most of us are deficient in magnesium, due to stress, diet, environmental factors and aging, and iron accumulates in the tissues with age and other factors, causing inflammation. This interferes with energy production. Finally, we learned about basic mineral balancing and the importance of keeping magnesium, copper, calcium, and iron in balance.
The biochemistry of mineral balancing
This issue is devoted to the biochemistry of restoring proper mineral balance and the potential problems of supplementing with the minerals calcium, vitamin D, iron, and zinc. Let’s begin by reviewing the diagram from the last issue.
It is of primary importance to understand that minerals are a tightly regulated system, as illustrated above. When you supplement with one mineral, you affect the status of another. This is true even of the mineral most of us are deficient in, magnesium. It is important, therefore, to understand the effects of the supplements you are taking, and know how to support the whole body, to prevent mineral dysregulation. With only some exceptions, foods are the best and safest forms of supplementation.
Magnesium is the mineral of motion and energy. It is responsible for keeping the enzymatic functions of the body working, including the production and use of ATP (the energy carrier in our cells). Taking too much vitamin D, calcium, iron, and zinc interferes with magnesium absorption and retention. Magnesium supplementation lowers sodium, which causes a loss of potassium. This can cause the adrenal glands to “crash.” Restoring electrolytes in such a situation is critical, especially in cases of adrenal stress and fatigue.
Copper helps to carry warmth to the hands and feet. It aids in oxidizing iron in the body, and supporting the mitochondria in making energy. Copper needs to be paired with the enzyme ceruloplasmin to function and to guarantee that iron does what it should in the body. Too much iron breaks down the ability of copper and ceruloplasmin to keep the iron in check.
Think of calcium as being the cement of the body. It is great when it is in our bones, but we don’t want it to deposit in our joints, muscles, kidneys and arteries. Magnesium helps to control calcium levels, and when magnesium is depleted, the calcium can deposit anywhere in the body. Taking an excess of vitamin D can also lead to calcium deposits in the body. Think osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis and kidney stones. Osteoporosis is actually more of an iron problem than a calcium problem, so taking calcium supplements to treat it is not addressing the root cause, and definitely doesn’t ensure that the calcium will be absorbed into the bones.
Iron in nature rusts. If we store too much iron, our tissues feel like they’re rusting, and we develop pain, creaky joints and inflammation. Of course we need iron, as it carries oxygen in our blood so that cells can produce energy. Too much iron, however, is detrimental to our health, and we tend to hang onto iron as we age. As discussed in the previous newsletter, we have become toxic in iron, due to fortification of our foods, high fructose corn syrup and GMO foods.
Common misinterpretations of blood tests and taking the wrong supplements
Are you taking vitamin D, iron or zinc supplements? You may want to rethink it. It is important to ask why the levels are low and fix the root problem. By supplementing these nutrients, you may be making the problem worse.
If you supplement with vitamin D, it will compete with the retinol (vitamin A, which is a fat soluble nutrient from animal products) stored in the liver, and cause the iron storage to increase, ultimately causing more inflammation. Excess unbound iron will lead not only to magnesium deficiency and inflammation, but also low storage of vitamin D. Taking vitamin D will also lead to a calcium problem (as mentioned above), irritate the immune system, and ultimately deplete magnesium.
It has become common to have vitamin D levels tested when going to the doctor. The typical blood test for vitamin D is: Vitamin D 25-Hydroxy Blood Test. It tests the storage of vitamin D. This test frequently comes back low, and high doses of vitamin D are prescribed. In some cases, the prescription fails to increase the value of the storage vitamin D levels, and more is prescribed. It is important to also test the active vitamin D with this test: Vitamin D 1,25 Dihydroxy (Calcitriol) Blood Test. The ratio of these two tests is more important than one number alone. The active result should never be more than two times the storage result. By balancing iron and magnesium, the storage vitamin D value will typically come into the normal range.
It is common to be diagnosed with low hemoglobin (iron deficiency anemia) and/or low ferritin levels in your blood. The typical recommendation is to take iron supplements. The problem is that it is important to determine whether the anemia is due to a functional issue or if it is a true iron deficiency (most commonly due to blood loss). If you have low copper, you will have low functional iron, which is an anemia of chronic inflammation. The iron needs to be taken from the tissues and into the blood by balancing the minerals; taking iron supplements will only make the problem worse. Increasing magnesium, copper, and retinol in the diet should shift the iron out of the tissues, and increase the values of the hemoglobin and ferritin blood tests.
Low zinc levels in the blood indicate an iron problem, as zinc competes with iron. If zinc is low, iron is high. If you supplement with zinc, it exacerbates the imbalance. Too much zinc can also cause a copper deficiency, which we saw above further contributes to iron issues. By handling the iron problem, the zinc levels should improve naturally.
How to balance minerals safely
In Part 3 of this article (January 2019), we’ll discuss the basic protocol of restoring mineral balance, primarily through food-based supplementation and avoiding problematic foods and supplements.