Ultimately, the only issue that really counts with minerals is bioavailability, that is, which minerals make it to the cells.Minerals are necessary for cell life, enzyme reactions and hundreds of other reasons, but they must be in a form that can make it as far as the cells. What is not bioavailable passes right through the body.
Bioavailability has a precursor, an opening act called absorption. Take a mineral supplement pill, put it in a glass of water, then wait half an hour. If the pill is unchanged, chances are that the tablet would never even dissolve in the stomach or intestine, but pass right out of the body. You would be astounded by how many mineral supplements there are in this category.
For the tablet or capsule to do us any good, the mineral must be absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal walls. Elemental minerals are absorbed about 1-8% in this manner; the rest is excreted. Elemental minerals are those found in the majority of supplements, because they're very cheap to produce. The small percentage that actually makes it to the bloodstream are available for use by the cells, or as catalysts in thousands of essential enzyme reactions that keep every cell alive every second. Use at the cellular level is what bioavailability is all about.
Varying amounts of the seven macrominerals and approximately 14 trace minerals in a bioavailable form are necessary for optimum cell activity and health, and would seem to contribute to longevity.
So besides epidemic mineral deficiency, what's the problem? In a word, supplementation. The need for supplementation has spawned an entire industry. But in any market-driven industry involving pills, we find that often the cures are worse than the original problems. Take toxicity. Even macrominerals are only necessary in tiny amounts. Most trace minerals are necessary in amounts too small to be measured and can only be estimated. When toxins get into the body, the body's forces are mobilized to remove them.
If lead gets into the blood, the body will try to remove it, but since the metal atoms are so heavy compared with the body's immune forces, removal may be impossible. Lead can initiate a chronic inflammatory response and can remain in the body permanently, which is why we don't have lead in paint or gasoline any more.
Excessive doses of minerals can be toxic. This excess cannot happen by normal diet, only from supplements containing more than the essential 21 minerals. New toxicities are always being discovered. Aluminum linked to Alzheimer's is a recent discovery. Beyond the 21 or so essential minerals, it's anybody's guess.
People who show dramatic improvements from taking drinks containing 60-80 minerals are so depleted in minerals that they rapidly absorbed the essential minerals in which they are deficient. The toxicities from the nonessential minerals may take a long time to show up. Why take in anything extra?
Here's the ingredients of a mega-mineral drinks: calcium; magnesium; zinc; vanadium; manganese; potassium; selenium; chromium; phosphate; iron; sulfur; carbon; sodium; barium; strontium; cesium; thorium; molybdenum; nickel; cerium; germanium; copper; rubidium; antimony; gallium; neodymium; lanthanum; bismuth; zirconium; thallium; tungsten; ruthenium; boron; iodine; chloride; bromine; titanium; cobalt; dysprosium; scandium; samarium; fluoride; niobium; praseodymium; erbium; hafnium; lithium; ytterbium; yttrium; cadmium; holmium; rhenium; palladium; gold; thulium; terbium; iridium; tantalum; europium; lutetium; rhodium; tin; indium; silver; beryllium; tellurium and platinum. Any questions?
The mineral supplements we take should be as absorbable and as bioavailable as possible. That way, we won't have to take much, which means a reduced chance of toxicity.
Which mineral supplements are the most absorbable and the most usable, and therefore effective in the smallest amounts possible? Four candidates present themselves, all contending for the title:
Unraveling this puzzle is one area in which the internet actually impedes progress. Try it and you'll see why. There's only one answer, but it's buried deep. To find it, we have to review a little basic plumbing.
Mineral absorption means transferring the mineral from the digestive tract through the wall of the intestine and into the bloodstream. Most minerals bought at the grocery store are almost worthless, as they pass right through the body. It's also why the advice most nutritionists and dieticians give us is worthless. They often pretend everything that is eaten is absorbed.
There are two main reasons for lack of absorption: The pill never dissolves; or the mineral is in the elemental form (non-nutrient). Let's say neither of these reasons are valid. Or let's say the mineral is contained within some food, such as iron in molasses or potassium in bananas. Food-bound minerals are attached to organic molecules, and thus absorption into the blood is vastly increased. The mineral is not just a foreign metal that has been ingested. It is part of the food.
Fruits and vegetables with high mineral content are the best way to provide the body with adequate nutrition. Food-bound minerals are the original mode. However, as already cited above, sufficient mineral content in foods is an increasingly rare occurrence. If the food no longer has it, and we need it, pass the supplements, please. At that point, the marketplace assaults our awareness and we're almost back to the days of the tonics, brews, toddies, and snake potions of yesteryear.
Four Minerals FormsElemental
The least beneficial mineral form is the elemental form. That means the mineral is just mentioned on the label. It's not ionized, it's not chelated, it's not connected with an oxide or a carbonate or a sulfate or a food, and it's not colloidal. For example, under "ingredients" it says nothing more than "iron" or "copper," or "calcium," etc.
A liquid would only have to be poured over some nails to be said to contain iron. Elemental minerals are the most common in grocery store supplements. They may not be toxic, as long as only the minerals mentioned on the label are included in the supplement. The problem is an absorption rate of only between one and eight percent.
Ionic means "in the form of ions." Ions are unstable molecules that want to bind with other molecules. An ion is an incomplete molecule. There is a definite pathway for the absorption of ionic minerals through the gut (intestine) into the blood. In fact, any percent of the elemental minerals that actually got absorbed became ions first by being dissolved in stomach acids.
Ions are absorbed through the gut by a complicated process involving becoming attached or chelated to some special carrier proteins in the intestinal wall. Active transport is involved, meaning that energy is required to bring the ionic mineral from inside the intestine through the lining, to be deposited in the bloodstream on the other side.
Ionic minerals may be a good source of nutrients for the body, depending upon the type of ion and on how difficult it is for the ion to get free at the appropriate moment and location. Minerals require an acidic environment for absorption. Remember, low pH (less than 7) is acidic; high pH (above 7) is alkaline. As the stomach contents at pH2 empty into the small intestine, the first few centimeters of the small intestine constitute the optimum location for mineral absorption. The acidic state is necessary for ionization of the dissolved minerals. If the pH is too alkaline, the ions won't disassociate from whatever they're combined with and will pass through to the colon without being absorbed.
As the mineral ions are presented to the lining of the intestine, if all conditions are right, and there are not too many competing minerals present, the ions will begin to be taken across the intestinal barrier, making their way into the bloodstream. This is a complicated, multistep process. Simply put, it involves the attachment of the free mineral ion to carrier proteins within the intestinal membrane, which then drag the ion across and free it into the bloodstream. A lot happens during the transfer, and much energy is required for all the steps. Just the right conditions and timing are necessary -- proper pH, presence of vitamins for some, and the right section of the small intestine. Iron, manganese, zinc, and copper are ions bound to the carrier proteins which are embedded in the intestinal lining. The binding is accomplished by a sort of chelation process, which simply describes the type of binding which holds the ion. The carrier protein, or ligand, hands off the mineral to another larger carrier protein located deeper within the intestinal wall. After several other steps, if all conditions are favorable, the ion is finally deposited on the other side of the intestinal wall: the bloodstream, where it is now usable by the cells.
Many variables come into play in order for bioavailability of the mineral at the cell level to occur. Solubility, pH, concentration, presence of competitive minerals, demand for the mineral, ability to be dissociated from the carrier. All of these factors directly affect mineral absorption. Ionic mineral supplements do not guarantee absorption, although they are certainly more likely to be absorbed than are minerals in the raw, elemental state. However, ionic minerals are in the form required for uptake by the carrier proteins that reside in the intestinal wall.
The uncertainties with ionic minerals include how many, how much, and what may bind the unstable ions before the carrier proteins pick them up. All ionic supplements are not created equal. Just because it's an ion doesn't mean a supplemental mineral will be absorbed. Too many minerals in a supplement will compete for absorption, and too much of one mineral will crowd out the others. The idea is to offer the body an opportunity for balance, rather than to overload it with the hope that some will make it through somehow. Minerals are biologically active in tiny amounts.
Speaking of overloading, the third type of supplemental minerals is the one we hear the most about: colloidals. Colloidal refers to a solution, a dispersion medium in which mineral particles are so well-suspended that they never settle out. You never have to shake the bottle. The other definition has to do with diffusion through a membrane. A colloidal mineral "will not diffuse easily through vegetable or animal membrane." Yet this is supposed to be the whole rationale for taking colloidal minerals -- their absorbability. Colloidal guru Joel Wallach continuously claims that it is precisely the colloidal form of the minerals that allows for easy diffusion and absorption across the intestinal membrane, because the particles are so small. Wallach claims 98% absorption, but cites no studies, experiments, journal articles or research of any kind to back up this figure. Why not? Because there aren't any. The research on colloidal minerals has never been done.
Colloidal minerals are larger than ionic minerals, as discussed by researcher Max Motyka, PhD. Because of the molecular size and suspension in the colloid medium, which Dorland's Medical dictionary describes as "like glue," absorption is inhibited rather than enhanced. No less an authority than Dr. Royal Lee, the man responsible for pointing out the distinction between whole food vitamins and synthetic vitamins, stated: "A colloidal mineral is one that has been so altered that it will no longer pass through cell walls or other organic membranes."
Does that sound like easy absorption? For a mineral to be absorbed, it must be either in the ionic state or chelated. The percentage of colloidal minerals which actually does get absorbed has to have been ionized somehow, due to the acidic conditions in the small intestine; only then is the mineral capable of being taken up by the carrier proteins in the intestinal membrane. Ionic minerals are superior to the colloidal form, because they don't have to be dissociated from a suspension medium, which is by definition nondiffusable. All this extra work costs the body in energy and reserves.
Max Motyka further points out the error of Wallach's claims. Wallach states that colloidals are negatively charged, which enhances intestinal absorption. Science disagrees. Wallach claims the charge of the intestinal mucosa is positive, but everyone else has known for decades that the mucosal charge is negative. This is why ionic minerals are presented to the intestinal surface as cations (positively charged ions). Opposite attracts and like repels -- another big minus for colloidals.
Tim O'Shea, DC
San Jose, California