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Essential Metals And Their Roles In Human Health

Metals play a vital role in our lives. They help in several critical biological functions and their scarcity may lead us to a long list of diseases. Metals are also used in designing drugs to treating conditions such as arthritis, cancer and ulcer.

Some essential metals for humans include sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium, manganese, vanadium, iron, copper, zinc, cadmium, cobalt and molybdenum. Though these metals provide many health benefits, they can be toxic when consumed in an excess amount. Also, some heavy metal ions like lead and mercury can cause toxicity even in small amounts. [1]

In this article, we will discuss the roles metals play in human health. Take a look.

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What Are The Essential Metals For Our Body?

According to a study, 98 per cent of our body is made of nine nonmetallic elements. It includes four main electrolytes: sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium that constitute about 1.89 per cent of the total elements, while the rest 0.02 per cent is made up of 11 trace elements. [2]

Though trace metals are present in very small amounts, they have tremendous roles in maintaining the functions of our body.

Essential metals for the human body include:

  • Organic basic elements: Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Carbon and Oxygen
  • Quality elements: Sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, sulphur and chlorine.
  • Trace elements: Manganese, iron, copper, nickel, zinc, molybdenum and selenium.
  • Other functional metals: lithium, chromium, vanadium, boron, silicon, fluorine and arsenic.
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    Why Does Human Body Require Metals?

    Some of the essential functions of metals for the human body include:

    • They act as a catalyst or cofactor for many enzymes and help in the biochemical reactions which are crucial for our body.
    • They help in building stabilising structures of proteins and enzymes.
    • They support the body in preventing deficiency of metals which is related to the development of various diseases.
    • Some elements donate or accept electrons to reduce the number of free radicals in the body and thus, prevent damage due to oxidative stress. [3]
    • They help in the generation of metabolic energy and its utilisation by the body.
    • They help control important biological functions like the formation of DNA, metabolic functions and release of certain hormones. [4]
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Some Important Metals And Their Functions

1. Iron

It is required by our body for the production of red blood cells and to prevent related diseases like anaemia. [5] Iron is also present in haemoglobin and is responsible for the red colour of the blood. It is also required for the growth, development, synthesis of hormones, development of connective tissues and normal cellular functioning.

The recommended daily amount (RDA) for iron in normal healthy adults is 8 mg/day for men and post-menopausal women, and 18 mg/day for menstruating women.

2. Copper

The human body requires copper for the proper functioning of the brain and the heart. Copper also helps increase the number of white blood cells, promote muscle strength, maintain the functioning of the nerves and boost gastrointestinal health. [6]

The RDA for copper in normal healthy adults is 2 mg/day.

3. Zinc

This metal is found in the entire body, especially in the muscle tissues. It leads to the proper growth and development of the body and benefits skin health. Zinc also acts as a cofactor for enzymes which help in cell growth, cell division and metabolism of proteins, lipids, carbohydrates and energy. [7]

The RDA for Zn is 8 mg/day for women and 11 mg/day for men.

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4. Calcium

Calcium is primarily important for bone health, along with lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol levels, reducing hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and preventing colorectal diseases. [8]

The RDA for calcium is 1000 mg to 1300 mg for people over 19 years of age.

5. Sodium

Sodium helps maintain the normal cellular homeostasis and regulation of fluid and electrolytes in the body. This helps maintain the blood pressure, functioning of muscles and nerve cells, and transportation of nutrients to various body parts. [9]

For all individuals aged 9-50 years, the RDA of sodium is 1500-2300 mg/day.

6. Potassium

It is important for the catalytic activity of the RNA and is required for homeostasis in the cell. Potassium is a vital metal for the reduction of stroke and chronic kidney diseases. It also has a positive effect on bone health. [10]

The RDA for potassium is in the range of 1.6 to 5.9 g/d.

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7. Vanadium

Vanadium is essential for the vertebrates of humans. It is involved in phosphate metabolism, enhancing the functionality of insulin and controlling diseases caused by viruses, bacteria and protozoa. Vanadium also plays an important role in medicinal applications that include manufacturing of the cancer-based drug. [11]

The RDA of vanadium is 10 mg/ kg body mass.

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Other Metals Which Are Good For Human Health

8. Nickel: It is required for improving hormonal functions and lipid metabolism. High amounts of nickel can cause adverse effects to the body. [12]
9. Chromium: It is involved in the reduction of glucose tolerance and metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids. [13]
10. Magnesium: It acts as a cofactor for more than 300 enzymes that are involved in the functioning of muscle, glycemic control, blood pressure and neuromuscular conduction. [14]
11. Phosphorus: It helps to regulate gene transcript, activate enzymes, buffer blood, formation of bone and teeth, repair of cells and metabolism of fats and carbohydrates.
12. Sulphur: It helps in building DNA, fixing their damage and protecting the cells. Sulphur is good for the health of the skin, ligaments and tendons.
13. Manganese: It is essential for energy metabolism, functioning of reproductive hormones, protection of cells, boosting immune functions and activation of certain metalloenzymes. [15]
14. Molybdenum: This vital metal ion is required for the three mammalian enzymes xanthine oxidase (XO), aldehyde oxidase (AO), and sulfite oxidase (SO). Its efficiency can cause mental health problems and tachycardia. [16]

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To Conclude

Metals benefit the human body only when consumed in recommended amounts. Plants, vegetables, seeds, nuts and other food items are packed with the aforementioned vital metals. Consume them to get their benefits.

Toxicity due to these metals mainly develop when they are consumed in high amounts in the form of supplements or exposed to these metals through various sources like chemical industries, fungicides, electrical equipment, metal-processing and wastewater discharges.

Avoid exposure by taking preventive measures and consult a medical expert before starting on their supplements.