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Tiny but Mighty: How Trace Minerals Keep Us Healthy

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on March 23, 2023

Trace minerals may be tiny, but they play a massive role in our health and wellbeing. Without them, life as we know it would not be possible. These minerals are essential cofactors that play crucial roles in various biochemical reactions in the body. From a naturopathic medicine perspective, trace minerals are vital for maintaining optimal health and preventing chronic disease.

Trace minerals include zinc, copper, selenium, manganese, iodine, and many others. They are called trace minerals because we need them in much smaller amounts than other essential nutrients, like carbohydrates or protein. But don't let their small size fool you. These minerals are critical for maintaining healthy bones, muscles, nerves, and immune systems.

One of the primary functions of trace minerals is to act as cofactors in enzymatic reactions in the body. Enzymes are proteins that catalyze biochemical reactions in the body, and trace minerals play an essential role in activating these enzymes. For example, zinc is a cofactor for over 300 enzymes in the body, including those involved in protein synthesis, wound healing, and immune function. (1)

Selenium is another critical trace mineral that acts as a cofactor for various enzymes involved in thyroid hormone metabolism and antioxidant defense. (2) Copper is necessary for the formation of connective tissue, red blood cells, and iron absorption. (3) Manganese plays a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates, amino acids, and cholesterol. (4)

From a naturopathic medicine perspective, trace minerals are vital for preventing chronic disease. For example, research has shown that low levels of zinc are associated with a higher risk of infectious disease, while low levels of selenium have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders. (5, 6)

Many factors can contribute to trace mineral deficiencies, including poor diet, malabsorption, chronic stress, and certain medications. Naturopathic doctors can help identify and address these deficiencies through targeted dietary and supplement interventions. For example, zinc-rich foods include oysters, beef, and pumpkin seeds, while selenium is abundant in Brazil nuts, fish, and organ meats.

In conclusion, trace minerals are essential for maintaining optimal health and preventing chronic disease. Without them, life as we know it would not be possible. From a naturopathic medicine perspective, it's crucial to identify and address trace mineral deficiencies through targeted dietary and supplement interventions. By supporting our bodies with these essential cofactors, we can promote overall health and wellbeing.


  1. Maret W. Zinc biochemistry: from a single zinc enzyme to a key element of life. Adv Nutr. 2013 Jan 1;4(1):82-91. doi: 10.3945/an.112.003038. PMID: 23319127; PMCID: PMC3648744.
  2. Zoidis E, Seremelis I, Kontopoulos N, Danezis GP. Selenium-Dependent Antioxidant Enzymes: Actions and Properties of Selenoproteins. Antioxidants (Basel). 2018 May 14;7(5):66. doi: 10.3390/antiox7050066. PMID: 29758013; PMCID: PMC5981252.
  3. Harris ED. Copper as a cofactor and regulator of copper,zinc superoxide dismutase. J Nutr. 1992 Mar;122(3 Suppl):636-40. doi: 10.1093/jn/122.suppl_3.636. PMID: 1542024.
  4. Avila DS, Puntel RL, Aschner M. Manganese in health and disease. Met Ions Life Sci. 2013;13:199-227. doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-7500-8_7. PMID: 24470093; PMCID: PMC6589086.
  5. Prasad AS. Discovery of human zinc deficiency: its impact on human health and disease. Adv Nutr. 2013 Mar 1;4(2):176-90. doi: 10.3945/an.112.003210. PMID: 23493534; PMCID: PMC3649098.
  6. Foster LH, Sumar S. Selenium in health and disease: a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1997 Apr;37(3):211-28. doi: 10.1080/10408399709527773. PMID: 9143818.

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