The Minerals of Life


   It seems quite clear that the vital importance of the organic salts of foods was established by men who were outside the regular folds. The older physiologists and physiological chemists gave no attention to them. In the tables of food analysis they were relegated to the "ash" column and ignored.

   The great German Physiologist and Chemist, Bunge, said in 1889, "As to the developed organism, we do not, a priori, understand why it should need the constant ingestion of salts. The purpose served by the inorganic salts (minerals) is totally different from that served by the organic substances (carbon, nitrogen, fat). * * * The organic food substances are, therefore, of use to us through their very decomposition.* * * The case is quite different when we turn to the inorganic salts. These are fully saturated oxides, or chlorides which cannot combine with oxygen. As they are not subject to decomposition or oxidation, they can develop no work power in the body, they cannot possibly be used up so as to become unserviceable. What is therefore the good of renewing them?"

   In 1904 Dr. Harvey W. Wiley wrote to Otto Carque: "I regret to say that no one in this country has undertaken a complete analysis of all the mineral constituents of foods. An analysis usually relates to the nutritive value and general composition, but does not give, as a rule, the composition of the ash." His words plainly imply that the salts have no nutritive value.

   Perhaps H. Lahman, a German physician who had forsaken the regular methods of care and had allied himself with Louis Kuhne, was the first to make a study of the roles of the minerals in nutrition. Ragnar Berg, a Swedish biochemist, who associated himself with Lahmann, soon became one of the world's foremost biochemists. In this country, Otto Carque, Henry Lindlahr and Alfred W. McCann emphasized the importance of these minerals. At the present day their importance is everywhere recognized. It is no longer thought that only the "nutritive values"--proteins, carbohydrates, fats--are important.

   Animals fed on foods deprived of their salts soon die. In the same manner, they die if, to these demineralized foods, are added inorganic salts in the same quantities and proportions as are found in the ashes of milk. The salts must come to the body in the organic form. These inorganic salts are not used except in the presence of vitamins.

   Berg has pointed out that there does not exist one single complete analysis, either of the human organism or its excretions or of our foodstuffs. Not everything is known about the function of minerals in the body and of some of them almost nothing is known. Some of them, such as zinc and nickel, apparently perform functions similar to those of vitamins. Prof. E. V. McCollum showed that animals deprived of manganese lose the maternal instinct, refuse to suckle their young, do not build a nest for them, and even eat their young. Their mammary glands do not develop properly and they are unable to secrete proper milk for their young. Here are effects commonly attributed to vitamin deficiency.

   This "ash" enters into the composition of every fluid and tissue in the plant and animal body and without even one of these minerals, life could not go on. They are of the utmost importance. They serve a number of purposes. They form an essential part of every tissue in the body, and predominate in the harder structures, such as bones, teeth, hair, naifs, etc. The bones consist largely of calcium phosphate. They are the chief factors in maintaining the normal alkalinity of the blood as well as its normal specific gravity. They are also abundant in all the body's secretions and a lack of them in the diet produces a lack of secretions. They are also used as detoxifying agents, by being combined with the acid waste from the cells. The wastes are thus neutralized and prepared for elimination. Their presence in the food eaten also aids in preventing it from decomposing. Acidosis produced by the fermentation or proteins and carbohydrates often comes because the mineral salts have been taken from the food thus favoring fermentation.

   In a simplified sense we may consider the blood and lymph as liquids in which solids are held in solution--much as salt is dissolved in water. The cells, which are bathed at all times in lymph, are also semi-fluid with dissolved matter in them. If the lymph outside the cells contains much dissolved solid, as compared to that within the cells, the cells shrink in size. If there is more dissolved solid within the cell than without, the cell expands and sometimes bursts. In either case the result is pathological.

   If the amount of dissolved solids within and without the cell is equal, so that internal and external pressure are equalized, the cell remains normal. It falls very largely to the minerals of the food to maintain this state of osmotic equilibrium.

   The waste formed in the body, due to its normal activities, is acid in reaction. The greater part of the work of neutralizing these acids is done by the mineral elements--the "ash."

   These minerals enter into the composition of the secretions of the body. The hydrochloric acid in the gastric juice, for example, contains chlorine. Clotting of the blood does not take place without the aid of calcium or lime.

   The mineral matters in food undergo no change in the process of digestion, prior to absorption, as do proteins, fats and carbohydrates. They are separated from these other elements in the process of digestion and pass directly into the blood.

   If our foods do not contain enough of the right kinds of mineral salts we simply starve to death. It does not matter how much "good nourishing food," as this is commonly understood, that we consume, if these salts are not present in sufficient quantities we suffer from slow starvation, with glandular imbalance or disfunction, lowered resistance to "disease" and other evidences of decay. McCarrison showed, definitely, that foods and combinations of foods, which are inadequate and unsatisfactory in feeding animals, are equally as inadequate and unsatisfactory in feeding man.

   Life and health are so directly related to these salts, of which little enough is known, that we can never have satisfactory health without an adequate supply of them. We may be sure that each salt has its own separate function to serve, while certain combinations of them have long been known to perform vital services in the body.

   No drug salts can be made to take the place of those found in food. As Dr. William H. Hay, says: "Nature provides all her chemicals for restoration of the body in the form of colloids, organic forms, and man has for a long time sought to imitate her in this, but he has not been so very successful that we are now able to insure the recouping of the mineral losses of the body by any artificial means, and must still depend on Nature's colloids as found in plant and fruit." Well or sick, no compound of the chemist, druggist or "bio-chemist" can recoup your mineral losses.

   Let us here notice, in alphabetical order, the minerals of the body, and their most abundant plant sources.

   Arsenic: Arsenic, it is claimed, is a normal constituent of the body existing in minute quantities in the skin, hair, nails, brain, thyroid gland and other glands. Arsenic in organic combination with phosphorus and iodine, as found in vegetables, is not, however, to be confused with drug arsenic. A human body weighing 150 lbs. contains a mere trace of arsenic. It is found in most fruits and vegetables and in egg yolk.

   Bromine: This element, found in sea plants, has been found in the liver, thyroid gland, adrenal glands, and in the nails. It is not known definitely whether or not it serves any physiological function, or is a foreign element.

   Calcium: Calcium (lime) constitutes more than 50% of the mineral elements of man's body. Much of this is contained in the bones and teeth. It is also an essential of the blood and muscles. There are about 3 lbs. of this mineral in a body of 150 lbs. It hardens the bones and teeth, strengthens the muscles, coagulates the blood, causes the heart to beat, and counteracts acids. The richest sources of calcium are, in the order named, Vegetables: water cress, dill, turnip leaves, savoy cabbage, kale, lettuce, dandelion, swiss chard, cabbage, okra, celery and tomatoes; Fruits: lemons, cranberries, strawberries, blackberries, oranges; Nuts: beechnuts, brazil nuts, filberts, almonds, pinions and pecans.

   Chlorine: Chlorine helps to form the gastric juice and is found abundantly in the blood where it assists in the elimination of the nitrogenous end-products of metabolism. About 1 lb. is found in a body of 150 lbs. The richest sources of chlorine are in the order named, Vegetables: tomatoes, celery, dill, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, parsnips, small radish; Fruits: avocados, dates, black raspberries, cherimoyas, bananas, pineapple, raisins, limes and mangos; Nuts: cocoanut and beechnut.

   Copper: Copper is found in the liver, bile and blood and seems to be essential to the assimilation of iron and the manufacture of hemoglobin. There are about 15 grains of copper in a human body weighing 150 lbs.

   Copper is present in the leaves of spinach, celery, lettuce, leeks, in the roots of salsify, radish, carrot, turnip, beet, leek and cress and in the stalks of the latter, bulbs of onions, potatoes, in green beans, in the pumpkin, cucumber, tomato, pear, apple, grape, olive, banana, date, orange, chestnut and in such seeds as peas, beans, soy beans, lentils, wheat, barley, oats, maize, rice and in various nuts, sweet and bitter almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts.

   Fluorine: Fluorine is found in the blood, teeth and bones and in the iris of the eye. There are about 3 oz. in a body weighing 150 lbs. It is essential to the formation of enamel and to hardness of the bones. The richest sources in the order named are, Vegetables: watercress, cauliflower, swiss chard, red cabbage, cabbage, garlic; Fruits: olives. Other fruits and nuts as well, contain this element, but analyses are lacking.

   Iodine: Iodine is found in the thyroid gland in a very minute quantity. It is thought to be essential to the elaboration of thyrosin--an internal secretion of the thyroid. There is about ¼ gr. in a body weighing 150 lbs.

   The richest sources of supply are in the order named: Vegetables: green kidney beans, asparagus, cabbage, garlic, tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes, Fruits: pineapple, strawberries, grapes, and pears. The reader should know that both as regards iodine and other minerals, analyses of nuts have not been as complete as those of fruits and vegetables.

   Dr. Barwise, an English Medical officer, in an official report made by him in 1924, gave the following summary of the part iodine plays in our life: "1.--It is necessary for effective metabolism and especially promotes respiratory exchanges and physical growth. 2.--It promotes efficient mental development. A severe shortage before birth results in cretinism. An inadequate supply may produce anything from imbecility to mere mental dullness. 3.--It is especially required in the pregnant condition, and antenatal clinics bear this point in mind. 4.--It is needed at the age of adolesence for the development of the reproductive organs, particularly in the female, in whom the change-over takes place more rapidly than in the male. 5.--It is needed to keep the skin and its appendages in a healthy condition. A dry skin and falling hair frequently mean thyroid deficiency. 6.--It is required for the digestion, assimilation and combustion of fats. When a shortage occurs the fats cannot be satisfactorily dealt with, and it is stored in the subcutaneous tissue. Many cases of obesity may be occasioned in this way. 7.--It is required for the metabolism of calcium. 8.--It is needed to enable us to resist the invasion of microbes, and to render harmless the toxins (poisons) they produce."

   Iron: Iron is the chief constituent of the red cells and enables man and animals to take in oxygen. It gives color to the blood and complexion. The presence of copper seems to be essential to the assimilation of iron. Nature stores up iron in the liver to guard against deficiency.

   There is about 0.1 oz. in a body weighing 150 lbs. The richest sources of supply are, in the order named: Vegetables: sorrel, leek bulbs, spinach, small radish, asparagus, kohlrabi, romaine, lettuce; Fruits: strawberries, watermelons, gooseberries; Nuts: most nuts contain iron, but none of them contain much.

   Lithium: Lithium has been found in minute quantities in almost all parts of the human body, but chiefly in the lungs. It is thought to influence the metabolism of albumenous food substances.

   Magnesium: Magnesium (chiefly in the form of phosphate of magnesium) adds firmness to the bones and hardness to the teeth. The teeth contain more magnesium than the bones. Magnesium takes part in the formation of the albumen of the blood. The muscles contain much of this element. It also aids in reducing waste and foreign matter. Magnesium is valuable only in the presence of lime; in its absence magnesium is injurious. There are about 1.2 oz. in a body weighing 150 lbs.

   The richest sources of supply are in the order named: Vegetables: tomatoes, dill, spinach, lettuce, dandelion, sorrel, water cress, swiss chard, romaine lettuce, sugar beet leaves, rutabagas, cabbage and cucumbers; Fruits: blackberries, black dried figs, apples, huckleberries, bananas, avocados, raisins, pineapples, watermelons and gooseberries; Nuts: beechnuts, pinions, almonds, brazil nuts, English walnuts and pecans.

   Manganese: Manganese is also contained in the red cells and is an oxygen carrier. It seems to exert a beneficial influence on the vegetative functions and on the glands in general. There is about ½ oz. in the body of a man weighing 150 lbs.

   The chief sources of supply are, in the order named: Vegetables: water cress, parsley, nasturtium leaves; Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pignolias, chestnuts.

   Nickle: Nickle is found in exceedingly small quantities in different organs of the body, but more especially in the insulin of the pancreas, of which it may be an active ingredient, just as iodine is the active agent in thyrosin of the thyroid gland. Nickle may be essential for the proper oxidation of sugar.

   Phosphorus: Phosphorus, chiefly in the form of lecithin, appears to be an essential of oxidation and to take part in many of the body's chemical processes. The brain and nervous system contain considerable lecithin. There is much phosphorus in the bones and teeth. There are about 1.5 lbs. in a 150 lb. body.

   The chief sources of supply are, in the order named, Vegetables: kale, large radish, pumpkins, watercress, sorrel, dill, brussel sprouts, cucumbers, swiss chard, romaine lettuce, savoy cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, rutabagas, spinach, leek bulbs, lettuce, asparagus; Fruits: currants, huckleberries, peaches, gooseberries, limes, cherries, watermelons, lemons, breadfruit, mirabellas, oranges, apples, red raspberries, plums, grapes; Nuts: brazil nuts, pinions, beechnuts, peanuts (a legume), almonds, English walnuts, filberts, pecans, chestnuts, (dried), water chestnuts, cocoanut.

   Potassium: Phosphate of potassium is the mineral basis of all muscular tissue. Potassium is a predominant element in the red-blood cells and brain and is essential to the formation of glycogen from sugar, of proteins from peptones and proteoses, and of fats from glycogen. The spleen and liver are both abundantly supplied with potassium. There are about 8.4 oz. in a 150 lb. body.

   The chief sources of supply are, in the order named; Vegetables: tomatoes, kale, lettuce, turnips, sorrel, celery, rutabagas, cabbage, romaine lettuce, swiss chard, cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant, beets, parsnips, brussel sprouts, savoy cabbage, small radish; Fruits: currants (dried), limes, olives (dried), huckleberries, lemons, cherimoyas, prunes (fresh), peaches, apricots, mangos, oranges, grapes, watermelons, cherries, blackberries, breadfruit, figs (dried Smyrna), white currants, bananas, plums, avocados; Nuts: acorns (dried), water chestnuts, beechnuts (dried), cocoanut, filberts, brazil nuts, pecans, pinions.

   Silicon: Silicon is present in the muscles, hair, nails, pancreas, connective tissue, teeth, skin and the walls of all cells. It combines with flourine in forming the enamel of the teeth. There is only a trace in a body weighing 150 lbs.

   The chief sources of supply are, in the order named; Vegetables: lambs lettuce, lettuce, parsnips, asparagus, dandelion, spinach, onions, beets; Fruits: strawberries, cherries, apricots, watermelons, apples, prunes (fresh); Nuts: beechnuts.

   In vegetables silica is found chiefly combined with cellulose, and in the skin of fruits and vegetables and the coats of cereals.

   It is essential to the formation of certain tissues and is also a protective agent in that it tends to prevent chemical disintegration and putrefaction.

   Those who eat white flour, polished rice, corn meal, etc., from which the outer coats of the cereal have been removed; who peel their apples, pears, peaches, etc., and who reject the skins of grapes are most likely to suffer from a deficiency of this mineral.

   Sodium: Sodium, in combination with chlorine, is a principal constituent of the blood and lymph. It renders the lime and magnesia salts of the blood more soluble and prevents their deposit in the body. It prevents a too ready coagulation of the blood, being able to re-dissolve coagulated fibrin and return it to the liquid state. It is an essential ingredient of the saliva, pancreatic juice and bile. Sodium phosphate and sodium carbonate in the blood enable the body to excrete carbon-dioxide. There are about 3 oz. of sodium in a body weighing 150 lbs.

   The chief sources of supply are, in the order named; Vegetables: celery, spinach, swiss chard, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, small radish, red beets, water cress, pumpkins, carrots, leek bulbs, dandelion, rutabagas, lettuce, okra, cabbage, lambs lettuce; Fruits: strawberries, pomegranate, black figs (dried), apples, avocados and bananas.

   Sulphur: Sulphur is a constituent of practically all proteins. It is found in all tissues of the body. In the red blood cells it serves as an oxidizing agent. There are about 6 oz. in a 150 lb. body.

   The chief sources of supply are, in the order named; Vegetables: kale, water cress, brussel sprouts, dill, cabbage, sorrel, spinach, turnips, cauliflower, Fruits: cranberries, red raspberries, currants (red), avocadoes, currants (black), pineapples; Nuts: filberts, brazil nuts and chestnuts (dried).

   Zinc: Zinc is found in connection with phosphorus in the brain. It exists in very minute quantities. It is thought to be connected with the action of the "vitamins," which it seems to be able to replace to some extent, at least, in the animal organism. It seems to be essential to the nutrition and growth of certain plants and has been found in milk.

   These mineral elements are divided into base-forming (acid-binding) or alkaline elments, and acid-forming elements. The bases are potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, lithium, zinc and nickel and the acid-formers are phosphorus, sulphur, silicon, chlorine, flourine, iodine, arsenic and bromine.

   Aluminum: Aluminum is often found in both fruits and vegetables in the form of aluminum oxide, or alumina. It is sometimes found in the body, but does not seem constant. If it has any function in the body this is unknown and McCollum says: "Recently I have proved that aluminum is not essential."