Iron, zinc and magnesium belong to a class of nutrients called minerals. Iron and zinc are trace minerals, which means you need only small amounts of them in your body to function properly. Magnesium is a major mineral, which is named for the fact that your body needs large amounts of the mineral to carry out its functions. If you find it difficult to meet your iron, zinc and magnesium needs through your diet, supplements of each mineral are available.
Your body contains more iron than any other trace mineral. Iron allows your body to build hemoglobin, which is the protein center of your red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to cells and remove carbon dioxide from the body. Without iron, your body cannot create enough healthy red blood cells, and inadequate amounts of oxygen get delivered to your tissues. Iron also allows your body to create neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers that send nerve signals throughout your brain.
Most people get enough iron through their diet, but some people with increased needs, such as pregnant women, might need to take a supplement to prevent iron-deficiency anemia.
Zinc is involved in the function of more than 100 different enzymes, which are substances that allow chemical reactions to take place. Zinc helps keep your immune system running by playing a role in the production of white blood cells, which fight off potentially harmful substances and foreign invaders. Zinc also allows your body to create DNA and RNA, the genetic material in all of your cells. Zinc might also speed up wound healing because it plays a role in the inflammation response associated with wounds and cuts.
Most children and adults consume enough zinc through their diet. The Office of Dietary Supplements says older adults age 60 and up are at the highest risk of developing a zinc deficiency, which depresses the immune system.
Like zinc, magnesium plays a role in the action of hundreds of different enzymes. Magnesium helps your body metabolize carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and allows you to synthesize proteins from amino acids in your body. Magnesium also plays a role in the function of your nerves and muscles, and because of this, it helps maintain proper heartbeat. Approximately half of the magnesium in your body is in your bones, according to "Nutrition and You" by Joan Salge Blake. This magnesium helps keep your bones healthy and strong.
Most people meet their magnesium needs, but some have increased needs, such as diabetics, older adults or those with Crohn's disease or celiac disease. A magnesium supplement can help fill the gap.
If you think you require a supplement to meet your iron, zinc and/or magnesium needs, talk to your health care provider about the type of supplement that is right for you. While inadequate amounts of these minerals can cause health problems, so can excessive amounts. Your health care provider can help you choose a supplement that provides enough of the minerals without exceeding the daily recommended intake.