If you make it a point to eat foods or take supplements that contain calcium or iron to avoid osteoporosis or anemia, you already know minerals are essential for good health. Minerals like zinc, copper, potassium, chloride, manganese, sodium and potassium become part of your body's structure and they regulate your heartbeat, your blood sugar and all of your body's processes. Some facts about minerals are surprisingly interesting.
Minerals Link Your Body and the Earth
Many of the minerals in the earth's crust and in mountains, rocks and soil are the very same minerals your body needs to function properly. However, eating a rock won't do you any good; minerals must be in a form your body can use. Time and the forces of nature gradually break down rocks and other mineral-containing natural materials, such as soil. Plants then absorb minerals through their roots, and when you eat a plant or eat an animal that ate a plant, you absorb the minerals into your body.
Unusual Mineral Cravings
An iron or zinc deficiency can manifest in unusual ways -- it can induce the perplexing behaviors associated with pica, the compulsion to eat nonfood substances. If you're afflicted with pica, instead of craving chocolate or french fries, you'll have uncontrollable urges to eat things like paper, dirt, hairballs, ice, paint, sand, clay or even animal droppings. Pica is more common in children -- between 10 and 30 percent of children ages 1 to 6 exhibit these behaviors at some point, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Pica can cause intestinal obstructions, lead poisoning, infections and malnutrition. Treatment includes testing for and correcting nutritional deficiencies. Pica is sometimes related to as a mental or behavioral disorder instead of a nutritional deficiency.
The Mad Hatter and the Mineral
Not all minerals are necessary or even safe for your body. Strange behavior incited by a toxic mineral -- mercury -- is behind the expression "mad as a hatter." In the book "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll, the Mad Hatter's frantic, unpredictable behavior is characteristic of the symptoms of the chronic mercury exposure that many hat makers experienced in 19th-century Britain. Hat makers were poisoned as they used mercuric nitrate to shape wool felt into hats while working in poorly ventilated rooms.
Pizza, Thirst and Minerals
You've probably experienced thirst after eating pizza or other salty foods, and minerals are the reason. Water makes up approximately 50 to 60 percent of your body's mass, and it's filled with minerals like sodium, chloride and potassium. Most water and minerals are inside your cells; the rest is in your blood plasma and lymphatic fluid. If a mineral becomes too concentrated in either compartment, it pulls water from the other compartment to dilute itself down to the right level. When you eat a slice of salty pizza, the sodium level in your blood plasma becomes overly concentrated, and it dilutes itself by pulling water out of your cells. The dehydrating cells send a distress signal to your brain, and your brain sends you a signal to drink water.
Soda, Phosphorus and Teenagers
Teenagers are actively growing, and the need for the mineral calcium for bone growth is high. However, if you're like many teenage girls, you may like soda more than you like milk. That can spell trouble for bone growth and health thanks to soda's high level of phosphorus, a mineral that can affect calcium and bone metabolism. If a teen gets enough calcium in her diet, some phosphorus won't hurt, but it can become a problem when soda replaces milk in her diet and a high ratio of phosphorus to calcium develops.
- Bellvue College: Minerals
- Emory University; Minerals are Links Between Earth and Human Health; Bill Size; Sept. 21, 1998
- University of New Mexico; Water: The Science of Nature's Most Important Nutrient; Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
- Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute; The Calcium Cycle; Bill Duesing
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Pica -- All Information
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; NIOSH Backgrounder: Alice's Mad Hatter and Work-Related Illness; Fred Blosser; March 4, 2010