Side Effects of Trace Mineral Supplements

You might have heard that a trace minerals supplement could be key to improving your health, but you should proceed with caution. Just because it's hailed as healthy doesn't mean you need it — or that it's even safe.

You might have heard that a trace minerals supplement could be key to improving your health, but you should proceed with caution. (Image: baibaz/iStock/GettyImages)

Remember back when you were a kid and you took fruit-flavored multivitamins in the shape of cartoon characters. They tasted like candy, but you weren't allowed to have more than one a day. Is this bringing back memories?

If so, you might still be wondering how serious a threat multivitamins actually posed to you as a kid. More important, do they still pose a health hazard now that you're an adult?

You've probably graduated past supplements shaped like cartoon characters, and now you find yourself faced with choosing from among the many vitamin and mineral supplements made for adults. The same rules from childhood, however, still apply: You don't want to overdo it on certain minerals.

What Are Trace Minerals?

Everybody talks about getting your vitamins and minerals — micronutrients that your body needs only in small quantities but are essential to properly functioning systems and disease prevention.

MedlinePlus notes that minerals can be divided into two categories. Macrominerals (such as calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium) are needed in larger amounts. Trace minerals, on the other hand, are needed only in small amounts. Trace minerals include iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc and selenium.

Here's a quick rundown on a few of the functions these trace minerals serve, per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

  • Iron: red blood cell formation, energy production
  • Magnesium: blood pressure regulation, blood sugar regulation, bone formation, energy production.
  • Copper: antioxidation, bone formation, collagen and connective tissue formation, energy production
  • Iodine: growth and development, metabolism, reproduction
  • Zinc: growth and development, immune function, nervous system function, protein formation
  • Selenium: antioxidation, immune function, reproduction, thyroid function

Most people get their required amount of both macrominerals and trace minerals from the food they eat, but those who are deficient may be encouraged to take a supplement by their doctor.

Be Careful With Supplements

Now we're getting to the reason that you weren't allowed to eat multivitamins like candy when you were a kid: Because excess minerals could be toxic.

Unless you're deficient, there's no benefit to getting more of a mineral. Having extra nutrients in your body doesn't make you extra healthy, and in some cases, it could be dangerous. The FDA emphasizes that improper use of supplements can be harmful and could have deadly results.

Here's what could happen if you consume too much of certain trace minerals.

  • Iron: constipation, nausea and vomiting, reduced zinc and copper absorption
  • Zinc: nausea and vomiting, immunosuppression, reduced copper absorption and iron imbalances
  • Selenium: brittle hair and nails, peripheral neuropathies, gastrointestinal upset
  • Manganese: limited evidence points to neurological symptoms similar to those of Parkinson's disease
  • Iodine: hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, thyroiditis and thyroid papillary cancer

It's smart to be conscious of trace mineral overdose, especially with regards to children. Having child-proof packages and warning labels has decreased the number of iron overdoses in children.

Supplements to Know

In addition to multivitamins and supplements of specific micronutrients, the market has several specific products with impressive claims, but you should take a closer look at how those claims hold up before consumption. Additionally, consider what side effects these products might have.

For example, Concentrace Trace Mineral Drops, which boasts 250 milligrams of magnesium, 650 milligrams of chloride, 5 milligrams of sodium, 3 milligrams of potassium, 40 milligrams of sulfate, 1.5 milligrams of lithium and 1 milligram of boron per half-teaspoon serving.

Per the product's marketing, it contains concentrated sea minerals to "replace trace minerals commonly found deficient in today's diet," and the only listed side effect is that products high in magnesium may have a laxative effect.

Another supplement that gets a lot of attention is Schindele's Mineralien (Schindele's Minerals in English), a German product marketed as a "pure natural product" made from rock dust that's rich with minerals. Its website doesn't list what specific nutritive minerals it has, but it says that as a natural product, it is subject to minor variations in ingredients.

Schindele's Minerals does have side effects. Its list of warnings includes that it should not be taken if you have "reacted sensitively to healing earth/rock flour" or suffer from health issues like kidney problems or gastric obstruction.

It also notes that users should leave a period of two hours between taking the Schindele's Minerals and any medication and that it should not be taken by children younger than 12 or by pregnant or breastfeeding women. People with haemochromatosis shouldn't taken Schindele's Minerals because of its high iron count.

If these naturally sourced supplements seem lax in the way they are promoted or regulated, it's because they are. Federal law doesn't require them — or any dietary supplements for that matter — to be proven safe to the FDA's satisfaction. Manufacturers don't even have to prove that their health claims are accurate to print them on the package.

Colloidal Minerals

One other type of supplement is colloidal minerals. Most commonly, you'll see colloidal silver promoted as providing major health benefits. Should you believe it? Mayo Clinic says not to. Silver has no known purpose in the body, and it's not an essential nutrient; therefore, products touting it for nutritive value are not effective or safe.

Despite the claims that colloidal silver can boost the immune system and even combat such ailments as cancer, HIV, shingles and herpes, Mayo Clinic points out that no sound scientific studies to evaluate these claims have been published, and that the FDA has taken action against some manufacturers for their unproven health claims.

The silver in these supplements is the same precious metal used to make jewelry, dental fillings and silverware. In the case of these supplements, tiny particles of silver are suspended in liquid. The silver can build up in the body over months or years, sometimes resulting in argyria, a blue-gray discoloration to parts of the body. Excessive doses have more serious health problems like kidney damage and neurological problems.

Trace mineral supplements come with side effects that outweigh positive benefits people hope to get from them. Unless a person is deficient and needs an extra dose of a certain nutrient, it's best to focus on getting what you need from a healthy, well-rounded diet. A doctor can offer advice as to what foods are best for increasing consumption of certain minerals, as well as what supplements to take and how to administer them if they are necessary.

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