A recent WHO study linked nutrition to every researched disease and there are now countless published papers quantifying the relationship between nutrition and our health. There really is no argument about the importance of nutrition but when you begin to consider the complex relationship between multiple nutrients and your body's biochemistry, it can become confusing and often off-putting. There are, however, some inexpensive, simple steps, available to anyone, anywhere, that can prove profoundly rewarding. These steps involve the correction of two mineral deficiencies that have been shown to affect the majority of the western world. When you discover the multiple benefits of these two minerals and identify obvious symptoms linked to your own lack of these nutrients, you will be amazed at the lack of proactivity in the modern medical machine.
How many problems could be solved if everyone corrected these shortages, and why on earth have they been neglected for so long? Part of the problem relates to the absurd absence of nutritional training in a seven year medical degree. If you receive less than one hour of nutrition training during your entire degree you are hardly likely to be predisposed toward simple, nutritional solutions. There is also the issue of vested interests. If you are a busy GP you will be receiving most of your post doctoral updates from the pharmaceutical companies and this information will never include research that will reduce the requirement for their symptom treating drugs. It's not a conspiracy, it's just good business! This is why we have reached a point in our social evolution where we must reclaim responsibility for our own health, because no one else is going to do it for us! Hopefully, the following information may serve to assist you with this reclamation.
The Two Costly Oversights
Magnesium and zinc are the two minerals most likely to be missing in many of us. The scale of these twin shortages is similar and estimates vary from 60% to 80% of the entire population in developed countries. We suffer a plague of coronary heart disease (our largest killer) and yet magnesium is the single most important mineral involved in protection from this disease. Similarly, prostate cancer has recently become the largest killer of adult males and a shortage of zinc is very commonly linked to this disease. One study found seven times more zinc in healthy prostates compared to diseased alternatives.
It may seem reductionistic to suggest that a couple of mineral deficiencies could actually impact two of the largest killers on the planet, but as you begin to understand the multiple roles of these critically important nutrients you may come to think otherwise. It is fair to say that your chances of becoming a grim statistic are often related to immune competency, as it is this defense system that fights the fight and wins or loses your battle for survival. Magnesium and zinc are the two most important minerals in relation to your immune competency. Lets look at the costly outcomes of this oversight.
Magnesium – Is There Anything It Doesn't Do?
I often call magnesium, “the master mineral”, as it is intimately involved in so many important processes. It is hard to prioritise, but the enzyme link is right up there. Enzymes are required to trigger every metabolic and digestive process and magnesium is directly linked to the manufacture of over 350 enzymes and indirectly linked to thousands of others. Ironically, zinc is the second most important mineral in relation to enzymes with direct links to over 300 enzymes.
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), stroke and atherosclerosis together comprise a remarkably destructive package accounting for over one third of all premature deaths and they are all directly related to dirty pipes. It sounds simple and it is! The build up of plaques, clots and calcification in our blood vessels is the principle root cause of these conditions. CHD, for example, is characterized by the accumulation of cholesterol, fats, calcium and clotting factors called “atherosclerotic plaques”. Magnesium deficiency can contribute to all of these plaque factors including the formation of “sticky” blood platelets.
Australian commentators have recently suggested that we are suffering a plague of mental illness. Anxiety and depression are key players in this national malaise. A magnesium deficiency can cause a seretonin shortage, which can, in turn, sponsor, depression, suicide and irrational violence. In recognition of this powerful link, the US National Institute of Health officially listed depression as a sign of magnesium deficiency. This was right back in 1992 and yet the scale of magnesium deficiency remains unchanged 17 years later. Zinc is equally important in mental health and it has been similarly ignored.
Magnesium is critical for efficient detoxification, as it is essential for the formation of glutathione, perhaps the most important player involved in the removal of environmental toxins (including cigarette smoke and alcohol). It is also essential for optimal immune function as it can dramatically improve the performance of white blood cells, the body’s first and foremost defense against infection. This master mineral is also necessary for the production of insulin so it has a powerful link to diabetes and the many problems associated with this disease. Magnesium is also profoundly linked to stress, metabolic syndrome (a cluster of symptoms predisposing sufferers to diabetes, CHD and stroke) and muscle integrity (27% of the body’s magnesium is found in the muscles and the heart is our most important muscle).
What emerges here is stark evidence of the need for nutrition-based proactive medicine, but in a self-serving medical machine where illness is profit, you are probably going to have to look after yourself. A shortage of zinc is as widespread as magnesium deficiency, so let’s look at the implications of this oversight.
Zinc Deficiency – Sex, Sanity and Immune Support
Zinc was recently called “the ultimate sex mineral” by Men’s Health magazine and research reveals that this claim is not extravagant. Fertility, libido, potency and overall sexual health are all intimately linked to adequate zinc levels. Zinc is essential for both sperm production (the tail of the sperm comprises 80% zinc) and testosterone levels. A 60-year-old male produces just 25% of the testosterone produced by a 20-year-old and zinc can be related to this decline (as zinc levels decline with age). However, it is not just about lost libido. Testosterone is an anabolic (muscle building) hormone, so low testosterone means compromised muscle integrity (with serious, underemphasized implications for the most important muscle – your heart!).
Decreased sperm production and low sperm counts have become a major fertility issue in recent years and both can be related to zinc deficiency. Over 80% of the general population is zinc deficient and the figure is higher for men. This is related to the loss of zinc through sex. Each ejaculation can eject up to 5 mg of zinc, which is one third of the minimum zinc requirement of 15 mg per day.
Lost Libido vs Increased Cancer Risk
However, it is the health of the sex organs in both males and females that is perhaps more important than enhanced sexual performance. Prostate cancer has just become the largest killer of men in Australia and breast cancer has been a major women’s health issue for decades. There is a powerful zinc link to both conditions. The most basic, and obvious connection relates to immune function. Zinc tends to accumulate in the thymus gland because it is essential for the production of killer T cells. This defense force represents front line protection against all forms of cancer and it is equally important for infectious diseases (hence the popular use of zinc to shorten the duration of the common cold). However, zinc offers more than immune support for the health of these reproductive glands. Zinc is an aromatase inhibitor which helps to prevent the aromatase-based conversion of testosterone into estrogen. Abdominal fat cells are the culprits here. Your “spare tyre” or “love handles”, in effect, produce aromatase which increases your levels of cancer-stimulating estrogen while lowering your levels of heart protective testosterone. This is one of many reasons to prioritise the loss of gut fat. This applies equally to both men and woman where excess abdominal fat decreases your libido while increasing your cancer risk.
However, zinc plays another protective role that is specific to men and prostate cancer. Cadmium is a root cause of prostate cancer. If you want to give a lab rat prostate cancer, you simply feed it a precise dose of this heavy metal and two months later a tumor appears on the prostate of the unfortunate creature. It is a foolproof recipe for those using laboratory animals to gain a better understanding of this disease. Cadmium accumulates in the prostate where it can initiate undesirable changes. Zinc also accumulates in this little gland and zinc can displace cadmium from the prostate! In fact, if you have luxury levels of zinc, cadmium is unable to make its way into the prostate.
Zinc and Breast Health
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have recently reported that the glands in the breast have a unique zinc requirement linked to their need to transfer large amounts of zinc into the milk during lactation. A lack of zinc in nursing mothers can lead to developmental issues for the baby but it has also been linked to an increased likelihood of breast cancer. In fact, zinc deficiency has not only been implicated in the initiation of breast cancer, but also in the transition, progression and metastasis of the disease.
Another zinc link in breast health relates to the all-important balance between estrogen and progesterone. Progesterone is the balancing hormone that counters the stimulatory effect of estrogen. Progesterone supplementation, when this hormone is deficient, is a profoundly important tool in the battle against breast cancer. Zinc is required for the production and utilization of progesterone.
Mental Wellness, Skin Health and Food Appreciation
Zinc is a key mineral for mental health as deficiencies can cause apathy, depression, irritability, lethargy, mental retardation and paranoia. Zinc is required to make an enzyme called dopamine hydroxylase. This enzyme makes the mood-lifting neurotransmitters, dopamine and noradrenaline.
Zinc also regulates the skin’s oil gland function, so it plays an important role in the prevention of acne. It is also required for the manufacture of collagen, which is so important for the elasticity of both skin and arteries. Zinc deficiency has also been linked to dandruff and psoriasis.
The appreciation of food is inextricably linked to the savouring of flavour and aroma. A common symptom of zinc deficiency is a decreased sense of taste and smell. In the zinc-deficient, food can become something to fill the gap rather than the great pleasure that it should be.
Why Are We Lacking These Two Minerals?
There are several factors that limit the uptake and availability of both minerals. The consumption of cereal grains is one such problem. We were never designed to consume the amount of cereals found in the modern diet. Cereal grains all contain phytic acid, a natural compound that combines with zinc and magnesium, rendering both minerals insoluble. The zinc phytate and magnesium phytates that are formed, are excreted, and our deficiency grows.
Boiling food can also leach out both zinc and magnesium and food processing also reduces mineral levels in the end product. The conversion of wholemeal flour to white flour, for example, removes 80% of the magnesium content and 60% of the zinc.
Sweating can deplete both minerals, as can long term alcohol intake and drug abuse (both prescription and illicit).
Phosphoric acid found in soft drinks can form insoluble zinc phosphate and magnesium phosphate, reducing the potential absorption of these minerals.
Intestinal malabsorption is another, surprisingly common, issue that can compromise uptake of both minerals. I have had recent personal experience of this problem that was certainly a surprise (considering my nutrition and supplementation). Several weeks back I had major intestinal surgery for a burst appendix and follow-up tests revealed that I was seriously deficient in both iron and zinc. It turned out that the anaemia was actually related to the zinc deficiency. Zinc is required for the production of hydrochloric acid and a lack of hydrochloric acid not only creates symptoms that are identical to excess stomach acidity but it seriously reduces the absorption of iron. Zinc supplementation (combined with vitamin B6, an essential zinc synergist) and the inclusion of betaine hydrochloride with meals, has made all the difference. The glow has returned to my cheeks and my digestion has greatly improved.
Top Up Tips – Zinc
How do we address deficiencies of these minerals most efficiently? Well, dose rates and timing are important, as are supportive nutrients to boost uptake. When there are inherent problems with absorption, then we can also look at alternative delivery strategies (sublingual and transdermal).
Zinc supplements should always be taken last thing before bed. At this time there is little chance of the phytic acid in cereals compromising zinc uptake (unless, of course, you are a midnight snacker). The ideal dose rate is 30 to 50 mg a day but you can take as much as (but no more than) 100 mg when the deficiency is serious*.
Vitamin B6 is the best synergist to boost zinc performance and it is a very important nutrient in its own right. B6 is often called the “stress vitamin”, as it is depleted when we are worried. Stress is so endemic in this crazy world we have created, it would seem likely that most of us would benefit from a B6 boost. 100 mg of B6 per day is an effective dose rate. Some of us suffer a condition called pyroluria, where uptake of both zinc and Vitamin B6 is compromised. One trick to ensure adequate zinc uptake is to use a zinc/vitamin C soluble powder. Add half a teaspoon of this powder to 100 mL of water and swirl the liquid solution in your mouth for as long as possible and you will absorb a good percentage of the zinc through pores on the underside of the tongue. Sublingual supplementation, like this, has also proven very effective with vitamin B12.
The other tip to boost the uptake of any supplement, including magnesium and zinc, is to include a probiotic with the supplement. Research has shown that performance can be boosted by as much as 45% when you put the beneficial gut microbes behind the mineral. I have been combining the sublingual zinc strategy with our powerhouse probiotic, Bio-Bubble™. I have also been having our popular food, ProGlow™, which features chelated zinc. I am pleased with the rapid response.
Top Up Tips – Magnesium
600 mg of actual magnesium per day is the suggested dose rate when you are deficient in this mineral. There are several forms of chelated magnesium available but I find magnesium citrate to be effective. A magnesium complex (available in most health stores) will contain all of the supporting nutrients that optimize magnesium response. However, there can be a problem in correcting magnesium deficiencies once your levels have dropped to a certain point. This limiting level varies from person to person, but if you have reached that point, magnesium is very poorly absorbed through the gut lining and it becomes difficult to correct the deficit.
There is an alternative, however, and that involves by-passing the stomach and delivering magnesium directly through the skin. There are suggestions that transdermal magnesium is up to ten times more efficient than oral supplementation. The NTS product MagSorb™ is one of the largest selling, highest quality, transdermal magnesium oils in Australia. MagSorb™ can be sprayed directly on the skin or it can be added to a footbath or bathtub for a fast-tracked magnesium boost.
A great way to test the efficiency of transdermal magnesium oil is to apply it directly to a strained or sore muscle. The relief arrives minutes later and you will understand the amazing absorptive capacity of the skin. It may even make you rethink the use of some sun block creams and cosmetics. I often suggest that you should be prepared to eat your skin care products and cosmetics because they are entering your bloodstream as surely as if you had swallowed them. There is very little regulation of these products and they often contain questionable components including parabens and nitrates. The message here - pay the few dollars extra and source natural skin care products!
The correction of zinc and magnesium deficiencies is perhaps the most simple and least expensive wellness strategy available. Blood testing for magnesium deficiencies is not a reliable guideline as the blood contains just 1% of the body’s magnesium stores (so it is not truly representative). It can sometimes be more productive to search the internet for the symptoms of zinc and magnesium deficiency and it is often obvious if you are a candidate for correction. If you need these minerals, don’t hesitate! Act now and enjoy the changes!
Disclaimer: Information in this article is a guide only and you should seek professional medical advice prior to undertaking mineral supplementation.