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Overview of dietary trace minerals

Sassan Pazirandeh, MD
David L Burns, MD
Ian J Griffin, MB ChB
Section Editor
Timothy O Lipman, MD
Deputy Editor
Alison G Hoppin, MD


Minerals form only 5 percent of the typical human diet but are essential for normal health and function. Macrominerals are defined as minerals that are required by adults in amounts greater than 100 mg/day or make up less than 1 percent of total body weight. Trace elements (or trace minerals) are usually defined as minerals that are required in amounts between 1 to 100 mg/day by adults or make up less than 0.01 percent of total body weight. Ultra-trace minerals generally are defined as minerals that are required in amounts less than 1 mg/day. Although the classification of mineral may be controversial and somewhat arbitrary, one outline is given in Table 1 (table 1).

This topic review will discuss the physiological and biochemical functions, dietary requirements, and signs and symptoms of excess and deficiency for the essential trace minerals, including iron, zinc, copper, manganese, fluoride, and selenium. Iodine (an ultra-trace mineral) will also be discussed because of its global importance in iodine deficiency. Several of these minerals are considered in more depth elsewhere. (See "Iodine deficiency disorders" and "Zinc deficiency and supplementation in children and adolescents".)


Several systems have been used to describe nutritional requirements of a population. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) were developed by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine to guide nutrient intake in a variety of settings. Under this system, requirements can be expressed as a Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), which is defined as the dietary intake that is sufficient to meet the daily nutrient requirements of 97 percent of the individuals in a specific life stage group. If there is insufficient data to determine an RDA for a given nutrient, requirements can be expressed as an Adequate Intake (AI), which is an estimation of the nutrient intake necessary to maintain a healthy state. The upper limit (UL) is the maximum daily intake of a nutrient that is likely to pose no risk of adverse effects. Intake of nutrients far in excess of the RDA is considered to be "pharmacologic" dosing. Dietary guidelines, which incorporate the RDAs, are periodically updated as new information arises.

The United States Department of Agriculture uses different nomenclature and age groupings, setting "Daily Values" to describe recommended intake for adults and children older than four years of age. What appears on food labels is the estimation of the amount of a nutrient provided based upon a 2000 calorie diet. Updated information can be found at the website of the Food and Nutrition Information Center of the United States Department of Agriculture (www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/index.html).

These terms are described in greater detail in a separate topic review. (See "Dietary history and recommended dietary intake in children".)


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