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The Hunger Project Bolen Report
Ohm Society
Minerals (Enzyme co-factors) Print E-mail
by Ron Kennedy, M.D., Santa Rosa, CA

Dr. Kennedy The body is powered by enzymes which are present in every living cell. Enzymes work by catalyzing (accelerating) chemical reactions. The body is a complex chemical soup with a fantastic number of chemical reactions possible. Most of the possible chemical reactions are incompatible with life. If they were to happen on a large scale, the chemical soup of life would simply self-destruct.

This is where enzymes come in. Enzymes can be thought of as matchmakers. Each enzyme is designed to bring together two particular molecules, so that those two molecules interact to produce a third (needed) molecule quickly and efficiently. In this way, the presence of enzymes favors the occurrence of certain reactions over others. The undesirable reactions do occur occasionally, but so rarely as to present no problem to the overall chemistry of the body. The presence of an enzyme makes the reaction it is designed to catalyze several thousand times more likely than it would be in the absence of the enzyme.

Enzymes cannot work, however, without co-factors, and each enzyme is designed to work with a particular co-factor. You have heard of these co-factors, they are called "minerals." Unless an enzyme is accompanied by its co-factor/mineral, or a substitute co-factor/mineral, it will simply sit around doing nothing. There are eighteen co-factor/minerals in human nutrition. They are, in alphabetical order: calcium, chlorine, chromium, cobalt, copper, fluorine, iodide, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, sulfur, vanadium and zinc. Some of these can substitute for each other, and in this way the body maintains a survival advantage in time of dietary imbalance.


Calcium is the most plentiful co-factor/mineral in the body. All but a small percent is found in the bones and teeth. It functions, in relationship to phosphorus, to maintain the strength of the teeth and skeleton. It is in dynamic flux with twenty percent of bone calcium removed and replaced each year by cells known as "osteoclasts" and "osteoblasts" — literally bone breakers and bone builders. The optimum ratio of calcium to phosphorus is 2:1. Vitamin D is required for the absorption of calcium. Calcium also functions with magnesium to keep the heart healthy and the electrical rhythm of the heart pulsing regularly. Calcium also is important in the transmission of impulses between nerves throughout the body. Non-animal, healthy sources of calcium are soybeans, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, dried beans and green vegetables.


This co-factor/mineral regulates the acid-base balance of the body. It circulates in the blood in relationship to sodium and potassium. It aids enzyme systems in the liver to metabolize and dispose of toxic materials absorbed through the colon. It also functions with hydrogen to form hydrochloric acid, which digests food in the stomach.


Chromium is the co-factor/mineral for insulin. Insulin is derived from the Isles of Langerhans cells of the pancreas and is responsible for facilitating the entry of glucose into the cells. Without a sufficient supply of chromium, insulin cannot do its job. Chromium also functions in the transport of proteins from one location in the body to another. This is an important growth function and may be important in the prevention of atherosclerosis. Chromium also is important for the heart and blood vessels and is required to maintain a normal blood pressure. The best natural sources are corn oil and brewers' yeast.


Cobalt is the co-factor/mineral for vitamin B12 (cobalamine). It enables B12 to do its job in the construction of red blood cells. It is necessary in very small amounts and must be obtained from foods, as it is not built into supplements. Sea vegetables are rich in cobalt even though some writers claim that you have to eat animal products to get it. This is just not true. Cobalt is known to replace zinc in some enzyme systems.


Copper is a co-factor/mineral for a broad range of enzymes throughout the body. It is essential for hemoglobin synthesis and for the conversion of tyrosine into melanin (which protects the skin from sunburn). It also is essential for the utilization of vitamin C and therefore has a profound effect on the health of the elastic tissues of the body, such as ligaments and tendons. Copper is so abundant in nature that it is difficult for you to become deficient in this mineral. It is found in beans, whole wheat, prunes, leafy vegetables and in high concentration from use of copper cookware.


Iodine is the co-factor/mineral involved in the enzyme systems which produce thyroxin, the thyroid hormone. Thus, two-thirds of the iodine in your body is concentrated in your thyroid gland. Iodine is necessary for thyroxin, and thyroxin is responsible for maintaining a normal metabolic rate in all the cells of the body. You can think of thyroxin as the accelerator pedal and the rest of your body as the car. As long as there is sufficient iodine, in the absence of thyroid disease, your body will run at a comfortable rate, not too fast, not too slow. Thyroxin also is responsible for the healthy growth of hair, nails, skin and teeth. Salt was fortified with iodine by law, until a few years ago when that law was repealed. That law was originally passed around the turn of the twentieth century (about 1910, if I remember correctly) to lower the incidence of goiter (a condition caused by iodine deficiency), particularly in the Midwest region of the U.S., around the Great Lakes and the inland mountains, where soil is iodine poor. Iodine is available in vegetables grown in iodine rich soil. It is especially present in kelp and onions. Sufficient iodine promotes a normal metabolic rate, proper growth, normal energy, normal mental acuity and healthy hair, nails, skin and teeth through its effect on thyroid homone output.


Iron is necessary for the construction of, and is actually part of, the hemoglobin molecule. Hemoglobin is necessary for the transport of oxygen around the body. Iron is a necessary part of myoglobin, the red protein in muscle cells. It also is used as a co-factor/mineral to enzymes involved in growth. This is obviously of importance in children who are growing. It is equally important in adult bodies, which are constantly replacing skin and intestinal tract cells. Iron is important in the enzymes of the immune system and is essential for maintaining normal resistance to infectious disease. Premenopausal women lose twice as much iron as men each month, due to menstruation, and therefore women are much more likely to have iron deficiency anemia. When you select an iron supplement you should avoid inorganic iron (ferrous sulfate), because it is not easily absorbed and destroys vitamin E as well. Choose the organic forms: ferrous gluconate, ferrous fumarate, ferrous citrate, or ferrous peptonate. Your best natural sources of iron are peaches, nuts, beans, asparagus and oatmeal. Sufficient iron results in healthy growth and replacement of cells, as well as a healthy amount of red blood cells, for the all-important job of transporting oxygen.


In the plant world, magnesium is the co-factor for chlorophyll, the molecule which has the unique ability to convert and store sunlight in chemical form for later use. Chlorophyll is green — therefore, the greener the vegetable, the more chlorophyll and thus the more magnesium present as well. In the human body, magnesium is the co-factor/mineral to enzymes involved in carbohydrate and protein metabolism. It also acts as an antagonist to calcium and tends to prevent calcium stones in the kidneys and gallbladder, as well as the calcium deposits of atherosclerosis. It is nature's original "calcium channel blocker." Magnesium also is involved in enzyme systems of the central nervous system and is required for proper function of the CNS. Alcohol depletes magnesium and this is a problem in alcoholism, which can lead to seizures. The best sources of magnesium are fresh green vegetables, the greener the better. Magnesium also is found in corn and apples. An abundant supply of magnesium promotes a healthy cardiovascular system and helps prevent calcium deposits and depression.


Manganese is a co-factor/mineral involved in a great diversity of enzyme systems. It is important to the proper use of biotin, thiamine and vitamin C. It is important in the production of thyroxin, normal CNS function, proper digestion and sexual function. Proper sources include green veggies, whole grain cereals and tea. A plentiful supply promotes health in many areas of the body through good thyroid, CNS, digestive and sexual health.


Molybdenum is the co-factor/mineral for the enzyme xanthine oxidase and is vital for iron utilization. It also is important in fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Supplements ordinarly contain no molybdenum — therefore, your dietary sources are very important. They are dark leafy green veggies, whole grains and legumes. A sufficient supply allows iron to be properly used and tends to prevent iron deficiency anemia.


Phosphorus is widely distributed as a co-factor/mineral in the enzyme systems of the body. It is a component of bone and is in dynamic relationship to calcium. Its ratio to calcium should be 1:2. Phosphorus is present as phosphate in many food preservatives. Avoid food preservatives by consuming only fresh foods. Phosphorus is present in colas, consumed by so many people in the U.S. After age forty, the kidneys have more difficulty than before with phosphorus excretion, so that this advice, about fresh food and avoiding colas, is especially important. When excess phosphorus is present, the bones decalcify to release calcium in order to maintain the 2:1 ratio with phosphorus. If this continues over a few years, the result is osteoporosis. Women, particularly, should take note of these principles, as they are especially prone to osteoporosis after menopause. The problem with phosphorus is that, given food preservatives and colas, people are exposed to too much phosphorus. When vitamin D and calcium are in sufficient supply, and when foods heavy in phosphorus preservatives are avoided, there should be no problem.


This co-factor/mineral is in dynamic relationship with sodium. Potassium is found primarily inside the cells and sodium primarily outside the cells. It is particularly important as a co-factor/mineral in glucose metabolism, also water and fluid balance, muscle (including heart muscle) action, transmission of impulses along nerves and in kidney function. Veggies and fruits are high in potassium. Sufficient potassium is necessary for the continuation of life. It also must be kept at just the right concentration, and the body is equipped with mechanisms to achieve this balance. Any significant deviation from this level can result in cardiac arrhythmias, fibrillation, seizures and death. You are well advised to maintain your potassium level.


Selenium is synergistic with vitamin E. Together they are more powerful than the sum of both combined. Selenium is an antioxidant, as is vitamin E. Both serve to slow down hardening of tissues caused by oxidation of fats. Selenium concentrates in the male organs — seminal vesicles and testes — and is lost in the semen. Therefore, men have a higher requirement than women for selenium. Natural sources include veggies and grains. Sufficiency is associated with youthful elasticity of tissues, alleviation of hot flashes and menopausal stress and treatment of dandruff! It also is suspected that selenium provides some cancer protection.


Sodium, as sodium chloride, was thoroughly discussed in another part of this website. It is the most common of all minerals, and there is almost no possibility of ever becoming sodium deficient. There is every possibility of becoming overloaded with sodium. There is no instance in which it is advisable to supplement your sodium intake, except for adrenal fatigue or collapse (called Addison's disease). It is much more commonly needed to restrict sodium intake.


Sulfur is contained in the amino acids cysteine, cystine and methionine. These amino acids are, in turn, abundant in proteins. If you are ingesting sufficient protein, you have no worries about sulfur deficiency. A variety of fresh veggies will more than do the job. Sulfur is important in the construction of healthy skin and the two outgrowths of skin: hair and nails.


Zinc is documented to participate as a co-factor/mineral in over eighty enzymes, thus it has many affects on the body. Zinc is necessary for protein synthesis, it governs the contractibility of muscles, is important in prostate health, helps in the formation of insulin, is important in brain function and is required for the synthesis of DNA. Good sources are whole grain products, brewer's yeast and pumpkin seeds. An abundant supply of zinc can accelerate the healing of wounds, help avoid prostate problems, stop the formation of white spots in the fingernails (the old ones will not disappear until they grow out), promote mental alertness, heighten the ability of bored taste buds to taste the goodness of food and aid in the treatment of infertility.

The information in this article is not meant to be medical advice.�Treatment for a medical condition should come at the recommendation of your personal physician.

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