MACRO MINERALS: (calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, chloride, phosphorus and sulfur)

       Macro minerals are those the body needs in excess of 100 milligrams per day as opposed to micro, (trace minerals) which the body needs in less than 100 milligrams per day.  In lesson Six, we discuss calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, chloride, phosphorus and sulfur.


       The best known of the macro-minerals is calcium.  Calcium is an alkaline mineral that is the fifth most abundant mineral in the earth's crust and is present in nature in a variety of forms.  An adult's body contains roughly 1.5 to 2%, or two to three pounds of its total body weight in calcium, making it the most abundant mineral in the body. Ninety-eight percent is found in bones, 1% in teeth, and the remaining 1% (about two-thirds of a tablespoon) is found in soft tissues and body fluids serving other functions not related to bone/teeth structure. The body continually adjusts the amount of calcium in the blood in order to keep it at an exact level.

       Calcium is required for heart muscle contraction and in regulating the heart beat. It also assists in the utilization of iron, helping it pass through cell walls.  In children, it helps to alleviate the muscle and bone pain commonly referred to as "growing pains." Calcium quickens the reflexes by aiding the nervous system in impulse transmission and helps to alleviate insomnia. It is also an important mineral in blood coagulation and in the activation of numerous enzymes. And, as we all know, calcium is a critical mineral in the development and maintenance of hard tissue such as bone and teeth

       The calcium ion is the most sensitive chemical regulator of human cellular activity known. Even the slightest difference in cellular calcium levels can alter how bodily organs function. Should concentrations become too high in a cell, toxic levels of oxygen can form, destroying the cell. The level of calcium in the blood is closely controlled. If the level falls to low, the parathyroid gland secretes parathyroid hormone (PTH) which is a slow, long-acting hormone that draws calcium from the bones and acts elsewhere to raise blood calcium levels. If the level of calcium is too high, the hormone calcitonin is secreted from the thyroid gland.  Calcitonin is fast-acting and will quickly bring the level of calcium down. 

       The body strives to maintain certain ratios between calcium and other minerals in order to maintain homeostasis.  For example a blood ratio of approximately 2:1 calcium over phosphorus is necessary for the body to function properly.  If there is too much phosphorus coming into the body from the diet, the body will draw calcium from the bones into the blood to maintain this ratio.  Since the typical western diet is high in phosphorus compared to calcium, this diet becomes a serious dynamic in the development of osteoporosis.  The western diet often has a reverse ratio of 2:1 phosphorus over calcium and often much higher.  This has led to a dramatic increase in osteoporosis and other hard tissue problems. Phosphorus is found in high amounts in animal products and in processed and refined foods.

 Forms of calcium:

       Calcium, by itself, is inorganic as it does not contain carbon which is what defines a substance as organic. This is sometimes referred to as elemental calcium.  Most calcium, however, is bound to an organic agent and therefore is considered an organic substance.  For example, the most common form of calcium is calcium carbonate where you have inorganic elemental calcium bound to organic carbonic acid which is made from water and carbon dioxide.  This form of calcium is generally 40% calcium and 60% carbonic acid.  It is found in limestone, marble, dolomite rock, and egg and oyster shells.  Calcium carbonate is the form most often used in calcium supplements as it is the least expensive to obtain.  Supplements containing pure calcium carbonate require more hydrochloric in the stomach in order to be absorbed.  This is why this form is used in antacids such as Tums as it will “soak up” stomach acid.

       Some antacids are advertised as being good sources of calcium. This is not true, however, as calcium carbonate is difficult to absorb due to its requirement for large amounts of hydrochloric acid.  Many antacids contain aluminum, which inhibits the absorption of calcium, as well as creating toxicity for the body. Some antacids, such as Maalox and Mylanta contain as much as 200 mg. of aluminum per tablet. When calcium carbonate comes into contact with hydrochloric acid, it is converted to calcium chloride which is better absorbed but it also enhances aluminum absorption

       Calcium found in vegetables is in the form of calcium gluconate where inorganic calcium is combined with gluconic acid produced from the oxidation of glucose. Calcium in this form contains 9.3% of actual calcium.  The gluconic acid in this compound will also increase the bioavailability of dietary or supplemental magnesium.  Calcium lactate consists of 12.5% calcium bound to lactic acid and is found in animal products.  An example of a strictly inorganic form of calcium is where elemental calcium is bound to elemental fluorine to form the stable compound calcium fluoride.  This is a naturally occurring compound found in soil and water.  On the other hand, sodium fluoride, which is used to fluoridate drinking water in some metropolitan areas, is a man made byproduct of the aluminum making industry and is an unstable compound. In the body the sodium easily separates from the fluorine.  Some feel free fluorine easily attaches to free calcium ions and prevents them from being utilized by the body.  There are many concerns about water fluoridation, a discussion of which is outside the scope of this lesson.

Forms of calcium found in supplements:

       Hydroxyapatite is a form of calcium which contains 38.7% calcium with the remainder of this compound made up of phosphorus and oxygen. Hydroxyapatite closely resembles the endogenous calcium present in the body’s bones and teeth.  It is this form the body processes dietary and supplemental calcium into in order for it to be utilized in building and maintaining hard tissue.  Some supplement companies provide hydroxyapatite in supplemental form believing it to be well absorbed and closest to the body's own calcium.  As a supplement, hydroxyapatite is generally derived from bones of bovine animals.  Bone meal, available as a dietary supplement, contains around 40% hydroxyapatite along with other minerals.  A negative with bone meal is that it sometimes has been found to be contaminated with lead and other heavy metals. 

       Dolomite, a pale colored mineral, is a mixture of 21.7% calcium carbonate and 13% magnesium carbonate.  Oyster shells contain 37% elemental Calcium in the form of calcium carbonate.  Some oyster shell calcium supplements have been found to be contaminated with lead.  Di-Calcium Phosphate consists of 29.5% Calcium bound to Phosphorus.  Calcium aspartate consists of 12.5% - 20% elemental calcium bound to 80% - 87.5% aspartic Acid.  Between 50% and 90% of the calcium in calcium aspartate is absorbed by the body.  Calcium citrate consists of 21% to 22% calcium bound to citric acid.  Calcium citrate dissolves easily in Water and is regarded as being well-absorbed. Those with insufficient production of hydrochloric acid (HCL) will absorb approximately 45% of the calcium content of calcium citrate supplements.  Calcium bisglycinate consists of Calcium bound to the amino acid glycine.  It is regarded as being very well absorbed  

Absorption of calcium:

       Calcium is widely available in the food chain being found in a wide range of animal and plant based products.  Dietary calcium must be made soluble in the stomach and remain in a soluble state as it enters the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine and also the primary site of calcium absorption.  This solubility in the stomach is made possible by the action of hydrochloric acid (HCL).  In the small intestine the calcium must be chelated (attached to) calcium binding substances in order to be absorbed and utilized by the tissues. It is interesting to note that the absorption of calcium decreases as calcium intake increases.  For example, one study demonstrated that an average of 60% of a daily supplement of 600 mg of calcium citrate was absorbed, while an average of 55% of a daily supplement of 1,200 mg of calcium citrate was absorbed.  A low-calcium diet (300 mg of calcium per day) resulted in an average 71% absorption.

       In addition to HCL in the stomach, vitamin D is absolutely essential for the utilization of calcium. Without enough vitamin D, calcium will not be utilized!   As stated above, 98% of calcium is used to build and maintain bone tissue.  Calcium, however, does not work alone in this process.  The macro-minerals magnesium and phosphorous along with such trace minerals as silicon, boron and manganese are also very important along with vitamin K. 

Where to get your calcium:

       It is best to get your calcium from food where it is naturally chelated to various carrying agents that promote its absorbability and utilization by the body.  It is also wise to eat more foods that have high calcium to phosphorous ratios.  As discussed above, two much phosphorous in the diet leads to the body robbing calcium from the bones in order to maintain necessary blood levels of calcium.  Even though Americans consume more calcium supplements than anywhere in the world, we still have the highest levels of osteoporosis and bone fractures than any other country.  This is because the typical American diet is way too high in phosphorous.  It is high in phosphorous because of our high consumption of animal products along with processed and refined foods which are high in phosphoric compounds. Meats in general have a 10 to 200 calcium to phosphorous ratio.  Even cow’s milk, which is a good source of calcium, has almost as much phosphorous as calcium with a ration of 118 to 93.  Vegetables, on the other hand, are generally higher in calcium than phosphorous.  For example, leaf lettuce has a ratio of 68 to 25, turnip greens 246 to 58, kale 149 to 93, spinach 93 to 51 and broccoli 103 to 78.  Fruit, nuts and seeds, legumes and grains generally have more phosphorous than calcium. SO EAT YOUR VEGETABLES and eat less animal products. Stay away from soda water which is high in phosphoric acid.

       If you feel your diet is not giving you the calcium you need it is wise to add a high quality calcium supplement to your diet.  I would stay away from strict calcium carbonate supplements as they have been shown to not be well absorbed.  This would include typical mass market calcium supplements often made from oyster shells.  Hydroxyapatite, as discussed above, may be a good form of supplemental calcium.  The research is mixed as to the absorbability of this form but some research indicates it is effective in preventing and even reversing osteoporosis.  We have several brands of hydroxyapatite formulas available at Milk ‘N Honey. 

       It is best to supplement with a chelated form of calcium where the manufacturer has taken elemental calcium and attached it to a carrying agent such as an amino acid or some other acid that is common to the body such as citric acid.  Calcium citrates are felt to be very well absorbed and not requiring a lot of HCL in the stomach.  Production of HCL diminishes as we grow older and therefore a calcium citrate and other chelated forms of calcium can be helpful to older consumers.    We carry a variety of chelated calcium products at Milk ‘N Honey.  Be reminded that vitamin D is essential for calcium metabolism.  Go to Archive 13 for a full discussion of vitamin D. Also, as discussed above, a variety of other minerals are involved in the building of hard tissue.  Some calcium supplements we carry at Milk ‘N Honey contain these additional components.

How much calcium do you need?

       In general, calcium absorption becomes less efficient as we age. During infancy and childhood, 50-70 percent of the calcium ingested may be absorbed, whereas an adult might use only 30-50 percent of dietary calcium in his or her body.  Some of this reduction in absorption may be the result of reduced need by the body while some reduction is due to less HCL production as we age. Since absorption of calcium is so variable, it is difficult to determine the right amount of calcium for all people. Many dynamics regarding absorption come into play. The body will adapt to lower levels of calcium intake as discussed above, but this can have serious consequences for bone density. With the average absorption rate ranging from 30-50 percent for adults, the 800 mg. RDA may not be enough to prevent osteoporosis and other calcium deficiency problems. Possibly half of the population is getting less than the RDA, and many people are consuming a diet that supplies less than two-thirds of the RDA for calcium.

       Research indicates a daily intake of 1,000 mg. (1 gram) is recommended for adult men and women. Pregnant and nursing women should be getting 1.5 grams per day of calcium. The calcium intake suggested for postmenopausal women has recently been changed to 1.5 grams per day with some additional magnesium and vitamin D because of higher elimination and decreased absorption in postmenopausal women.

       People with high-protein, high-fat, or high-phosphorus diets need even more calcium. When we increase calcium, we should also increase our magnesium intake, keeping it at about one-half the calcium supply. Magnesium helps calcium stay more soluble, and thereby may reduce the risk of kidney stone formation and other calcifications. When the calcium intake is 1,000-1,200 mg. phosphorus intake should be around 800-1,000 mg. per day.


       Magnesium is an alkaline macro mineral that functions as an electrolyte. Electrolytes are substances that can conduct an electric charge when in solution.  Magnesium is one of the principal intracellular electrolytes that conduct a positive electrical charge. Electrolytes are important because they are what your cells (especially nerve, heart and muscle cells) use to maintain voltages across their cell membranes and to carry electrical impulses (nerve impulses, muscle contractions) across themselves and to other cells. Your kidneys work to keep the electrolyte concentrations in your blood constant despite changes in your body. For example, when you exercise heavily, you lose electrolytes in your sweat, particularly sodium and potassium. These electrolytes must be replaced to keep the electrolyte concentrations of your body fluids constant.

       Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and is found almost totally within cells as opposed to outside and between the cells of the body.. The magnesium content of a human body of average weight is 30 - 35 grams. Approximately fifty percent of total body magnesium is found in bone cells. The other half is found predominantly inside cells of other body tissues. Only one percent is found in blood. Maintenance of this one percent of blood magnesium by the body is critical to our health with any significant deviation from such level causing series health problems. 

      Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, supports a healthy immune system, and keeps bones strong. Magnesium also helps regulate blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure, and is known to be involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis. Dietary magnesium is absorbed in the small intestines and excess magnesium is excreted through the kidneys.

Where do we get it?

      Green vegetables such as spinach, romaine lettuce, kale and collards, are good sources of magnesium because the center of the chlorophyll molecule, which gives green vegetables their color, contains magnesium. Therefore any green food will contain magnesium with the darker green foods containing the most.   Some legumes, nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews and walnuts) and unrefined grains are also good sources of magnesium. Refined grains are generally low in magnesium. When grains are refined and processed, the magnesium-rich germ and bran are removed. Bread made from refined grain flour provides little magnesium.  Bread make from whole grain flour, where the germ and bran has not been removed, will supply ample magnesium.

Magnesium utilization:

       The health status of the digestive system and the kidneys significantly influence magnesium status. Magnesium is absorbed primarily from the Ileum of the small intestine although some is absorbed via the Colon.  From the intestines it is transported through the blood to cells and tissues. Magnesium requires hydrochloric acid in the stomach to begin its utilization by the body. The biological half-life for most magnesium that enters the body is between 41 and 181 days.  This refers to the time required to eliminate or metabolize half of the total quantity of magnesium from the body following its ingestion.

       Approximately one-third to one-half of dietary magnesium is absorbed by the body. Gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn's disease can limit the body's ability to absorb magnesium. These disorders can deplete the body's stores of magnesium and in some cases result in magnesium deficiency. Healthy kidneys are able to limit urinary excretion of magnesium to compensate for low dietary intake.

       Data from the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey suggest that a substantial number of adults in the United States fail to consume recommended amounts of magnesium. Among adult men and women, Caucasians consume significantly more magnesium than African-Americans. Magnesium intake is lower among older adults in every racial and ethnic group. African-American men and Caucasian men and women who take dietary supplements were shown to consume significantly more magnesium than those who do not. The average Western dietary intake of magnesium is 200 mg per day for women and 240 mg per day for men.  In the USA, the average dietary intake of magnesium is 228 mg per day for women and 323 mg per day for men. The average Asian and vegetarian dietary intake of Magnesium is 500 - 700 mg per day.  The optimal daily allowance of magnesium for adults is 500 - 1,000 mg per day depending on weight. 

Magnesium for your health:

       Magnesium metabolism is very important to insulin sensitivity and blood pressure regulation. Magnesium deficiency is common in individuals with diabetes. Some observational surveys have associated higher blood levels of magnesium with lower risk of coronary heart disease.  In addition, some dietary surveys have suggested that a higher magnesium intake may reduce the risk of having a stroke.  There is also evidence that low body stores of magnesium increase the risk of abnormal heart rhythms.  These studies suggest that consuming recommended amounts of magnesium may be beneficial to the cardiovascular system. Several small studies suggest that magnesium supplementation may improve clinical outcomes in individuals with coronary disease.

       In one of these studies, the effect of magnesium supplementation on exercise tolerance, exercise-induced chest pain, and quality of life was examined in 187 patients. Patients received either a placebo or a supplement providing 365 milligrams of magnesium citrate twice daily for 6 months. At the end of the study period researchers found that magnesium therapy significantly increased magnesium levels. Patients receiving magnesium had a 14 percent improvement in exercise duration as compared to no change in the placebo group. Those receiving magnesium were also less likely to experience exercise-induced chest pain. In another study, 50 men and women with stable coronary disease were randomized to receive either a placebo or a magnesium supplement that provided 342 mg magnesium oxide twice daily. After 6 months, those who received the oral magnesium supplement were found to have improved exercise tolerance.

       Researchers have determined that congestive heart failure is often associated with hypomagnesemia (abnormally low blood magnesium levels and low tissue magnesium levels.  Magnesium deficiency in congestive heart failure patients can lead to cardiac arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death.  Magnesium deficiency may contribute to the increase in peripheral vascular resistance commonly observed in congestive heart failure patients.

Magnesium and bone health:

       Bone health is supported and maintained by a number of factors as covered in last month’s discussion of calcium. Evidence suggests that magnesium deficiency may be an additional risk factor for postmenopausal osteoporosis. This may be due to the fact that magnesium deficiency alters calcium metabolism and the hormones that regulate calcium. Several human studies have suggested that magnesium supplementation may improve bone mineral density. In a study of older adults, a greater magnesium intake maintained bone mineral density to a greater degree than a lower magnesium intake. Research has consistently shown that increased intake of magnesium increases bone density.  This is a critical dynamic in the prevention of fractures.

Magnesium supplementation:

       As with all nutrients, it is best to obtain magnesium from your food.  However, if you are eating the typical processed and refined food that most Americans eat, you are probably deficient in magnesium, as well as, many other nutrients.  Supplementing with a high quality green food concentrate such as BarleyLife is a good way to get your daily dose of magnesium, as well as, many other nutrients.  As covered above, dark green foods are an excellent source of magnesium because the center of the chlorophyll molecule, which gives green vegetables their color, contains magnesium.  Most multiple vitamin/mineral supplements will have magnesium.  Be sure the magnesium supplement you take is in a chelated form which means it is hooked to a carrying agent for better absorption by the body.

       For example, magnesium citrate, consisting of 10% - 16% Magnesium bound to 84 - 90% citric acid, has shown excellent absorption and is less dependent upon hydrochloric acid for absorption than other forms. Magnesium carbonate, on the other hand, even though being comprised of 40% - 42% magnesium, is not well absorbed at all.  This form of magnesium is present in dolomite.  Magnesium Oxide, often found in mass market supplements, is not readily absorbed but is absorbed better than magnesium carbonate.  Magnesium oxide is sometimes used pharmaceutically as an antacid and a laxative.  It causes diarrhea in some people.  Magnesium Oxide is very dependent upon hydrochloric acid being present in the stomach for absorption.  Without hydrochloric acid virtually none is absorbed.  Another well absorbed form of magnesium is magnesium aspartate. This form is comprised of 7.5% - 20% magnesium bound to the amino acid aspartic acid.


      Potassium is an electrolyte mineral that must be in balance with the electrolytic mineral sodium in order to properly facilitate the transmission of nerve impulses, contract muscles, insure good cardio function and energy levels and facilitate many other body functions.   Mineral electrolytes are able to conduct electricity.  Potassium is a positively charged mineral and is found primarily inside of our cells while the electrolytic mineral sodium is found primarily outside of cells in the intercellular fluids. 

       Dietary intake of potassium over sodium should be around 2:1.   Because the American diet is so high in sodium, many people consume a reverse of this ratio.  This creates series difficulties for the body to maintain the proper balance between sodium and potassium.  The kidneys have to work much harder to excrete excess sodium while trying to maintain potassium levels.  Excess sodium over potassium in the diet can result in elevated blood pressure, muscle cramping and fatigue.  The average human body contains a total of 120 grams of Potassium.   The daily requirement for potassium is between 3000 and 5000 mg.  Potassium is absorbed primarily via the large intestine.  Aldosterone, a steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal cortex, controls the body's retention of potassium.  On average, 90% of dietary potassium is absorbed by the body.  Excess potassium is eliminated from the body via the urine and perspiration.  

Where to get your potassium:

       Food is your best source for potassium!  Potassium is wide spread in the food chain with abundant amounts found in fruits, vegetables grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.  Supplemental potassium is only available in 100 mg or less of elemental potassium. Since you need between 3000 and 5000 mg of potassium per day, a 100 mg supplement will not provide a great deal of potassium.  Potassium is regarded as toxic at doses of 15,000 mg (15 grams) or more per day.

       Based on milligrams of potassium per 100 grams of substance, bananas give you 396 mg, raisins 749 mg, dates 656 mg, almonds 732 mg, peanuts, 717 mg, sunflower seeds 689 mg, potatoes 407 mg and mung beans 1,246 mg.  Potassium appears in food in a chelated form and is most often bound to some acid.  For example, potassium bicarbonate (also known as carbonic acid) is believed to be the best form of potassium for lowering elevated blood pressure and for alleviating osteoporosis.  This form of potassium is the most common form of potassium found in fruits and vegetables.  Magnesium functions as a carrier vehicle for the transport of potassium into and out of cell membranes and therefore facilitates the maintenance of potassium balance in the body.

Potassium and disease prevention:


      A number of studies have suggested that increased potassium intake is associated with decreased risk of stroke.  One study showed that men who consumed higher than average potassium were much less likely to have a stroke.  Conversely, it was found that men and women older than 65 years having a low potassium intake experienced a significantly increased incidence of stroke.  For details of these studies, go to


       Several studies have reported significant positive associations between dietary potassium intake and retention of bone mineral density, a condition known as osteoporosis.  These studies showed reduced bone loss associated with higher levels of potassium intake.  It appears that the reason potassium intake contributes to better bone mineral density is that the alkaline potassium, buffers acids in the body and thus reduces the bodies need to find other ways to accomplish this reduction.

       The typical American diet tends to be relatively low in sources of alkalizing foods such as fruits and vegetables and high in acid forming foods such as meats and dairy products.  It is important to increase the intake of the alkalizing mineral potassium in order to maintain normal pH (balance between acid and alkaline).  Lack of sufficient potassium can result in the body drawing the alkaline mineral calcium from the bones to neutralize excess body acids.  This can result in loss of bone mass.  Therefore, it is wise to increase consumption of foods rich in potassium which in turn will reduce body acidity and help reduce calcium loss from the bones and in turn protect against osteoporosis


       High levels of calcium in the urine can increase the potential of developing kidney stones. Diets high in acid forming foods tend to produce increased urinary calcium excretion. Increasing dietary potassium has been found to decrease urinary calcium excretion.  On the other hand, lack of adequate dietary potassium has been found to increase urinary calcium excretion.   For a review of studies that demonstrate the association between calcium, potassium and kidney stones, go to:


       Studies have revealed that those with relatively high dietary potassium intakes have lower blood pressures than those with lower potassium intakes.  One such study, as reported, by the Linus Pauling Institute, showed that more than 17,000 adults who participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) revealed that higher potassium consumption led to lower blood pressures.  Another study called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) also showed beneficial effects of a potassium-rich diet on blood pressure.  In this study, one group consumed a diet providing 3.5 servings per day of fruits and vegetables having 1,700 mg of potassium.  Another group consumed of 8.5 servings per day of fruits and vegetables having 4,100 mg of potassium.  The second group showed a significant reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.  For more details on these studies go to

       Be sure to eat plenty of vegetables and fruit to maintain adequate levels of potassium.  Supplementally, a high quality green food supplement such as BarleyLife will provide a good supply of daily potassium.  Next month, we will take a look at the minerals sodium and chloride.


       We all need the mineral sodium to be in our diet.  Sodium is one of the body’s primary electrolytes.  Sodium is necessary for the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach which in turn facilitates the breakdown of proteins and minerals.  Sodium is important to nerve impulse transmission, muscle contraction and nutrient transport to cell membranes. Optimal sodium levels are required for the correct function of the lymphatic system.  Most importantly, sodium works with potassium to maintain proper cellular fluid balance.  The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for sodium is around 2000 mg. per day.  It’s been demonstrated that the human body can function quite well on as little as 200 mg. per day and the body on average requires only around 500 mg of sodium per day.  The average American consumes from six to eighteen thousand milligrams of salt per day in the form of sodium chloride where about 40% of the salt is sodium and the remaining 60% is chloride. 

       This means that the average American is taking in between 2,400 mg. and 7,200 mg. of pure sodium on a daily basis. Sodium is found mainly outside the cell and potassium is found primarily inside the cell.  Potassium should be found in a ratio of approximately 2:1 over sodium in order to maintain proper fluid balance between the inside and outside of the cell. The recommended daily intake for potassium is between 3000 and 5000 mg. per day.      

       Many Americans have a reverse ratio of 2:1 sodium over potassium. This situation leads to an increase in blood volume leading to increased pressure in the circulatory system which creates hypertension (high blood pressure). Excess sodium in the diet is also rough on the kidneys as these organs must work harder to excrete the excess sodium.  Excess excretion of sodium tends toward excess excretion of potassium.  Potassium is a very important mineral in the energy making process.  Therefore, excess sodium can rob the body of potassium thus leading to fatigue.

       Why do we Americans consume so much sodium?  The reason becomes obvious by simply looking at the standard American diet which is heavy on processed and refined foods. Such foods often lose their taste due to the removal of many nutritional factors in the refining process.  In order to make such bland foods attractive to the buying public, the food industry likes to add salt (sodium chloride) to processed foods to enhance their taste and to act as a preservative.  This results in our consuming much more sodium than the body requires.

       For example, one-half cup of cooked fresh green beans will contain about 5 mg. of salt.  The same serving of Green Giant canned beans will contain around 190 mg. of salt.   A three fourth’s cup of unprocessed rolled oats has about 1 mg. of salt.  An equal portion of Quaker instant oat meal contains 252 mg. of salt.   A 1.5 oz. piece of natural cheddar cheese will contain around 300 mg. of salt. The same amount of Kraft pasteurized processed cheese has 698 mg. of salt.  Helping yourself to a serving of unprocessed cooked rice will net you about 1 mg. of salt.  The same serving of minute rice will yield 570 mg. of salt.

       The fast food restaurant is “salt heaven.”   One Big Mac will donate 1,010 mg. of salt to your diet.  One quarter pounder with cheese comes in at 1,380 mg. of salt.  One Arbee’s big roast beef sandwich tips the scales at 1,770 mg. and Wendy’s triple cheeseburger wins the prize at 1,848 mg. of salt.  Remember, 40% of this salt (sodium chloride) is pure sodium.

       Many food additives are sodium based.  Sodium acetate, sodium alginate, sodium benzoate, sodium nitrate sodium phosphate and sodium sulfate are just some of the sodium compounds used in the food industry.     

       From these few examples, it can easily be seen why we Americans consume as much sodium as we do and why hypertension is a major health problem with its related risks of stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Sodium and water balance:

       Most of the body's sodium is located in the blood and in the fluid in the space surrounding the cells. Sodium is required by all cells in the body to maintain a normal fluid balance.  Healthy kidneys maintain a consistent level of sodium in the body by adjusting the amount excreted in the urine.   When sodium intake and loss are not in balance, the total amount of sodium in the body is affected. Changes in the total amount of sodium are closely linked to changes in the volume of water in the blood. A loss of sodium from the body does not necessarily cause the level of sodium in the blood to decrease but does cause blood volume to decrease. When blood volume decreases, blood pressure also decreases, heart rate increases, and light-headedness and sometimes shock occur.      

       Conversely, blood volume increases when there is too much sodium in the body. When excess sodium accumulates in the body, extra fluid accumulates in the space surrounding the cells. As a result, the tissues, especially in the feet and ankles, swell (a condition called edema).  The body continually monitors blood volume. Sensors in the heart, blood vessels, and kidneys detect when blood volume becomes too high and stimulate the kidneys to increase sodium excretion, thus returning blood volume to normal. Sensors in the blood vessels and kidneys detect when blood volume is becoming low and trigger one of several mechanisms that result in an increase in blood volume. One such mechanism involves the adrenal glands, which secrete the hormone aldosterone. Aldosterone causes the kidneys to retain sodium and to excrete potassium. Another mechanism involves the pituitary gland, which secretes antidiuretic hormone. Antidiuretic hormone causes the kidneys to conserve water. The retained sodium and water lead to decreased urine production, which eventually leads to an increase in blood volume.


       Chloride is the negatively charged ion that joins with ions such as sodium to make salt (sodium chloride) and with hydrogen to make hydrochloric acid. Chloride makes up about 0.15 percent of our body weight and is found mainly in the extracellular fluid along with sodium. Less than 15 percent of the body chloride is found inside the cells, with the highest amounts within the red blood cells. As one of the mineral electrolytes, chloride works closely with sodium and water to help the distribution of body fluids. Chloride is easily absorbed from the small intestine. It is eliminated through the kidneys, which can also retain chloride as part of their finely controlled regulation of Ph balance. Chloride is also found along with sodium in perspiration. Heavy sweating can cause the loss of large amounts of sodium chloride, as well as some potassium.

        Chloride is obtained primarily from salt, such as standard table salt or sea salt. It is also contained in most foods, especially vegetables. Seaweeds such as dulse and kelp, olives, rye, lettuce, tomatoes, and celery are some examples of good chloride-containing foods. Potassium chloride is also found in foods or can be purchased as a salt substitute.

       Chloride is found primarily with sodium and water and helps generate the osmotic pressure of body fluids. It is an important constituent of stomach hydrochloric acid (HCL), which is critical to proper digestive function.  Chloride is also needed to maintain the body's acid-base balance. The kidneys excrete or retain chloride mainly as sodium chloride, depending on whether they are trying to increase or decrease body acid levels.


      Next to calcium, phosphorus is the most abundant mineral in the body.  This mineral is non-metallic and is acidic.  The average human body contains around 650 grams of phosphorus.  Much of this phosphorus is found in bone.  Most of the phosphorus in our bodies appears as phosphates.  Phosphates are compounds of phosphorus and other minerals such as calcium, potassium and sodium.

       Phosphorus is found in our bones in combination with calcium and forms a calcium phosphate salt called hydroxyapatite.  It is hydroxyapatite that dietary calcium is converted to in order to be utilized by the body. Phosphorus also combines with various fatty acids to form phospholipids.  Phospholipids are important components of all cell membranes.   The production of energy in our bodies is dependent on phosphorus.  The basic energy making molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) uses phosphorus.  Phosphorus is important to the creation of a compound called creatine phosphate.  This is a high energy molecule found in muscle cells.  Our bodies have chemicals called DNA and RNA which store and transmit genetic information.  Phosphorus is an important component of DNA and RNA.  Phosphorus is important to the body’s production and activity of enzymes and hormones. Phosphorus serves to balance (pH) by reducing alkalinity if the body should become too alkaline. 

Absorption of phosphorus:

       We are able to easily absorb phosphorus obtained in the diet.  The body has to maintain a calcium to phosphorus ratio in the blood of 2:1.  If this ratio becomes compromised, serious health problems can occur.  The regulation of this ratio is maintained by the parathyroid hormone (PTH) along with vitamin D.  When blood calcium levels drop below what is necessary to maintain the calcium to phosphorus ratio of 2 to 1, the parathyroid glands secrete PTH which decreases excretion of urinary calcium while increasing excretion of urinary phosphorus.

Phosphorus and osteoporosis:

       The Western diet tends to be very high in phosphorus as this mineral is found in abundance in animal products and processed and refined foods.  May food additives are phosphoric based compounds.  Soda water is very high in phosphorus.  Because phosphorus is not as tightly regulated by the body as calcium, blood phosphate levels can easily rise above normal with a high phosphorus diet, especially after meals. This creates the need for the body to extract calcium from the bones to maintain the required blood calcium to phosphorus ratio. Some believe that a major reason we have so much osteoporosis in America is because of our high phosphorus diets leading to the loss of bone calcium.

       As mentioned above, high phosphate levels in the blood stimulate the production of PTH leading to greater production of the active form of vitamin D (calcitriol) in the kidneys which leads to greater release of calcium from the bones. However, high serum phosphorus levels also lead to decreased urinary calcium excretion thus providing some balance in this process.  Since sustained elevated PTH levels can have an adverse effect on bone mineral content it is prudent to reduce the level of phosphorus in the diet and insure that adequate calcium levels are maintained. For a good overview on the issue of phosphorus and bone health go to

Dietary requirements:

      Phosphorus is found in most foods because it is a critical component of all living organisms. Dairy products, meat, and fish are particularly rich sources of phosphorus. As mentioned above, phosphorus is also a component of many food additives and is present in most soft drinks as phosphoric acid and can be as high as 500 mg in a can.  A large survey of nutrient consumption in the U.S. found that the average phosphorus intake was 1,495 mg/day in men and 1,024 mg/day in women. The US RDA for phosphorus is 700 mg and this appears to be the necessary amount to maintain adequate cellular function.  As can be seen, we consume much more phosphorus than recommended and often our phosphorus intake far exceeds out calcium intake leading to the problems discussed above. The Food and Nutrition Board estimates phosphorus consumption in the U.S. has increased 10% to 15% over the past 20 years.

       The phosphorus in all plant seeds such as beans, peas, grains and nuts, is present in a storage form of phosphate called phytic acid or phytate. Only about 50% of the phosphorus from phytate is available to humans because we lack the necessary phytase enzymes that liberate phosphorus from phytate. Yeasts possess phytases. Therefore, whole grains incorporated into leavened breads have more bioavailable phosphorus than whole grains incorporated into breakfast cereals.

Phosphorus supplementation:

       Taking phosphorus supplements is rarely necessary as this mineral is widespread in the food chain and is over consumed in the typical western diet.  If anything, we should be cutting back on phosphorus to protect ourselves from bone calcium depletion as outlined above.  Many Americans have a reverse calcium to phosphorus ratio which may explain the growing epidemic of bone density problems in the US.  It is interesting that the US population consumes more calcium supplements than anywhere else in the world and yet we lead the world in bone density problems such as osteoporosis.  Over consumption of phosphorus may be a primary culprit in this phenomenon.  I recommend moderate consumption of animal products and avoidance of processed and refined foods which are riddled with phosphorus based additives.  Soda water consumption should be held to an absolute minimum. 


       Sulfur is a non-metallic acidic macromineral usually consumed as part of larger compounds rather than as elemental sulfur. It is the third most abundant mineral in the body based on percentage of total body weight.  Sulfur is found in rather high concentrations in our body tissues. About half of the body's total sulfur is concentrated in the muscles, while the other half is found in the brain, hair, skin and bones. Approximately 10% of the body’s total sulfur content is concentrated in the bones.  Sulfur comprises 0.25 percent of our body weight.  The average human body contains a total of 140 grams of sulfur.  Approximately 850 mg of the body’s total sulfur content is turned over each day.

       Sulfur is generated when phytoplankton in water produce dimetyhylsulfide which is released into the upper atmosphere.  Sunlight catalyzes the oxidation of dimetyhylsulfide to dimethyl sulfoxide which is commonly known as DMSO.   DMSO is further catalyzed by sunlight to form methylsulfonylmethane, commonly known as MSM.  MSM is then concentrated into raindrops which return to the surface of the earth.  Plants absorb and accumulate this MSM and use some of it to build sulfuric compounds.

Why we need sulfur:

       Very important sulfuric compounds for human and animal health are the sulfur containing amino acids methionine, cystine, cysteine and taurine. Sulfur is an essential component of glutathione which is critical to our immunity.  Sulfur is also necessary for collagen synthesis. Collagen is an insoluble fibrous protein that virtually holds our bodies together. Sulfur is an important component of connective tissue fiber and bones. Sulfur is an essential component of chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine sulfate which in turn are essential components of joint tissue.

       Sulfur operates as a synthesizer and activator of some  B vitamins and vitamin C.  Sulfur plays an important part in “tissue breathing,” the process whereby oxygen and other substances are used to build cells and release energy. Sulfur also helps to maintain overall body balance between acidity and alkalinity, and works in the liver to excrete bile. Sulfur is a significant component of insulin, the protein hormone secreted by the pancreas that is essential to the metabolism of carbohydrates. A lack of nutritional sulfur in the diet can result in low insulin production. Sulfur in an important component of hair, skin and nails.

       Sulfur is involved in the integrity of cartilage tissue.  The sulfur concentration in damaged cartilage has been found to be only 33% of the level of normal cartilage.  Patients suffering from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are often found to be deficient in sulfur as measured by the cystine content of fingernails. 

Forms of sulfur: 

       Sulfur is present in nature in combination with other elements.  We already mentioned its presence in amino acids.  It also appears as calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, MSM, potassium sulfate, sodium sulfate and other such compounds.  The compound hydrogen sulfate is responsible for the tears caused when cutting onions. When hydrogen combines with sulfur to form hydrogen sulfate, you get the familiar rotten egg smell. Sulfites (synthetic food preservatives) are manufactured by the food processing industry from salts of sulfurous acid.  

      Sulfur dioxide (SO2), causes a wide variety of health and environmental problems because of the way it reacts with other substances in the air.  Particularly sensitive groups include people with asthma who are active outdoors, children, the elderly, and people with heart or lung disease. SO2 reacts with other chemicals in the air to form tiny sulfate particles.  When these are inhaled, they gather in the lungs and are associated with increased respiratory symptoms and disease. 

Absorption and daily requirements:

        Sulfur is usually absorbed into the body via the intestines in the form of one of the sulfuric amino acids. Sulfur can be absorbed via the skin.  For example, clinical studies have shown that serum sulfur levels rise after having a sulfur bath. Excess sulfur is excreted from the body via the urine and feces in the form of sulfate.  The RDA for Sulfur from dietary sources is 800 mg per day. This amount is usually obtained via the consumption of dietary sulfuric amino acids.  Sulfur is widely present in many vegetables, eggs, garlic, onions and meats.

 Supplemental sulfur:

       Most people obtain adequate sulfur in the diet.  Supplemental sulfur is most often obtained through taking additional sulfur containing amino acids or MSM. MSM is a natural organ form of sulfur that has been found to act as a natural anti-inflammatory and to support the health of joint tissue.

       A good source of supplemental sulfur is the sulfur containing nutrient alpha lipoic acid.  Alpha lipoic acid is a vitamin-like substance found in foods (beef and spinach) and also produced by the body. Alpha-lipoic acid plays a key role in energy production and it is an important nutrient in glucose metabolism.  Studies have found that alpha-lipoic acid can lower and stabilize glucose levels in diabetics by as much as 30 percent. It has also been found to reduce nerve pain and numbness in diabetes. Lester Packer, Ph.D., of the University of California, Berkeley, has reported that alpha-lipoic acid can reenergize other important antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E and glutathione.

       Garlic, once it is cut, triggers a cascade of chemical reactions that lead to more than 100 sulfur-rich chemical compounds, including some sulfur-containing amino acids. Garlic boosts antioxidant levels in the body, and studies have found that garlic supplements can lower cholesterol levels in people. John Milner, Ph.D., of Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and other researchers have reported that garlic can block the action of cancer-causing compounds and, in laboratory animals, delay the growth of some cancers.

       Glutathione, which is a tri-peptide composed of the amino acids cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid, is the most powerful antioxidant made by the human body. Low blood levels of glutathione are associated with heart disease, cancer, and other diseases. In addition, glutathione also helps the liver break down toxic chemicals, whether they are absorbed from the environment or produced by the body. Researchers recently reported that diets high in glutathione protected against lung cancer. Good dietary sources of glutathione include beef, potatoes, winter squash, oranges, and tomatoes. More than 90 percent of the non-protein bound sulfur in cells is found in glutathione.

Sulfur versus sulfa:

        There are several misconceptions about sulfur compounds that lead to anxiety about using sulfur based supplements.  A typical worry is that a person who is allergic to sulfa drugs may have problems with substances that contain sulfur. Sulfur is essential to life.  You can’t live without sulfur and it must be obtained from the diet. It is the eighth most prevalent element in the human body. No one is allergic to sulfur itself. Sulfur is not present as an isolated element in the body, but in combination with other elements and, most often, in complex molecules. The primary placement of sulfur in the human body is in the sulfur-containing amino acids as already discussed.   Sulfa drugs (sulfonamides) are usually not allergenic by themselves, but when a sulfonamide molecule is metabolized in the body, it is capable of attaching to proteins, thus forming a larger molecule that could serve as an allergen. Thus, the allergy is not to the original drug, but to a drug-protein complex.

        A sulfonamide does contain sulfur, but the sulfur atoms are imbedded in a complex molecule. The sulfur atom is not the allergenic agent and being allergic to sulfa drugs does not imply having a propensity to have allergy to other sulfur compounds. Rather, it is a unique property of this kind of compound, namely that it can form proteins that are allergenic in some individuals.  Common nutritional supplements such as MSM, glucosamine and chondrotin sulfate are perfectly safe for almost everyone as these are common substances necessary to the health of our bodies.


       Sulfites, such as sodium sulfate, sodium bi-sulfate and sodium metabisulfate are sulfur based compounds used as food preservatives. While these agents do not generally cause allergic reactions, some individuals are sensitive to these substances and experience digestive and other physiological disturbances.  A sulfite reaction is different from a sulfonamide allergy (a reaction to sulfa drugs) because sulfites and sulfonamides are entirely different chemicals and have unrelated mechanisms of reaction. A person sensitive to sulfites is no more likely to be allergic to sulfonamides than any other individual and vice versa. The FDA estimates that about 1% of the population may have some degree of sulfite sensitivity.  Health risks connected with long term ingestion of sulfites is controversial and has not been scientifically established.   

Lesson Seven: Micro Minerals