Minerals, like vitamins, are necessary for the maintenance of health. At least thirteen minerals have been identified as essential to health, including potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Others like zinc and copper so called “trace elements” are needed only in tiny amounts.
Proponents of orthomolecular medicine claim that mineral deficiencies can result in learning and behavior problems. They also claim that such deficiencies can be detected by measuring the concentration of certain minerals in the hair and that supplemental treatment with the appropriate minerals will result in improvement in learning and behaviour problems.
Like the orthomolecular theory of vitamin deficiency, the notion that learning and behavior problems can result in a broad range of problems. Iron, for example, is an essential component of hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying component of the blood. Iron deficiency results in anemia, which is characterized by pallor, fatigue, headache, and shortness of breath. Magnesium deficiency, which can occur as a result of alcohol abuse or prolonged treatment with diuretic drugs, can produce anxiety, restlessness, tremors, palpitations, and depression.
This theory, however, is not consistent with what is actually known about mineral deficiencies, which the exception of anemia and magnesium deficiency, are quite rare in any population which receives a minimally adequate diet. Now are there any well controlled studies which provide support for the theory or for the treatment approach.
Like vitamins, minerals are necessary for normal physical and mental functioning, and like vitamins, they pose dangers when taken in excessive amounts. An excess of iron, for example, can result in nausea, abdominal pain, and liver damage. In excessive amounts, zinc can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron and copper, in turn resulting in nausea, vomiting, fever, headaches, fatigue, and abdominal pain.