Your skeleton has many functions. It gives shape and structure to your body, it supports your organs and protects them from harm, provides movement, and produces red blood cells. The skeleton also stores minerals; for example, 99% of the calcium stored in the body is stored in the skeleton and 85% of the phosphorus. While those are two of the major minerals stored in the body, there are also others stored in smaller amounts such as Potassium, Iron, Sodium, Chlorine, Sulfur, Magnesium and Fluoride.
Vitamins and minerals are often seen as interchangeable, but they are actually quite different. Whilst vitamins are used to enable chemical reactions, minerals actually become part of the body. They do this by forming bones, teeth, and other parts. This explains why 99% of calcium is stored in the skeleton, because calcium makes up a large part of the skeleton!
Calcium is available from the following dietary sources: dark green vegetables (spinach, broccoli etc), dairy products (milk, cheese, butter) and dried legumes. It forms bones and teeth (when combined with Phosphorus), it helps blood clotting, and nerve transmission.
A lack of calcium can cause Osteoporosis (particularly in women who’s calcium levels drop significantly with age), it can also cause stunted growth, and rickets. There are no known effects of taking excessive amounts of calcium, so eat up as much calcium-rich foods as you’d like.
Phosphorus is available from milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, fish, and grains. When combined with Calcium, Phosphorus forms bones and teeth, and helps prevent the loss of calcium from bone.
A lack of Phosphorus can cause demineralization; this can lead to Osteoporosis and tooth decay. However, excessive consumption of Phosphorus can lead to erosion of the jaw. This is incredibly unlikely these days, but used to be an issue for workers who dealt with white phosphorus.
Magnesium is found in whole grains, almonds, figs, avocados, and green leafy vegetables (such as spinach). Magnesium is required to activate the enzymes that are responsible for muscle protein synthesis, the process where proteins are used to repair and grow muscle fibers after exercise. This leads to an increase in strength and size (Hypertrophy) in the muscles.
Being deficient in Magnesium can lead to growth failure, and will prevent you from increasing muscle size during training. Therefore, athletes should always make sure they are getting enough Magnesium in their diet. However, not too much; an excess of Magnesium can lead to stomach upsets.
Fluoride is a trace mineral that is partly responsible for maintaining your bones, and can prevent tooth decay. It is present in drinking water and can also be found in seafood.
Potassium is a mineral that can be found in potatoes, bananas, milk, meat, and green leafy vegetables. It is required for nerve transmissions and also helps balance fluid. One thing to note is that a lack of potassium in the diet can cause muscle cramps, appetite loss, and confusion.
Sodium is found in salt and has been given a bit of a bad rap recently, with many experts pointing to the downsides of a high sodium diet. A few of the notable negatives is that it can lead to water retention and high blood pressure.
Because of this, people associate sodium with poor health, but the sad irony is that sodium is essential for health. It can help with nerve function, and is integral for acid-base balance. Without enough sodium in your diet, you can suffer from muscle cramps and a reduced appetite. 30% of the Sodium that we store in our bodies is stored in our bones.
When Chlorine reacts with an electrolyte (such as Potassium) it creates a by-product known as Chloride. Chloride is found in salt, as well as certain fruits and vegetables.
Chloride is one of the main electrolytes in the body. When Chloride and Hydrogen combine, they create Hydrochloric Acid, which is a digestive enzyme that your stomach uses to break down food. It is very difficult to become deficient in Chloride, but if this does occur it can cause Alkalosis.
Sulfur is stored in small amounts in the bones and is the third most common mineral found in the body. Most of the sulfur in your diet comes from protein sources (meat, fish, and poultry), but it can also be found in cruciferous vegetables and many food preservatives.
As with Magnesium, Sulfur is required for muscle protein synthesis, but it also is required for a well functioning liver.
Iron is a trace mineral that is stored in both the Haemoglobin (which carries the oxygen in blood) and in a protein known as Ferritin. Ferritin is found in the liver, spleen and also in bone marrow. Iron can be obtained in the diet through eggs, meat, green leafy vegetables, cereal.
Another fun fact: Iron can be found in Guinness but in such small quantities that it would require a ton of Guinness to get the benefits!
Iron deficiency can lead to Anaemia, so it’s important to ensure you continue to keep your iron levels up. Anaemia is a condition where a lack of Iron causes a reduction in the number of red blood cells. Tiredness, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations ensue. Too much Iron in the diet can lead to Cirrhosis of the liver, but this is uncommon.
Zinc is another trace mineral, some of which is stored in bone marrow. Zinc can be found in many foods, particularly Oysters and red meat. It is a very important part of digestion.
A deficiency of Zinc can lead to problems with growth, while an excessive amount of Zinc can lead to fever, nausea or vomiting.
This gives you a good overview of the more commonly known minerals that the body stores in bones. There are a few more trace minerals (Copper, Selenium, Iodine, and Chromium), but they are in such small amounts that they are pretty much unknown and most can be found in meat and fish as it is.
What you need to understand is that very few people are deficient in minerals, except possibly iron, so it should not be of much concern to you. Eat a varied and healthy diet and your RDAs for each mineral and trace mineral should be hit quite easily.