Trace elements are inorganic substances that belong to the group of minerals. Some trace elements are essential and must be consumed through the diet. They are present in the body in very small amounts (in traces). Except for iron (60 mg per kg), they are present in the body in less than 50 mg per kg body weight. In addition, there are so-called ultra-trace elements, which are present in the body in less than 1 µg per kg body weight.
Essential Trace Elements
Essential trace elements for humans include:
- Iron (Foods high in iron / Iron-rich foods list)
- Iodine (Foods high in iodine)
- Copper (Copper-rich foods list)
- Manganese (Foods high in manganese / Manganese-rich foods list)
- Molybdenum (Foods high in selenium / Molybdenum-rich foods list)
- Selenium (Foods high in selenium / Selenium-rich foods list)
- Zinc (Foods high in zinc / Zinc-rich foods list)
Possible important trace elements for humans may include arsenic, barium, boron, cadmium, chromium, fluorine, germanium, lithium, nickel, silicon, strontium, vanadium, and tin. Their roles in the body are not yet fully understood. It also needs to be clarified whether they are even essential for humans and how they affect metabolism.
Since 2014, it has been established that the trace element bromine is essential for humans 1. Bromine is needed for membrane architecture and tissue development.
Functions of Trace Elements
Trace elements are needed to maintain important bodily functions and as building materials. They are needed by the body as components of enzymes, hormones, and blood cells. Trace elements are also of great importance for the immune system. In addition, many trace elements are cofactors for enzymes, which activate and accelerate metabolic processes (catalyze).
The functions and effects of ultra-trace elements have not yet been thoroughly investigated.
Meeting Trace Element Needs with a Vegan Diet
The need for trace elements can be easily met with a varied vegan diet. If the diet is too one-sided, deficiencies in iodine, selenium, and zinc can occur (see: Is a vegan diet a deficient diet?).
The required amounts vary, among other things, with physical activities, negative health conditions, stress, and pregnancies, as the needs for the growing child must also be met.
Deficiency in Trace Elements
If too few trace elements are ingested, symptoms such as angular cheilitis, skin changes (e.g. dry skin), tiredness, fatigue, and hair loss may initially occur. If the first signs of deficiency are not corrected, severe medical conditions such as arrhythmias, iron deficiency anemia, or metabolic disorders can occur.
Excess of Trace Elements
In general, it is extremely important to eat a balanced and varied diet to avoid an excess of certain trace elements. A one-sided diet, illnesses, organ failure, and improper use of dietary supplements can lead to an accumulation of trace elements in the body.
Consequences can include inflammation, skin rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, digestive problems, seizures, and headaches. In very high quantities, trace elements can be toxic and can, in extreme cases, be fatal. As Paracelsus said, "The dose makes the poison."