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Minerals: A web of benefits

Have you ever taken a few supplements and wondered how they interact with one another throughout your body?

A new study examines three minerals to show how their web of influences can create either nurturing or debilitating effects depending on how the three are balanced.

Three up

Magnesium is a no-brainer. In several e-Alerts I’ve told you about the wide range of benefits associated with magnesium intake, including blood pressure reduction, homocysteine and C-reactive protein control, improved cognitive function and maintaining healthy bone density.

Zinc is another multi-tasking mineral that enhances the immune system, helps repair damaged tissue, inhibits abnormal blood clotting, and plays a key role in DNA reproduction and repair.

Copper is the ringer here. You need a little, but never a lot.

Testing 1-2-3

Researchers at the Lille Pasteur Institute examined data collected from more than 4,000 men (between the ages of 30 and 60) who participated in the Paris Prospective Study 2. Blood levels of magnesium, zinc and copper were compared to cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality. Over an 18-year follow up period, researchers recorded 56 deaths associated with cardiovascular disease and 176 associated with cancer.

The Pasteur team reported these results:

  • High levels of magnesium were associated with a 50 percent decrease in cancer mortality risk, and a 40 percent decrease in cardiovascular and all-cause mortality risk
  • High levels of copper were associated with a 40 percent INCREASE in cancer mortality risk, 30 percent increase in cardiovascular mortality risk and a 50 percent increase in all-cause mortality risk
  • When high copper levels were combined with low zinc levels all of the risks associated with high copper increased significantly

The Pasteur Institute team noted that smoking, high cholesterol levels and aging are all linked with higher copper levels.

Web of benefits

Copper comes off as something of a villain in the Pasteur study. And while it’s true that too much copper promotes the formation of free radicals, just the right amount of the mineral can help prevent anemia, osteoporosis and age-related macular degeneration. The best dietary sources of copper are beef liver, Brazil nuts, peanuts and sunflower seeds.

Zinc also helps keep your vision healthy. In the 2002 Age-Related Eye Disease Study (sponsored by the National Eye Institute), researchers recommended a daily intake of 80 mg of zinc for anyone in a high-risk group for age-related macular degeneration. But unless you eat dozens of oysters and a few servings of beef every day, chances are you aren’t getting enough zinc. Most multivitamin supplements provide less than 50 mg of zinc, so additional supplementation may be required to reach 80 mg per day.

But when zinc intake increases, copper becomes a consideration again. In the e-Alert “Aim High” (5/7/03), HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., noted that a high intake of zinc may prompt copper deficiency, and vice versa. And Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., agreed, stating that, “Zinc supplements should usually be offset by a small amount of copper, 1-2 mg daily.” Most multivitamins take care of copper needs with a low dose, usually 1 or 2 mg as recommended by Dr. Wright.

And then there’s the mighty mineral: magnesium. Magnesium is naturally present in green leafy vegetables, avocados, nuts, seeds and whole grains, but usually in amounts so small that you’d need to eat a wide variety of these foods regularly to get all the magnesium you need.

Dr. Spreen recommends supplementation of 500 mg of magnesium per day. But in the e-Alert “Mind Over Matter” (5/27/05), Dr. Spreen notes that the actual absorption of most magnesium forms isn’t very high: “In a supplement, such as magnesium oxide, the tablet that is sold as a 400 mg tablet only has 241.3 mg of elemental magnesium. So, when you take a ‘400 mg’ tablet, you aren’t getting 400 mg of magnesium anyway. Plus, even the label says you can take 2/day, or 800 mg.”

“Zinc, Copper and Magnesium and Risks for All-Cause Cancer, and Cardiovascular Mortality” Epidemiology, Vol. 17, No. 3, May 2006,
“Copper, Magnesium, Zinc Levels Tied to Mortality” Reuters Health, 5/12/06,