S1 E4: Minerals 101


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Amanda: Hey, this is Amanda, women’s health dietitian. 
Emily: And I’m Emily, nutritional therapy practitioner. 
Amanda: And this is the Are You Menstrual? podcast where we help you navigate the confusing world of women’s hormones and teach you how to have healthy periods. 
Emily: Each week we will be diving into a different topic on women’s health and sharing our perspective using nutrition, female physiology, and metabolic health. 
Amanda: Our goal is to help you wade through conflicting health information and empower you on your healing journey. 
Emily: We hope you enjoy it. 

Amanda: Alright in this episode, we are going to give you a crash course in minerals. And I know in our previous episode, we talked about creating a nourishing nutrition foundation. And all that is very important—eating enough food, balancing your meals. The next layer that you really want to begin to look at..it’s really your minerals. So whether that be the mineral content in the foods that you’re eating, but also your mineral levels in the body. So we’re going to go through… kind of the basic macrominerals in this episode, why minerals are so important, and then talk about hair mineral testing. 

And when it comes to why we are so obsessed with minerals, because we’ll talk about that..I mean, we have, like, four episodes planned on minerals. So we’re not going to stop talking about these. And the main reason is because they really are like spark plugs, right? Minerals are cofactors which means that they kick off reactions. So without that mineral, without that spark, you’re not able to generate energy. And minerals are really responsible for making energy, making hormones—that’s why we focus on them so much in our practice. And even if we just kind of consider one example, like copper. The body uses copper and oxygen to make ATP, which is our main energy source. So when we don’t have enough copper, or even enough vitamin A, which I…we’re gonna have a whole episode on copper, then we are not able to generate that energy, which means fatigue, mineral loss, and all those reactions that need that mineral start to slow down. So that’s when we start to see symptoms and disease occur in the body. And the interesting thing about minerals and even vitamins, because I think that’s something that tends to come up is like…well, what about vitamins? We’ll definitely talk about those more. But we talk about minerals first, because our body can actually make some vitamins, it can produce them, but it cannot manufacture minerals—we have to get minerals from our diet and, like, manage our lifestyle so that we’re not insanely stressed. Because as you’ll learn, that’s one of the big reasons that we are…have depleted minerals. But the body also can’t get rid of excess minerals on its own.

Emily: And if you’re anything like me listening to this episode, I had no idea how important minerals were, especially for, you know, hormone health and just overall health. So this was all news to me. I learned this when I started working with Amanda and I found it so fascinating, because we don’t think about minerals in terms of our health and all the different processes that need to occur in our body to make sure that we are feeling good. It’s important to think about, well, why are minerals such an issue for so many people nowadays? And here’s the thing—now more than ever, we’re a population that struggles with our minerals, and there’s a lot of different reasons for this. We live in a world that we are just constantly bombarded with mineral depleters, and it’s actually extremely common to see mineral imbalances in most people. And in fact, most people are what is called a slow metabolic type, about 80% of the population actually, because of these depletions, and we will talk about metabolic types in a later episode. But that’s just something to keep in mind going forward. Just as an example of how many people are struggling with their minerals. 

So here are a few reasons why we are, and the first one is not going to surprise you. So stress is a giant reason why we are depleted, because minerals are used up during the stress response. So you’ve heard us talk about magnesium. Stress depletes magnesium, but it also depletes sodium and potassium and this can lead to electrolyte imbalances and confusion within the body. We will dive further into these, these minerals later on in this episode. But that’s just kind of a, a start to, to understand and know, like, your electrolytes are super important and they are used up with stress. Soil is also a big thing. Nowadays, it’s depleted because of conventional farming practices like spraying and tilling. And that means when we have depleted soil, we have depleted animals and depleted plants, which obviously leads to depleted humans, okay? So we’re eating those plants and those animals and we’re not getting the minerals that we once did. And then of course you have things like pesticides. Glyphosate is a big one that deplete[s] our soil further and can also cause their own health issues.

Amanda: Another big area is just dieting, right? We talked about this in our first episode on metabolism. And going to those extremes with your diet does tend to reduce a lot of really important mineral sources and/or increase your stress response so that you’re using up more minerals. So, like, vegan [and] vegetarian diets…if we think about if we’re eliminating animal foods…remember, those are some of the most mineral-rich foods in the most bioavailable-, which means we can absorb the most of them, form. Carnivore—that’s another one where, yes, it’s all animal foods, but then you’re eliminating a lot of important plant foods that are giving us really important minerals like potassium. And then keto and low-carb, those again, like, you’re going to that extreme, you’re increasing your cortisol and your stress hormones a lot. So you have a lot more mineral loss, which is why a lot of people that eat in a way that where you’re reducing carbohydrate intake so much, they’re constantly replenishing their electrolytes, right? You think about all the electrolyte powders that are marketed towards people on keto diets. 

Another big area is medications. And this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take medications. This just means that hey, you might be depleting minerals in a way that you’re not totally understanding. So if we think of, like, hormonal birth control, I mean, that depletes so many minerals and leads to imbalances, especially with copper. And then blood pressure medications, even like spironolactone, stuff that a lot of our clients come to us using for things like acne and hair growth. So, there…prescription medications often deplete minerals and supplements. And we’re going to have a whole episode on this, where we dig into this more. But things like taking excess vitamin D…that depletes magnesium, it can also negatively impact our vitamin A status and potassium levels. And then same thing with multivitamins or prenatals. These contain an abundance of synthetic vitamins. And that’s the problem, right? It’s not necessarily that it’s the supplementation that’s the problem, it’s the types of vitamins and minerals that they contain. 

And kind of the last big area that comes to my mind is water filters. A lot of people are using water filters that strip all of the minerals out of their water. And obviously, we need to be mindful, because we, we want to have clean water and our water is not the most amazing. So I understand the concern and wanting to use a water filter. But this tends to lead to very low mineral content in our water. And I feel like we talk about this all the time, Emily, with our clients is, like, not over-hydrating, right? And adding minerals back into your water. Using things like adrenal cocktails, which we’ll talk about, and we have a blog on if you can’t wait for that episode. But basically, when we are drinking plain water, that’s not how our bodies are meant to absorb water. Typically we’d have an abundance of minerals in our water. We don’t regardless, even if you don’t filter your water, there’s typically not as many as we used to have. But when you do filter it, then all of a sudden your body’s getting this plain water, you don’t absorb it as well, you pee all of it out. And along with that, if you’re peeing, like, all the time…I just think about all the women that are, like, drink a gallon of water a day, they’re peeing constantly and you are also peeing out a lot of minerals. So all these are just things to take into consideration. Most people struggle with mineral imbalance. And it’s when you start to understand that stress, nutrition, lifestyle, all these things are going to impact it. And it’s typically not just one thing.

Emily: Right, so let’s dive into our macrominerals and what the most important ones are and what they do in the body. So when we’re referring to macrominerals, these are the first-level minerals, and they’re the minerals that our bodies need in the largest amounts. So they are: calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. So those are the four that are most important to remember. But to start with calcium: so this works with phosphorus, which is another mineral, to control the nervous system. It helps maintain the pH in the body, it reduces lactic acid buildup, and it supports insulin release. So you never really think about calcium and its effect on insulin and blood sugar, but it actually does play a big role. And if calcium is too high in the body, which is actually very common in slow metabolic types, that’s when you can start seeing a slower thyroid, restless leg issues, constipation, kidney stones… And then if it’s too low, that’s when you start seeing blood sugar issues and a more fight or flight state. So things like histamine issues and anxiety. So it is important to eat a diet that is rich in calcium, because you’re not going to get high levels of calcium through diet alone—it’s going to be stress that’s going to cause your calcium to rise. But to make sure that you are getting enough calcium in your, in your diet we always recommend good quality dairy. But if dairy is not an option for you, we also like eggshell powder. Bone broth is a really great source, cooked leafy greens, and something we like called pearl powder, which you can buy that you just use to supplement with calcium

Amanda: And one thing to consider is…I know we’re going to talk about hair testing next, but if you’re looking at your hair testing, a lot of people will see high calcium and then they want to limit their dairy products. You don’t have to do that. So don’t feel like that’s gonna contribute to high calcium on a hair test. Like Emily said, it’s usually a stress thing. So it’s not necessarily that you’re eating too much dairy or it…I would check your supplements first. You know, like your multivitamin, prenatal, whatever it is that you’re taking. Some, some of us are taking like bone health supplements, and that has calcium. But it’s just it…calcium is an interesting one. And yes, we didn’t really mention bone health. And that’s mainly because there’s so much more to bone health than calcium. There are many other minerals in our bones. 

The next big one is magnesium. I feel like this is the one most people are the most familiar with, because it’s so popular. And even if you go on social media, you’ll see a lot of people talking about magnesium. It’s a very essential mineral—it fuels over 3000 different reactions in the body. So, like, it’s a it’s a very important spark plug, right? And it’s also intracellular, so that means 99% of magnesium is inside the cell. And that’s what we would see on a hair test. And if you’re looking at your blood work, typically they’re measuring your serum magnesium—that’s only showing about 1% of your magnesium levels. 

We need magnesium for energy production very similar to copper. It also is very important for blood sugar balance and managing healthy blood sugar levels. It’s huge for our blood pressure, having healthy blood pressure. A lot of people that have high blood pressure are…it’s typically a sign of a magnesium deficiency. Really important for vitamin D—it converts vitamin D in the body. And so if you have low vitamin D…Vitamin D is more like a hormone, so it’s probably a magnesium issue. And it also helps relax our muscles, reduces inflammation. When we don’t have enough of it, it tends to lead to depression, blood sugar issues, thyroid issues, anxiety, adrenal insufficiency—so basically, you just cannot respond to stress appropriately. And when we actually have high levels of magnesium on a hair test—typically, you’re not really going to see that in your blood work—but on your hair test, you can see are you using up a lot of magnesium, right? That it just…it doesn’t mean you have too much, it means your body has a bigger demand for it. It’s not the best from food, it’s hard to get enough magnesium from food, but you can get some in like cooked leafy greens, some in bone broth, a small amount in dairy and then cacao, avocado…but again, like, it’s smaller amounts. And then it’s, like, who knows how much is really in the food. So we do often use supplements or topicals with people. But we will, we’ll talk more about that when we go into metabolic types in the next episode. 

Emily: The next mineral we want to highlight is sodium, which as I mentioned earlier is one of those important electrolytes that we need. And this is important for the stress response. But as an electrolyte it balances fluids and pH, it helps with blood pressure, influences stomach acid, and it’s also important for insulin sensitivity, which you’re going to, you’re going to notice we say a lot because minerals play a huge role. But low sodium—if you have low sodium it leads to insulin resistance, poor adrenal function, and poor digestion. And food sources…of course, everyone thinks of sea salt, right? That’s pretty much where you get your sodium. And then there’s also things like trace mineral drops and fermented foods that also help. But as Amanda was talking about, you know, water earlier and, kind of, drinking too much water can deplete things like sodium. I like to think of it as, like, a..your body is, like, a sponge. And whenever we’re drinking water that doesn’t have minerals in it, the sponge, it just, like, bounces off the sponge like our bodies aren’t actually able to absorb that hydration and that water because we need those trace minerals like sodium in order to absorb it and use it. So I’ve actually been putting sea salt in my water whenever I drink water or even using coconut water, but with sea salt, because of the high mineral levels. So just something to think about. If you do find that you’re low in sodium or are experiencing some of these low sodium symptoms.

Amanda: And if you do add sea salt to your water, typically you want to add, like, a squeeze of lemon or lime or some other form of potassium, because, as we’ll talk about in the ratios, we just want to have a balance. Because yes, mineral levels are important individually but they also are very synergistic, meaning they work together. And sodium is very synergistic with potassium, which is the last big kind of macromineral that we want to go through. And potassium is another one similar to magnesium—it’s intracellular, so 99% is inside the cell. Potassium on our bloodwork does not give us a ton of information. It regulates blood pressure, it’s really important for fluid balance. Same thing with sodium, like, these two are very similar if you look at what they do in the body. They’re both important for insulin. Potassium has a very insulin-like effect on the cell, and it helps make our cells sensitive to thyroid hormone and to glucose. So if you don’t have adequate potassium or sodium or a balance of them, then you have a harder time getting thyroid hormone inside the cell and glucose. 

So this is why, you know…Emily did that whole newsletter and blog series on blood sugar and how it’s, it’s not just a macronutrient thing. It’s also a micronutrient thing. And this is why micronutrients are really important for different symptoms. And sometimes it’s not always a diet change, it’s more of like, okay, am I getting enough of this mineral? It also helps to store glucose in the liver. So if you have difficulty staying asleep at night, potassium can be a consideration. If we don’t have enough of it, we tend to deal with a lot of fatigue, constipation, low blood sugars. And then when we have excess potassium, like, say you see really high levels on your hair test, then that is showing that the body is having a response to stress. 

Some great food sources of potassium, like Emily mentioned, coconut water, aloe vera juice is a great one. The adrenal cocktail, which we’ll talk about in a future episode, potatoes—white potatoes are a much better source than sweet potatoes, but there’s some in sweet potatoes—and then plantains, any, like, acorn, butternut squash, fruit, tomatoes–all those are going to give you great, great amounts of potassium. And again, like the individual levels matter, but the minerals…mineral ratios also matter. 

Emily: So you might be thinking to yourself now, okay, this is all great information, like, I’m happy to learn about these minerals. But how do I know if my mineral balance is off? So that’s a really good question. And this is actually why we use HTMA testing with our clients. So that is a hair tissue mineral analysis, okay. And it is a test that’s used to measure the mineral content of your hair. And it’s so easy, it’s so painless…actually funny, I, whenever I was telling friends about the HTMA, they actually thought you had to, like, pull your hair out by the strand. I was like, no, all you have to do is cut it. But it just requires one hair sample that weighs about 100 to 125 milligrams, which is about one heaping teaspoon of hair. So it’s, it’s not a ton. And you take the sample from like the middle lower part of your head, ideally, near your scalp. So this is nice, because it’s, it’s very easy to cover—you’re not going to have, like, a huge gaping hole where hair should be. But then you cut the hair sample closest to the root so that it’s only an inch and a half long. So this sample shows the body’s mineral status for the last 90 days, which is actually pretty amazing. Because most tests will only be looking at a very small snapshot in time, or about the span of a day. So nothing so far that I know can look at the mineral status for this long, which is why we love to utilize this test.

Amanda: And I think the other big thing to consider about hair mineral testing is that it’s looking at minerals inside the cell. Whereas bloodwork is looking at minerals outside the cell. And, like, we just said magnesium and potassium are intracellular. And it’s just giving us a better snapshot of how you’re using minerals—not just, like, are they high or low? It’s kind of like, okay, but what is your body using? It also lets us get an idea of what stage of stress your body’s in, like, how are you specifically responding to stress?  

Morley Robbins, he created the root cause protocol, I’m going through that practitioner course right now. It’s amazing, highly recommend it for anyone that wants to learn more about minerals. And he describes the HTMA as a fingerprint. So it’s…everyone has their own unique HTMA response. And it’s pretty much showing you….how you present on HTMA is how you deal with stress. So we’re not just looking for high or lows, like, I mean, when we get blood work drawn, it’s typically…your doctor’s like, is it within the optimal range? Hair mineral testing is a lot more than that. It’s looking at what your ratios are, which we’re going to go into next. It’s looking at are you using up a lot of mineral resources, what needs to be replaced? And that’s the thing, like, if you see a high level on a hair test, it’s like, okay, you’re using that up, eventually it’s going to be low. So it’s not like a high level on bloodwork where you’re worried that you have too much. It’s more of, like, why are you doing this? Right? Like where…what is the connection with your stress and your nutrition and your lifestyle that is leading to the results on your hair test. And I feel like that’s why it’s so much more applicable, especially with clients. You know, like, I think there’s value to bloodwork, but it’s, it’s not always as tangible to be, like, okay, here’s what we’re going to do based off this. I’m usually wondering, like, I wonder what’s going on in your hair test that will give us more information about this.  

Emily: Right, and just to add to that…the hair test also can detect heavy metal toxicity, which is always really fascinating. And the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that using human hair testing may be more appropriate than blood or urine samples for evaluating trace minerals. So it’s definitely a better option in my opinion. Again, just because, like, we said before, blood testing is really just one moment in time, right? So it doesn’t mean that blood tests are bad, and if you’re someone who, you know, gets a physical once a year and likes to have your, your blood tests drawn and to look at that, that’s great. It’s definitely good information. And it does tell us a lot. But the best scenario is going to be having a combination of hair mineral analysis with bloodwork, right. So that’s going to be the biggest picture that we have right now with, you know, modern day technology—they both add their own value. So I would just say that if you are interested in what we’re talking about, definitely look into hair testing. It’s very affordable and very easy and painless to do.

Amanda: And we use Trace Elements Lab, TEI, and they…the thing you want to consider with getting a hair test done is you want to make sure that the lab doesn’t have weird hair washing processes. So a lot of labs…there’s a lot of hair testing labs out there. A lot of them use hair washing techniques prior to testing your sample, which will then change/dilute your results. So they’re just not as accurate, there’s not as much action that you can take after getting those test results. Whereas like Trace Elements…Analytical Research Labs is another great one… I just like the way the report from Trace Elements looks. I think it’s so much easier to read and comprehend for people. I have used both before with clients, I just think the TEI is a lot more, like, viewer friendly. So that’s another thing that you want to consider. You can purchase a hair test on our website. And we have our minerals course that we’ll talk about at the end. But typically, most labs, you have to get them from a practitioner. So some websites, you can buy the hair test off their website, but if you contact the lab, they’re going to tell you to find a practitioner. So just…I don’t want to inundate the labs with emails. You just want to Google, like, hair mineral testing near me and see how you can do it. 

So, let’s go into mineral ratios, right, because that’s the big thing that we are gathering from the hair test is not just your levels but how they compare to each other. Because minerals are very synergistic, which means that the levels of one mineral is going to impact the levels of another mineral. And the first one that we’re going to go through is the nervous system ratio. So this is our calcium/phosphorus ratio. Calcium, very important mineral, but it is sedative, which means it relaxes our nervous system. And phosphorus is very stimulating, which means it’s going to excite the nervous system. That’s why we want to have a balance between both of these. When we have a high nervous system ratio, this is meaning excess calcium, which means slower metabolism. When we have a low calcium/phosphorus ratio, then this means that we are very stimulated in that fight or flight state. So high ratio being slow metabolic type, low ratio means fast metabolic type. The next episode is going to be going through the different metabolic types and what they mean. But just kind of relating it back to your metabolism…it’s kind of showing you, like, what stage of stress are you in. So when you are slower, you’re more depleted. When you’re faster, you’re more in that alarm stage of stress.

Emily: The next important ratio is called the vitality ratio. And that’s going to be your sodium/potassium ratio. It’s interesting because each cell in the body has what’s called a sodium-potassium pump, and this is responsible for getting nutrients inside the cell. So either way, if your ratio is high or low, this just shows that there is a sign of stress and that it’s going to be hard for the cells to get those nutrients inside. So a high ratio, which is the high sodium, is going to look like mood swings and stress. And then the low ratio is going to look like maybe fatigue, some poor digestion, low functioning immune system and carb intolerance. And I think what’s important to remember about sodium and potassium is that, like, Amanda said earlier, they work really well together in the body for so many different things. And the most important thing is remembering to keep these two in balance as much as possible.

Amanda: The next one is the thyroid ratio. So this is looking at calcium and potassium, mainly because higher calcium is going to mean that you have calcium that is potentially binding to iodine receptors, which is where your thyroid hormone should be binding. So high calcium means less spots for your thyroid hormone to bind. And then potassium is what makes our cells sensitive to thyroid hormone. So low levels of that, that’s going to make it so that you have a harder time getting thyroid hormone inside the cell. So if you have a high ratio that means slow thyroid hormone function. I say thyroid hormone because it’s not your thyroid glands. This does not indicate if you are hypothyroid—this indicates how your body is able to utilize that thyroid hormone. And so, high ratio usually means slower thyroid—fatigue, cold hands and feet, thinning hair, PMS, period problems, hormone issues. And then a ratio that is low is an indicator of hyperthyroidism. Again, not your thyroid just how you’re using the thyroid hormone, and it can lead to, like, anxiety, sleep issues, heart palpitations, low blood sugar, stuff like that. So again, like, just because potassium is a really great mineral, and it’s super important, we still don’t want excess because that can lead to kind of the opposite end of the thyroid spectrum.

Emily: The calcium/magnesium ratio is what’s going to be called the blood sugar ratio. And we have talked about this on our Instagram before how calcium and magnesium kind of are opposites of each other in terms of many different things. But blood sugar is a big one, because magnesium inhibits insulin release and calcium does the opposite. So if you have a high ratio with higher calcium, that’s going to lead to lower blood sugar, which can actually often show up in, like, high fasting blood sugars. But a low ratio with a lower calcium is going to lead to higher blood sugars, which again can also lead to low blood sugar. So if you’re thinking like, oh, well, you know, I have high blood sugars, or I tend to have lower blood sugars…it’s not really the high or the low that matters as much as the fact that it’s just dysregulated. And if your blood sugar ratio is out of whack, you’re gonna just have dysregulated blood sugar, like, that’s the thing to keep in mind here. And this ratio can also be indicative of heart health, since calcium and magnesium also impact blood pressure, so a very important one to remember.

Amanda: And then the last one is the adrenal ratio. This is our sodium/magnesium ratio. The higher the ratio that’s showing faster adrenal activity, so think making more cortisol, being in that alarm stage of stress where you’re actively using up a lot of minerals and dealing with lots of cortisol output. A low ratio means slower adrenal activity. And typically, that’s when you’re going to be dealing with more fatigue, burnout, and just probably feel like you can’t quite handle stress the same way that you used to.

Emily: So how do you know if you need mineral support? We were joking before we started recording, I feel like everyone does. And literally every symptom you can think of is a sign that your minerals probably need some support. But if I’m going to mention some more specific ones, I would say that if you’re experiencing low energy and fatigue; high or low blood sugar; difficulty sleeping or even staying asleep; PMS symptoms like period pain, breast tenderness; hypothyroidism; low body temps and pulse; or poor appetite—these can all be signs. But there’s even more, kind of, I don’t want to say hidden ones, but kind of less common ones that you think of like oral health, for example. If

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

Master Your Minerals

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