MINERAL AVAILABILITY AND UNAVAILABILITY
by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© September 2011, The Nutritional Balancing Foundation
A topic in nutritional balancing science that is poorly understood is mineral availability. It basically means how well utilized a mineral is within the body. This is very complex subject, but a critical one. To discuss it properly, I must unfortunately leave the area of nutrition and discuss basic physics and chemistry.
Basic physics. The bioavailability of a mineral or other chemical element often depends upon such things as the valence, spin, mass, atomic number, isotopes, and other physical and chemical properties of the mineral.
To review briefly, everything in the known universe is made of physical matter that is called atoms. Officially, there are 93 different types of atoms. These are also called the chemical elements or sometimes called the minerals, even though some are gases, for example at room temperature. Some researchers say there are actually 96 chemical elements. Several books discuss the other three hidden elements, such as The Rhythms Of Nature, Volumes I and II, by Brian David Andersen.
Atoms are tiny structures composed of a nucleus that has spinning electrons whirling around it. This theory is also challenged by some scientists, but it is the accepted hypothesis about the structure of matter.
Our bodies as chemical factories. The properties of the physical elements determine how they fit together to make everything from our bodies to our cars, from our oil and gas to our air. All of these are nothing but combinations of the 93 or 96 chemical elements. In this regard, our bodies are nothing but very fancy chemical factories.
Like any factory, we must take in the “raw materials” in the form of food, water and air. If our health is good, we then use the food we eat to make trillions of chemicals that we need to perform all body functions such as movement, breathing, speech and even thinking.
This may appear as a very unromantic description of our bodies, but it is the truth. It is also the reason why nutrition and lifestyle are, and will always be, the basis for optimum health and wellness. The bioavailability of minerals and chemical compounds is really about how to obtain the best raw materials for the factory so they can be fully utilized, and not wasted.
Most doctors understand bioavailability in a very limited way. Most physicians and nutritionists are not even concerned with mineral and chemical bioavailability. When they do discuss it, however, they generally mean how well-absorbed a mineral, food or nutritional supplement is. While this is one use of the word bioavailability, it is a very limited level of understanding. This article goes into more depth, and this is needed to understand and appreciate nutritional balancing science.
PRINCIPLES OF BIOAVAILABILITY IN NUTRITIONAL BALANCING SCIENCE
1. The word bioavailable means how usable a particular mineral or substance is. Usable means that it must be digested, absorbed, and find its way into the correct body cells. Within the cells, it must be further altered or converted into other chemicals, usually, to be useful in some way for the body. Then, when its function is over, it must be able to be easily eliminated from the body so that it does not accumulate as a toxin and clog up the body. All this is part of what I consider bioavailability.
For example, some toxic metals are very easily absorbed into the body through the intestines or even through the skin. However, once inside, they do not function well to make us healthy.
Other substances such as many medical drugs are absorbed and even utilized to a degree in the cells, but our bodies cannot eliminate them well after they are used, so they clog up the kidneys or the liver, perhaps, and act as permanent poisons. Still other minerals are very difficult to absorb properly, but once inside they are easily utilized. This is why in nutritional balancing science all of these factors must be considered when evaluating a food or nutrient for bioavailability and safety.
2. Bioavailability is often for a specific purpose, at a specific time and with specific conditions of the body. In other words, a specific form, valence or spin of a mineral can be well-suited or bioavailable for one location or enzyme system in the body, but not suitable in another location or enzyme binding site. This really complicates things, at times.
It is the reason that nutritional balancing science always begins with a determination of a person’s metabolic type, yin and yang balance, and much more on the hair mineral chart. Otherwise, it is just too easy to give the wrong foods and the wrong minerals, vitamins, herbs and other supplements.
3. Bioavailability means something different for each mineral, at least to some extent. This is because each mineral and thousands of individual chemicals are absorbed, digested and utilized differently in our bodies.
Some minerals, for example, are absorbed in the stomach such as sodium and potassium. Others are absorbed later in the intestines. Some nutrients can and must be processed in the liver, while others cannot.
Some substances are carried around the body by what are called active transport mechanisms, while others sort of float around more freely and move by osmosis rather than active transport. In other words, the specifics of bioavailability may be different in each case because the chemistry of each mineral and compound is somewhat unique.
With this introduction, let us examine in some depth the major factors that make a mineral or other chemical substance more or less bioavailable.
FACTORS THAT CAUSE MINERALS AND OTHER SUBSTANCES TO BE AVAILABLE OR UNAVAILABLE BIOLOGICALLY
Many factors can affect biological availability. To keep this section simple, I will divide the factors into those having to do with:
A. Atomic and sub-atomic factors. These are the structure, size, weight and other properties of an atom or mineral.
B. Molecular factors. These are the structure, shape, size or other properties of combinations of atoms, which are called in physics molecules or chemical compounds.
C. Interactions. These are other factors or forces in our bodies such as its acidity, electrical balance, temperature and many others.
Let us examine each of these categories.
A. Sub-atomic and atomic factors in mineral bioavailability.
1. Atomic of molecular spin. Spin is a primary physics property of all matter. The spin of any substance has a direction, a velocity and other qualities such as wobble. For example, in stoichemistry or stochiometry, the direction of spin an atom or a molecule is labeled as the D-form or the L-form of the molecule. D stands for dexto-rotary, which means spinning to the right. L stands for laevo-rotary or spinning to the left.
Scientists know that the spin of a substance or chemical may strongly affects its biological properties. Living tissue is almost always L or D rotary. Manmade molecules are usually a combination of D and L forms that are hard to separate. This is one reason why natural food, for example, cannot be easily duplicated in a chemical laboratory. In fact, the more life force or vitality an element or molecule has, the more it usually has a D or L spin. The D form of spin is usually better, but not always. The manmade forms are usually, though not always, less biologically active and less biologically available in many cases.
Common examples of products sold in the store with specific spin are L-tryptophan, L-taurine, L-cysteine and DL phenylalanine or DL tocopherol, a synthetic vitamin E. All molecules have a direction of spin, but most are not labeled as clearly as those listed above.
Spin is a very complex subject, and this short section is just an introduction. Spin is caused by many factors including the shape of the molecule or atom, how it is made, and its interaction with other atoms or other forces such as gravity, the earth’s rotation, the earth’s electromagnetic fields, or others. Even the location of a substance on the earth determines its spin in some cases. This can be why minerals, plants, and even animals found or raised in certain locations have special properties. It can also be why one place is better for growing cotton and another is best for growing beans or another crop.
2. Valence. A second important factor in the bioavailability of a mineral and some other chemical substances is called its valence. Valence is the number of electrons in the outer shell of the atoms of the substance. For example, copper, iron and manganese usually have a valence of +2 or +3. If the valence is not correct, it will affect the availability of the mineral. For example, iron found in meat has a different valence, at times, than iron found in vegetables.
Biologically active calcium usually has a +2 valence, as does magnesium. On occasion, however, it could change, or calcium could be bound to something that shifts this property and for this reason changes the biological value of the calcium or magnesium.
3. Atomic mass or weight of a mineral. Another physics property of a mineral is its atomic weight, mass or density. This depends mainly upon the number of neutrons and protons in its nucleus, according to atomic theory.
According to the atom theory, atoms are made of basically three types of particles. Protons are in the center or nucleus of the atom and have a positive charge. Electrons spin around the nucleus and have a negative electrical charge. They give the atom form and shape, but have almost no mass. Neutrons are other particles that reside in the nucleus that always have a neutral or no electrical charge. This theory has been challenged recently because other particles have been discovered in atoms, but it is still widely accepted and helpful to explain bioavailability.
For example, hydrogen and helium are the lightest elements because they have only one or two protons and electrons respectively. This is why blimps and balloons filled with helium or hydrogen are lighter than air and float up in the sky. Hydrogen and helium are also smaller atoms than all the others.
In contrast, heavy metals such as cadmium and lead are literally more dense and heavy. Most are very poisonous for all life forms. They are not only heavier, but they are larger than the light elements.
The correct minerals for our health are in the middle between the lightest and heaviest elements. The body must have the right weight of minerals or it will not function properly.
For example, the heavy metals are literally too big and do not “fit” as well into certain enzymes and other structures in our bodies. This is one of the main reasons they poison us. They are like nuts and bolts that are too big to fit where they are supposed to go. This is why so much attention in nutritional balancing is focused on getting rid of the heavy metals.
4. Isotopes and the bioavailability of minerals. Besides having a general size, and weight or mass, each mineral also comes in slightly different sizes and weights that are called isotopes. These are lighter or heavier versions or forms of the same atom. The heaviness or lightness of an isotope depends upon the number of neutrons in the nucleus of the atom, according to atomic theory.
For example, some health food stores sell certain spring waters that are high in deuterium. The product may look like other water, but the atoms of the water contain a heavier form of hydrogen called deuterium. Some doctors believe this is more healthful, and I believe they are correct.
The isotopes of atoms and minerals definitely may alter their properties and contribute to the bioavailability of minerals in the foods we eat and the water we drink.
B. Molecular factors in bioavailability.
1. The way that atoms are combined with, or bound to other atoms is a critical aspect of bioavailability. At times, the pure mineral is more effective and available. This is often called an ionized state of matter. In other cases, minerals form various types of compounds. These include colloids, which is a suspension of fine particles with an electrical charge. For example, in nutritional balancing science colloidal silver is used to kill germs very effectively and with much less toxicity than most antibiotics.
In other cases, a mineral is bound to a proteinaceous substance such as an amino acid. This is called a mineral chelate or a chelated mineral. This is a far more bioavailable form of a mineral than many others.
In other cases, a mineral is bound to oxygen, and called an oxide, and so forth. Hundreds of combinations are possible, especially in foods and water. This is tricky, because a mineral in one form may be very bioavailable in the liver, for example, but a different mineral compound may be needed in the brain, for example.
The body needs many types of foods and compounds. This is a problem with limited diets such as vegetarian or raw food, or no grain diets.
2. The ability to transmute. This is a rather esoteric aspect of bioavailability, but an important one to know about. Dr. Paul Eck was aware of it as he was researching nutritional balancing. Biological transmutation of the chemical elements means their transformation into other elements and compounds that occurs at low temperature and pressures in living organisms.
This is a very controversial topic in atomic science and molecular chemistry. It is written about in the book entitled Biological Transmutations by Dr. Louis Kervran, a French scientist. In the book, the author describes very simple experiments that anyone can perform with simple laboratory equipment to prove or disprove his theory that elements can be transformed one into the other within living organisms such as plants and animals. The book has chapters that discuss the sodium/potassium transmutation, the calcium/magnesium transmutation and others. Dr. Paul Eck may have used this information to help him understand what one is viewing on a hair tissue mineral test, because the resemblance to aspects of nutritional balancing science is striking.
The bioavailability of a mineral may depend upon whether it can be transmuted or changed in ways the body can utilize, or whether for some reason the mineral or compound cannot be transmuted.
C. Interactions with many factors and forces within the body. There are many such factors, but here are a few of the most important ones.
1. Intestinal absorption. This is perhaps the most important factor in the bioavailability of all minerals, vitamins, proteins and other nutrients. Most people today have impaired digestion. As a result, they cannot absorb nutrients very well, so the nutrients just pass through the digestive tract and move out of the body in the feces. A lot of energy has been wasted chewing and attempting to digest the food, only to have it wasted.
Reasons for impaired digestion. These include not chewing food enough, eating too fast, eating when upset or anxious, eating on the run or in your car while driving, low levels of salivary digestive enzymes, low levels of stomach acid or other digestive substances in the stomach such as intrinsic factor, low levels of bile salts, bile acids, or pancreatic enzyme deficiency, intestinal infections of many kinds, improper intestinal flora such as the presence of candida albicans, toxic chemicals or toxic metals in the food that irritates the intestines, eating too much at one meal, leaky gut syndrome for many reasons, an irritated intestine that moves the food along too fast, parasitic infections in the intestines or colon that irritate the tissues, genetic malformations of the intestines or colon, and a few other rarer reasons such as tumors or blockages of several kinds.
2. Binding, transport and releasing factors. Minerals and other substances must usually be “unwrapped” and “rewrapped” or “repackaged” many times as they are absorbed and transported through the body. It is like moving cartons of merchandise around the world that must be carried in planes, trains, ships and other cargo containers. Some of the cargo (the minerals) is delicate, and some is hazardous or toxic, so the body has found ways to bind it and transport it safely when the body functions correctly. At the sites where the minerals and compounds are needed, they must be released properly as well, or they will not do their jobs correctly. This is a large and complex topic.
In some cases, binding factors are related to the digestive tract. For example, the minerals in vegetables are bound up in tough fibers that human beings cannot digest, even with the help of a digestive aid. Foraging animals chew their cud and grind their vegetable fiber all day long, in many cases. Also, they have cellulase enzymes that break it down much better than we can. This is one reason why nutritional balancing only recommends eating cooked vegetables. Cooking breaks down the tough fibers in plants. Juicing vegetables such as carrots is another way to release many of the minerals in the carrots.
Another common example is that to release some calcium and many other compounds requires a very low or acidic pH of the stomach. This causes calcium to be released so it can be made into usable chemicals in our bodies. Otherwise, calcium in the diet may be wasted. Keeping the stomach very acidic is critical for good digestion, and this is a reason we do not like acid-blocking drugs like Prevacid that are used for heartburn or gastric reflux disease. These drugs make the stomach less acidic, which relieves heartburn but impairs calcium utilization and bioavailability. Over time, this creates a calcium deficiency if one does not correct the problem.
Important transport or carrier molecules in the body include ferritin for iron, and metallothioneine and ceruloplasmin for copper and some other minerals. If these transporters are deficient for some reason – usually poor nutrition – then the minerals cannot be utilized well and become biounavailable.
Binding and releasing factors include many other biochemical mechanisms throughout the body.
3.Conversion in the liver. Some substances seem to be much more compatible with human physiology than others. An important factor in this regard is how well the substance can be broken down in the liver. All of our food goes to the liver after we eat it. The liver converts it to other substances in many cases, or stores it away, and throws away that which cannot be used.
Some substances just do not fare well in the liver, and instead build up there or can even damage the liver. These include alcohol, most medical drugs, and hundreds of toxic chemicals such as pesticides. Even some vitamins such as high-dose niacin, and some health food products like spirulina, chlorella and other green and blue-green algae are not able to be processed well by the liver in most cases. I am not sure why this is so, but it is what we observe, so we strictly avoid these substances, even if they have good nutritional properties.
4. The effects of blood circulation. In order to use most minerals and chemical compounds, the blood circulation must be excellent. In many people, it is not good enough and this causes every illness imaginable.
Nutritional balancing science includes the use of gentle exercise such as walking or rebounding, and daily us of a near infrared sauna to drastically increase circulation. Vigorous exercise will work as well, but it depletes so many nutrients in our experience that it is not the best way to improve your circulation. Most people are not healthy enough to exercise vigorously on a regular basis, and can be injured too easily, as well.
5. Hydration. This is another critical factor in making some substances biologically available to the body. Without enough of the right kind of water, the kidneys, the cell membranes and other structures do not function correctly. When this happens, even the best foods and food supplements can become toxic and hard to utilize well.
Most people do not drink enough water, or they drink water that does not hydrate the body such as reverse osmosis water. This is also called “drinking water” or “purified water” in the supermarkets and health food stores. Please avoid it. Other people drink alkaline water or other types that upset the body in other ways after a few months, even if it makes one feel better for a while.
Others deplete their body’s water by using caffeine, sugar or alcohol. These three chemicals dehydrate the body even if one drinks enough water. As a result, most people are dehydrated today. This impairs or even stops the proper transformation of thousands of chemical substances in the body.
In nutritional balancing science, we insist that people drink only spring water, carbon-only filtered tap water as second best, or distilled water for about three months only, and then switch to spring water or carbon-only filtered tap water. Also, most adults need to drink about three quarts or three liters of water each day. This is hard for some people, but really assists with the bioavailability and detoxification of the body. Also, it is best not to drink with meals, but rather an hour or more after meals or up to about 10 minutes before a meal so as not to dilute the salivary and stomach enzymes.
6. Respiration or deep breathing. Deep breathing is needed at all times to introduce enough oxygen into the body to oxidize or burn certain chemicals so they can be utilized. Mixing atoms and compounds with oxygen is one of the most basic ways our bodies transform and utilize foods and nutrients.
This is why stopping what you are doing and just breathing deeply, and getting some fresh air, gentle exercise and relaxation each day is essential for excellent health. Another method we recommend is the use of an ozone/ionizer air purifier in your bedroom at night. This, too, can help to make your food and nutrients much more bioavailable.
7. Cell membrane attributes. All of our nutrients and chemicals must cross the cell membranes to be utilized properly inside the cells. If, for example, one is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin D, which is the case with almost everyone today, then nutrients may not pass into the cells very well and the nutrients are not as available to the cells. Toxins also will not be able to pass out of the cells to be eliminated and can build up and kill the cells. This is very common today.
Slow oxidizers or those who are yin tend to have overly stabilized cell membranes that are too impermeable to nutrients, impairing utilization of many nutrients and hormones. In contrast, fast oxidizers tend to have cell membranes that are too permeable. This also impairs proper nutrient availability in some cases because too much passes from the blood into the cells, or the process moves too quickly.
Cell membrane transport of nutrients into and out of the cells is complex, but this is an introduction to the subject and all that most people need to know about it. It is one of the main reasons why balancing the major mineral ratios, oxidation rate and the forces of yin and yang in the body is so critical to restore perfect health. I have not been able to do this using blood serum or urine tests so far. Only a properly performed tissue mineral biopsy seems able to measure the mineral ratios and other parameters well enough to accurately correct them.
8. The presence or absence of synergists and antagonists. Many nutrients are better absorbed, transported and utilized in the presence of other minerals, vitamins, proteins, starches, sugars, hormones, or other chemicals. Such interactions are called synergists in biology. Very simple examples are that manganese and vitamin B1 seem to be synergists, zinc and vitamin B6 are often synergistic, and calcium and copper are synergistic in some areas of the body. Supplementing copper and zinc together has a different effect than giving them separately. At times, separate administration is better, while at other times they must be given together, such as when the sodium/potassium ratio is low.
Antagonists. In contrast, some minerals, vitamins and all other molecules are opposed or antagonized by other minerals, vitamins and other nutrient molecules. These are called antagonists in biology and medicine. Antagonists are a very critical area of mineral availability.
Examples of mineral antagonisms are that some minerals compete for carrier proteins in the intestines and this affects their utilization. Other minerals compete for binding sites in trillions of enzymes.
An interesting phenomenon is that nutrient minerals always compete for binding sites with toxic metals to some degree. This is known as the theory of preferred minerals. Hormones compete with some toxic chemicals for hormone receptors, and so forth.
How the body prioritizes which minerals, vitamins and hormones it will utilize and where they will be utilized is another complex subject, but bears directly on the question of bioavailability.
9. Other. In some instances, the bioavailability of a chemical or mineral will be influenced by other factors such as illnesses or infections, the effect of high or low body temperature, the pH of the blood, the cells, the lymph and the interstitial fluid, and possibly many other factors.
SORTING OUT ALL THE COMPLEXITY OF BIOAVAILABILITY
As you can see, the subject of bioavailability is overwhelming in its complexity. Some doctors insist upon liquid vitamins, while others insist that food-based products are always best. Others focus on vegetarian diets, while others only believe in eating “live foods”, meaning raw food. Some doctors give piles of nutritional supplements based on various tests or theories, while other doctors dislike food supplements and believe they are unnecessary and just build up in the liver and elsewhere. It can be totally confusing!
I am most impressed with how Dr. Paul Eck sorted out what is most important and practical to increase the bioavailability of what we ingest. Dr. Eck had a strong background in the supplement industry where he had worked for many years. He had also worked in the pharmaceutical industry with several drug companies. Once he discovered tissue mineral biopsy testing using hair, he realized he had a way to assess how various nutrients and methods to administer them were working.
Due to his brilliance and his connections, doctors began sending hair samples to him and listened to his recommendations. He started giving various foods and nutrients to thousands of people and then observing the changes that took place on their hair tissue mineral analyses. He told me that he, too, was confused and bewildered for years until he slowly figured out what to look for, and how to interpret the significance of the various levels, ratios and patterns on the mineral analysis test. It was a painstaking process that he conducted day and night for years.
Often older books yielded clues, but much of the older medical and nutritional literature he found was outdated because the world has become so much more environmentally poisoned with metals and chemicals, and because the food supply has become more depleted of nutrients. Also, the bodies are more toxic and depleted, and this affects the bioavailability of nutrients as well through poorer digestion and other mechanisms.
This is why when doctors tell me they have figured out a better way to improve health, I am always interested. However, so far I have rarely observed real, long-term improvements upon Dr. Eck’s basic research.
The process of figuring what works best in the body continues. As new research reveals better ways to nourish, hydrate, oxygenate and rebuild bodies, I will share it all on this website.