While vitamins are organic coenzymes, minerals are inorganic coenzymes. These are typically called electrolytes because they are electrically charged atoms (ions). They are either cations (positively charged) or anions (negatively charged) and depending on the number of valence electrons, they are univalent, divalent, trivalent and so on.
We have two categories of minerals: Macronutrients are required in large quantities while micronutrients are required in small quantities to orchestrate a whole range of physiological functions, but we cannot produce it ourselves.
Phosphorus (usually Phosphate PO4-3) is an ionic compound and specifically a trivalent anion (negative charge with three valences). Phosphate is a component of all nucleotides. The mineral that makes up our bones and teeth is Calcium Phosphate (Ca3(PO4)2. Phosphate is also in the cell membrane in the phospholipids. (If you’re a nurse and someone is asking you about vitamins and minerals and they are asking why you need phophorus, and you say “I don’t know,” then you should find another profession.)
Magnesium (Mg+2) would be described like calcium as a divalent cation. In your clinical courses you’re going to learn that calcium and magnesium go together so if someone needs calcium, they give them magnesium at the same time as well.
Potassium (K+) is the most important mineral or electrolyte of all these because it determines the electrical voltage of every cell in your body.
Sodium (Na+) is arguably the second most important mineral, which is also a univalent cation. Sodium is needed for nerve impulses (action potentials).
Calcium (Ca+2) is the third most important. Potassium, Sodium and Calcium are monitored in a hospital setting. Calcium would be described as a divalent cation (di means two, cat because it’s positive). Calcium is a mineral in our bones and teeth but it’s also a coenzyme needed for muscle contraction. If someones calcium levels falls it will affect muscle contraction, including that of the heart. It also is required for blood clotting. If you lack either vitamin K or calcium, you can’t have blood clotting. One of the enzymes that requires calcium is ATPase.
Chlorine (Cl–) is a univalent anion that is needed to create hydrochloric acid. We get chlorine in our body by eating salt (sodium chloride).
Micronutrient minerals (aka trace minerals)
Iodine (I–) would be just like chlorine, a univalent anion, and is part of the thyroxin (thyroid) hormone. When thyroxine has four iodines, it’s known as T4. If it has three iodines, it is T3. If someone can’t make enough of the thyroid hormone because they don’t have enough iodine, the thyroid swells up (called a goiter) and they’ll have hypothyroidism. Anything from the ocean has iodine but not everybody likes fish so they’re not going to get enough iodine. Most people ensure they have enough iodine by choosing to buy iodized salt. When you go to the market, they have salt (NaCl) and iodized salt (NaCl and NaI). Buying iodized salt usually takes care of this.
The rest of these are divalent cations and metals.
Iron (Fe+2), a coenzyme, is part of the hemoglobin molecule. Imagine a red blood cell. The major chemical in it is called a hemoglobin. Just like how your body can’t make thyroxine without iodine, if you don’t have iron, you can’t make hemoglobin. Iron oxide is created when iron attaches to oxygen and it’s called rust. If you don’t have enough iron, a person may be anemic because they don’t have enough hemoglobin, similar to Vitamin E deficiency, but this time it’s due to an iron deficiency.
Copper (Cu+2) is needed by copper as a coeznyme for monoamine oxidase, an enzyme in our nervous system. There is a class of drugs called MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) that are powerful antidepressant drugs that inhibit this enzyme. Remember antibiotics, aspirin, ibuprofen, and lipitor are enzyme inhibitors.
Manganese (Mn+2) is a coenzyme for several enzymes.
Zinc (Zn+2) is a coenzyme required by DNA polymerase to make DNA and many other enzymes.
Nickel (Ni+2) is another coenzyme that’s part of several enzymes.
That concludes our biological chemistry articles…
Next up is about cellular respiration!