'WIFFMs' - What's In It For Me?
- How Common Mineral Deficiencies Impact Health
I’ve been having a variety of interesting email chats recently regarding feeding minerals, with differing opinions coming from all angles. Some positive, some unsure of the benefits, others convinced their horse gets ‘everything they need’ from their forage but still wanting to hear why they should be fed.
With different views and different science news coming out by the day from highly respected equine professionals, I get the confusion. Dr Christina Fritz’s ‘Feed Your Horse Fit’ course content last year added valuable new science to the mineral-balancing jigsaw, with one of the standouts being about the effects of feeding synthetic minerals to our horses, and that synthetic selenium may also cause subclinical toxicity.
A year on and now we now have Dr Kellon telling us not to 'fear selenium’, and suggesting that if we’re concerned about it, maybe consider blood testing. Yet Dr Fritz says that selenium levels can only rarely be detected via blood tests.
We all have our equine gurus that we personally swear by; our preferred farriers, vets, nutritionists, body workers et al, all with differing opinions and science, and yet I hear too often from people feeling like they’re caught between a rock and a hard place when their vet says one thing and their farrier says another. It's also sometimes not that easy to explain the benefits, to give some clarity, because we have to get a bit science-y with it - I can still clearly remember the agony of chemistry lessons at school – I couldn’t relate to them at all because I needed a ‘story’, the How&Why, and not just a times-table of facts and figures.
So yes, I get it, and having once trained in salesmanship around 4-centuries ago, I learned a very useful catch-phrase – “Telling isn’t selling.” You can’t sell a concept/product by telling someone only about the features, i.e. this bottle has a flat bottom. You have to turn those features into benefits, what it's going to mean to the client, or as the salesmanship saying goes, the WIIFM’s – 'What’s In It For Me’, using the phrase "which means", i.e. this bottle has a flat bottom which means ... it'll stand up.
As for selling the concept of why someone should feed minerals to their horse, I can tell anyone that feeding magnesium to their horse helps balance calcium, but how does this benefit their horse? What's the ‘which means …’? In this particular case it means their horse may seem calmer (because of the healthy chemical cellular exchange, although it's always going to be much bigger science-y picture 😉).
So. Back to those recent e-chats and Ding! I had a lightbulb moment - how about if I tried a different tack ? How about I explained how minerals benefitted us humans versus how a deficiency caused us to feel - maybe my clients could relate more to that and it would paint a clearer picture? Cut a very long one short, it worked.
What also helped was that I’ve recently finished reading a fairly impressive monster of a book - ‘The Mineral Fix - How to Optimise Your Mineral Intake for Energy, Longevity, Immunity, Sleep and More’. Yes I know, a bit nerdy, but this kind of thing floats my nerdy boat. Written by Dr. James DiNicolantonio, a well-respected and internationally known scientist, and the author/co-author of over 250 publications in the medical literature, he’s also a Doctor of Pharmacy, and an expert on health and nutrition.
He also just happens to be connected to the Institute of Functional Medicine, which is My Thing (medicine by cause, not symptoms), so this also floats my nerdy Functional Medicine boat as well 😉 And when it comes to mineral deficiencies, in his opinion Dr James considers our modern day’s lack of human nutrition in our diets as a potential pandemic. So, I leaned very heavily on his book to put together my all-things-human-minerals to our clients.
And … as is my way, the more I got involved in cross-referencing the human mineral story to our horses, you’ve guessed it - I felt a Carol-Ramble blog coming on … So, here it is, and it's one heck of a story.
Hope it makes some sort of sense to you. 😉
Mini Science Alert 🤓 If we start at the very beginning, in our human bodies, we are one big engine of chemistry. Every second of every day, there are 37-billion-billion chemical reactions (yes you read that right) happening inside our bodies. And each and every one of these chemical reactions needs enzymes to occur, and guess what those enzymes need to do their job - minerals. TaDah!
So there are the facts, the features, but what are the WIIFMs? Big picture, this means minerals have an enormous impact on our health, whether horse or human. But … and also whether horse or human, we’re seeing an epidemic of mineral deficiencies, in an age of over-nutrition courtesy of our old friends - starch and sugar, alongside an epidemic level of under-nutrition of these absolutely essential mineral nutrients.
It’s easy to think that minerals are just not really that important, or that we can easily get them from our food, or we’re not really that deficient. I mean - how could we be deficient? We’re such a well-nourished country - just look at the high obesity levels; we are far from a starved nation. But … there’s also the phenomenon that the more obese we are, the more nutrient-deficient we are. It’s remarkable to see this paradox of obesity and malnutrition going together.
If you’ve ever wondered how we got here, as to why we’re all so low in minerals, the same factors relate to us both - horse and human again. And one thing’s for sure – modern-day industrial agriculture has a whole lot to do with it, but so does chronic illness (brought on by the nutritional imbalances) and the medications that we all then have to take as a result, as well as insulin resistance and inflammation – something we can all relate to when it comes to our horses.
The problem is compounded. These days there are less minerals in our food than there used to be, due to modern farming practices using chemicals like glyphosate and post-harvest sprays (carrots these days have 75% less magnesium than 50-years ago). Then that food gets ultra-processed (aka CRAP - Carbs, Refined, Artificial and Processed) then plastic-wrapped before landing on our supermarket shelves. Now factor in pharma drugs and inflammatory, sedentary lifestyles, and collectively they all contribute to depleting our bodies even further of what minerals we can get from our food.
Same for our horses here in the UK. Their food – neon-green uber-starch/sugar-rich grass, of which they eat far too much of, is then fed alongside their own ultra-processed CRAP feeds, sprayed with those same chemicals then squished into shiny plastic feedbags, together with pharma drugs and inflammatory lifestyles depleting their bodies even further of what minerals they can get from their food.
Even if we do our level best to get us - and our horses – real food, if it’s not grown on a regenerative no-spray farm we can pretty much guarantee four main minerals are depleted - magnesium, phosphorous, copper and zinc. It’s no coincidence that these are the four main deficient minerals in our horses, and the four main minerals you'll see in any decent equine mineral forage-balancer, including our EquiVita/VitaComplete mineral balancer range.
When we generally think about ‘food’ for our horses, we probably think more about fibre and protein, and we might talk about minerals, but most of us don’t recognise how mineral-deficient our horses are. And no surprise because there’s nowhere near the amount of research done on equine health compared to human health, where the stats for us humans alone estimate that one in three of us are deficient in at least 10 minerals, and this is insufficient deficient.
Back to Dr. James, and to quote him, “It really started around 1940. There are three primary reasons why most of us are actually deficient in minerals. The number one reason is the foods that we eat are now just simply more nutrient-depleted compared to 50 to 80 years ago, because of how we grow our food. The second reason is 60% of our calories come from processed foods - flour, sugar (aka the white menace) and seed oils, the processing of which essentially eliminates 80-100% of the minerals in those products. Then the third factor is that the majority of adults have at least one chronic health condition, that condition depleting the body of minerals, and the medications used to treat those disease states further depleting the body of minerals.”
1. The way we grow our food today means less nutrient content.
2. Processing food further eliminates 80-100% of the mineral content.
3. Continually eating carb-rich, refined, artificial, processed food creates chronic health conditions which further depletes the body’s mineral levels.
4. The pharma meds needed to support those chronic conditions also further deplete the body of minerals.
This means there’s a whole Big-Picture effect on the body’s biology which eventually shows up clinically as symptoms, and if not addressed, those symptoms will lead to disease.
So, let's delve deeper.
(Quick apology up front to all veggies/vegans out there, which for the record include me ...)
Two main reasons why. First up, we now grow food for yield, so essentially we’re growing plants and animals quicker. These days our crops are chemically sprayed during the growth period and/or genetically modified for a faster turnround and harvest. As for our meat animals, they’re slaughtered much earlier than before, i.e. cattle are being slaughtered at 14-months instead of at 2-3yo. This all basically means that the animal or plant simply don’t have the time to actually take up all the nutrients from the soil, meaning they’re literally more diluted in nutrition.
Second, it’s about the phosphorus fertilisers that are being used that inhibits the uptake of numerous minerals. Using raspberries as an example, clinical studies have shown that using phosphorous fertilisers decreases the raspberry’s calcium, magnesium, boron and zinc levels by 30% each. Farming is shifting away from regenerative to mono-cropping yield-increasing, and it’s led to nutritional dilutions – not to mention loss of flavour - compared to 50-60-years ago.
Aside from this – and important when it comes to our horses – because of the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the plants are absorbing it, with the end result causing them to become more starchy and less nutritious, with less protein and minerals. And with the soil having been damaged by all these chemical fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides, herbicides and glyphosate, the soil’s microbiome is destroyed, which kills off the symbiotic relationship between the soil microbes and the plant - it’s the job of the microbes and the organic matter in the soil to extract the nutrients from the soil and put in the plant.
Which means ... even if the soil’s full of nutrients, if there’s no organic matter or microbes in the soil, the plant can’t get access to those nutrients.
Fortified with artificials (aka, an expensive way to make urine …)
So, we now have nutrient-deficient food being ‘processed’ en-masse, with 60% of the calories having been deliberately stripped of all of its nutrients due to the chemical processes during the growth period. So how do the BigFood corporations get round this? They fortify this non-food with artificial, made-in-a-lab vitamin and mineral premixes to compensate (Top TIp - check on the back of your feedbag to see if there’s a vit/min premix included 😏).
And, as before, being synthetic, this means the liver won’t recognise these fake vitamins/minerals in order to biotransform/metabolise them for the body to then utilise. Instead, the liver sends these imposters straight to the kidneys for excretion. To repeat, “An expensive way to make urine …”
An interesting digress – ever heard of rice ‘polishing’? It’s basically a process by which the outer layers of a grain of rice (the bran) is ‘polished’, aka milled off. Yep, I know – begs the question ‘Why?’ But back in the 70s some numpty thought this would be a good idea, and what followed was a vitamin deficiency – remove the bran, remove the nutrients.
The problems were first identified when this polished rice was given to chickens in european prisons; said chooks were then fed to the prisoners who subsequently all got really sick with vitamin deficiencies. And … this crazy process still happens today! These days both rice and flour has to be enriched. Bonkers! Why not ditch the processing part, and provide the whole actual foodstuff with all the nutrients still in it?
Loss of copper’s also been a main contender. Vegetables have lost around 75% of their copper, with meat losing on average around 50%. 80-90% of copper is lost in cheese, and we’ve lost almost all of it in milk. The only way to make a beneficial difference to the nutrient density of food is by sourcing crops and animal products from regenerative farms where the farmers use natural manure, and not these phosphorus, artificial NPK fertilisers and bluddy glyphosate.
Cue chronic conditions
So, we’re feeding ourselves this chemically-soaked, artificially fortified, ultra-processed fake junk and no surprise, this significantly damages our gut microbiome so we end up with chronic diseases, which then need medications to block the symptoms. And so continues the domino-effect cascade of mineral depletion.
Human stats show 6 out of 10 people have one chronic disease, with 4 out of 10 having more than one, and here’s scary – a huge 81% of people aged over 50 are on one or more medications. So, let’s look at how this affects the body’s mineral status.
First up, all those pharma meds further damage the microbiome, some completely annihilating it, and as we well know, a damaged microbiome means what's left of the friendly gut microbes won't be able to assimilate then absorb the nutrients effectively. In humans this means gluten intolerance, celiac disease, Crohn’s, IBS, ulcerative colitis, acidosis, SIBO, leaky gut, autoimmune syndrome. Take away the gluten intolerance and celiac/Crohn’s, and our horses are prone to all the rest.
Here's another thing. Even if the GI tract could absorb the nutrients, it then requires insulin to drive numerous minerals into the cells, including magnesium and potassium. Here’s more human stats - these days a whopping 75% of humans are insulin resistant, with high levels of insulin in the bloodstream shifting magnesium and calcium straight out in the urine. Now how many of our horses are insulin resistant? Thousands upon thousands …
Long and short this means the body can’t even get these essential minerals into the cells when it’s insulin resistant, and when insulin levels are elevated, this means there’ll be no magnesium and calcium either because they get wee’d out. So basically, if our horses feast on sugary starchy neon-green grass and their insulin levels whomp upwards, they’ll be weeing out vital magnesium before it's even had a chance to be driven to the cells, let alone utilised.
Let’s recap. Deficient soils mean mineral-deficient foods that are then processed into fake foods which need to be artificially fortified, which damage the gut microbiome, ultimately creating chronic diseases, so we take medications which further damage the gut microbiome which directly disrupts the nutrient absorption into the bloodstream.
Cue one nutrient-deficient, very sick, body.
How many of us have seen a warning on an innocent supplement advising us not to take it if we’re on X meds because it may interfere with blablabla? Don’t take fish oil if you’re on Coumadin, or don’t take vitamin E if you’re on blood thinner. Well, never mind those contra warnings on nutrient drug interactions - the opposite is also true - drug nutrient interactions! Medications themselves can cause massive nutritional deficiencies, whether it’s an acid blocker causing B12, zinc, magnesium and calcium deficiency, leading to osteoporosis, depression, cognitive impairment and neuropathy. Or certain antidepressants causing B6 deficiency, or diuretics causing magnesium deficiency.
Let’s stay with diuretics, as this is incredibly relevant for most of us aged over 50. We’re talking high blood pressure, a chronic age-related disease that many of us are familiar with – me included. And there's a tiny bit of irony involved here, because we're prescribed a diuretic for blood pressure, and it causes us to lose magnesium. Yet what’s the cause of high blood pressure? Low magnesium.
Here's the How&Why. One of the first meds a doctor will throw at someone with high blood pressure is something called a thiazide diuretic, a drug that increases urine flow, i.e. Hydrochlorothiazide or Chlorthalidone. Thing is, they also cause potassium loss, so to get round this, the medical community consider that to counter this potassium depletion they can simply prescribe more potassium. Just for the record, for heart failure they have to give us extra potassium because it's known that the heart meds cause potassium to leach out in the urine.
Back to high blood pressure, and it’s actually a magnesium depletion that these thiazide diuretics are causing, which makes the body unable to hold onto potassium. Which means, 80% of people who are on a thiazide diuretic for six months or longer are deficient in magnesium. That’s a massive Eighty-Percent. And … these diuretics are one of the most prescribed medications in the western world. It’s said that 50% of people with high blood pressure or heart disease have a magnesium deficiency, with at least half the population not even getting the RDA of magnesium.
(Quick digress - the RDA is the absolute minimum amount we need to prevent deficiency diseases, and not how much we need for optimal health. As in, the absolute minimum vit.C we need so we don’t get scurvy, or the absolute minimum vit.D for rickets. The RDA isn't the amount the body needs for optimal functioning - it doesn't match the optimal intake for nutrients. More often than not, if we don’t hit optimal intakes for nutrients, this may be just as damaging to the body.)
What makes this all the more ironic is that it's magnesium itself that lowers blood pressure, so we’re kind of getting rid of the very mineral that we need to keep our blood vessels relaxed and not have high blood pressure. In fact, this is what women are given when they have high blood pressure during pregnancy (known as pre-eclampsia), with the treatment being intravenous magnesium.
Another magnesium factor; it prevents calcium from accumulating in the arteries. One sign of mineral deficiency is coronary artery calcification, with some doctors now starting to use magnesium instead of simply going by cholesterol tests. Essentially magnesium is nature’s calcium channel blocker; it prevents the endothelial cells that line the arteries from accumulating calcium. Another example of getting the mineral ratio balances right - it’s not just about the overall amount of minerals we’re getting, it’s the balance between them.
Another common medication is an old favourite of mine - Proton Pump Inhibitors, aka PPIs (if you’ve ever contacted me regarding your horse’s stomach ulcers, you’ll no doubt have been on the receiving end of one of my PPI rants 🤬). PPIs are prescription acid-suppressing therapies, well known in our horse world as they're the vets' go-to for stomach ulcers, plus us humans also have antacids available to us sold over the counter.
Trivia time – in our human world PPIs are a leading class of drugs; after statins and antidepressants, PPIs are the third leading class of drugs. If we have heartburn or reflux, most doctors will throw these at us. We’re not really supposed to be on them for longer than two to three months at the most, yet most people are prescribed these for years. And no surprise … gradually the medical world started noticing that long-term PPI users were becoming deficient in numerous minerals, particularly magnesium.
These days? There’s now a black box warning on (human) PPI’s advising that taking PPI’s can lead to magnesium deficiency. An actual black box warning that a pharmacist has to apply that says if you take this medication, stuff is going to happen to you. In other words, a bit of a big deal.
Another old favourite - high cholesterol. If we're on statins for cholesterol (for years, mind), it blocks the enzyme that makes CoQ10. CoQ10 is necessary for our mitochondrial function, so our energy, our longevity, our vitality, is depleted - we don't have any of this without the mitochondria. If we're on statins we're gumming up our mitochondria so our body will struggle to produce energy, which is why our muscles hurt. But when our muscles hurt without exercising, because of a drug, it’s because we're depleting the energy in the cell with a drug that blocks a key compound, CoQ10, which is essential to make energy.
Thing is, to lower cholesterol - and I'm talking the bad small-particle LDL cholesterol - we could take any drug in the world but if we're not going to change our diet and get rid of the starch and sugar, it’s not going to get fixed. The reason our LDL particles are small is because we have pre-diabetes. So, fix the pre-diabetes and reverse it with lifestyle and exercise, and it’s going to work way better. Do a 10-day detox, do some exercise and be amazed at what happens.
Another study of note was where a group of women were put on a diet that contained just 100-milligrams of magnesium – a tiny amount by any stretch. Within just a few weeks, a third of those women developed atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter, showing that arrhythmia could be induced simply by lowering the magnesium content of the diet. This has since been seen with numerous nutrients and is really concerning.
And lest we forget, mineral losses also occur through sweat. Original copper studies testing for the RDA looked at just urine and stool copper loss, yet failed to show daily losses of 0.3mg of copper through sweat, before sweat was finally included in the tests as well. And just for fun, low copper levels have been shown to induce high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and our old favourite - insulin resistance. All common issues that would be induced with a high starch/sugar diet, but also induced by not consuming enough copper. Something we can definitely relate to our horses’ health. Which links us nicely to:
Insulin Resistance, aka Pre-Diabetes
The drug Metformin has also been in the news recently - Metformin is medicine's No.1 go-to medicine for pre-diabetes, and also our vets' No.1 drug when our horses are diagnosed EMS/IR, and when it comes to being prescribed for our horses, it's eye-wateringly expensive.
A quick digress - our bodies have nutrient-sensing pathways that regulate our ability to actually build and grow new tissue or to clean up and recycle. Metformin acts on one of these nutrient and pathways - called AMPK - by switching it on, which is a good thing because it helps improve blood sugar control. But - new science is now showing Metformin is no silver bullet, so we should really be paying attention to the science of how we can regulate these pathways without pharma medication.
Specifically, CNN have recently reported that men’s use of Metformin just before conception is linked to a 40% increase in birth defects. As in, a 40% rise in birth defects directly linked to the biological male parent taking the drug.
There's still a lot that we don’t know so this still needs a deeper dig into, but there's also a huge study showing compliance and results for diabetes - a publicly funded trial, and not funded by the drug companies (always a good thing) - which looked at Metformin v. placebo v. people who were given lifestyle coaching with exercise and taught how to cook from scratch instead of buying junk ready-meals. No surprise - the group that did the best was the latter.
It's really simple - upswitch lifestyle basics and there's evidence out there showing we don't need this drug. If we have more of an understand about the body's natural pathway intelligence, we'll learn that the pathways that these drugs act on are not drug-receptor pathways. These pathways are the body's way of listening, like a satellite dish, listening to the communications from our lifestyle and our environment. This is how these pathways are activated - naturally, evolved over millenia and before plastic-wrapped ultra-processed junk food. The answer? Phytochemical-rich food alongside exercise, both factors that the body has naturally done as part of evolution that it's completely adapted to.
As for immune health, and we all know that zinc and selenium are extremely important, yet simply being deficient in selenium can essentially turn non-virulent viruses into something that could potentially kill us.
There’s a fascinating study on COVID in China where they looked at areas where there was high selenium in the soil versus low selenium, where people were tending to be deficient in selenium. These selenium-deficient people had a 3-times higher risk of ending up in hospital, a dramatic difference between the adequate and the deficient selenium groups. And this is just one mineral. More on COVID further on.
Now let’s move to brain health. So many issues relating to sleep, anxiety, mood disorders, depression, are literally being driven by mineral deficiencies. If we want to create the two feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain, i.e. serotonin and dopamine, the enzymes to create these require magnesium, zinc, calcium, iron and copper. These enzymes are also responsible for our sleep pattern, converting tryptophan to serotonin then melatonin, yet if we suffer from insomnia most doctors won’t even look or test for a mineral deficiency. They simply give us a script for sleeping pills and benzodiazapines, which as we know can lead to addiction …
So why don’t we test?
The problem is that mineral deficiencies are very tricky to test, with part of the problem being that some minerals are what are called acute phase reactants, meaning if there’s inflammation in the body (which there will be if the body's sick), the levels of those minerals will either go up or down, depending on the inflammation. For example, if the body’s inflamed, zinc, selenium and iron will go down.
On the flip side, inflammation will increase copper levels, so you might already be deficient in copper but the inflammation will drive the levels up because it’s an acute phase reactant.
The other problem is that most minerals don’t stay in the blood; they’re mostly in the soft tissue or bone, so if we take magnesium as an example, just 1% of the entire body’s magnesium is actually in the blood. 99% is elsewhere, and of course no GP is going to take a bone or soft-tissue sample to test for a magnesium deficiency.
So, how can we actually look for mineral deficiencies? Dr James says it’s really about looking to see if a blood test shows at the lower end of normal. With mineral deficiencies we don’t typically fall below the normal threshold unless we’re significantly deficient; if we’re sitting on that lower end of normal, especially if we have a low amount coming out in the urine, this could be indicative of mineral deficiency.
Of course in the real world all we hear is, you’ve got high cholesterol, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, so here’s this pill, this pill and this pill, then we’re sent on our way. We could always try hair analysis; it’s not perfect, but it holds a 3-month reflection of blood, so it’s potentially a better way to spot various mineral deficiencies.
These days there are many fad diets for energy and longevity focusing on macronutrients, i.e. carbs versus fats and high carb/low carb, yet it’s actually our mineral levels that determine how well our body converts those macronutrients into ATP energy, and how well our muscles perform.
Everything is dependent on it – weight loss isn’t about calories; it’s the fat burning machinery that depends on minerals to function. Someone might be eating a low calorie diet, but this will be nutrient-deficient. We’ll lose more weight by improving our mineral intake than someone eating less-nourishing calories, because the fat burning machinery will actually work better.
Again good old magnesium is vital here, as the body can’t activate ATP without magnesium - it binds to ATP then releases it, as well as producing protein, DNA, RNA. There’s not a single function in the body that doesn’t work without ATP and protein and DNA, so literally everything depends on minerals, and especially magnesium.
Is salt the enemy?
A quick nip back to high blood pressure. We’re taught that we shouldn’t have too much salt because it (allegedly) causes high blood pressure, yet Dr. James challenges this whole hypothesis of salt being the enemy that we thought it was. Apparently it’s sugar and refined carbs that cause our body to over-retain salt, so we need to cut back on the refined carbs and sugar.
We also need to make sure we’re getting enough magnesium and enough potassium, as mentioned earlier. Provided we get this balance right, only 1% of the population would probably have a significant rise in blood pressure with a normal salt intake. In other words, it’s not the salt.
This is a relatively easy fix as well. We get magnesium and potassium from vegetables and plant foods, then when we cut out starch and sugar, the body starts to dump huge amounts of salt. However, one tiny point - we need to keep up the salt intake, otherwise we may experience negative side effects such as feeling achy, tired, wiped out - essentially like having electrolyte depletion.
It’s not because our body’s doing something wrong; it’s because before when we were having all this sugar and starch, our body was holding on to all the salt, then suddenly it's dumping fluid and salt (which is a good thing) but we have to make sure we’re getting adequate salt while we’re doing this, because if we don’t we’re going to feel like crap, so it’s really important if you're switching your diet around to understand this.
The same thing happens with what’s commonly referred to as Keto Flu. We go Keto, we cut out carbs, then we get flu-like symptoms, all because of the mineral depletion from the dumping of the salt once we lower insulin levels after we cut out the starch and sugar.
That said, there are people who are salt-sensitive or have salt-sensitive hypertension, but typically this will be because their dietary potassium and magnesium is already very low, and they continue to eat high amounts of carbs and sugars. Change the diet and you’ll very likely find blood pressure coming down, and before long we’re weaning ourselves off the meds.
So, eat a banana for potassium, and also make a big vegetable soup, chuck in a bit of seaweed if you can stomach it, and there’s your potassium and extra minerals. And … getting a normal salt intake is actually one of the best ways to reduce sugar cravings – it’s a natural survival mechanism, and our horses know it too. The body craves salt if it’s depleted which triggers the reward centre in the brain to hyper-activated, so it will naturally head for salt. However, if we don’t get enough salt, the hyper reward center will take what it can get so long as there’s a dopamine response, so it’ll be happy with sugar, or any other type of addictive substance to release the dopamine 'happy', so there's another factor - low salt can literally drive sugar addiction.
Let’s flick back to COVID, and it’s clear that minerals play a role in the prevention, and even treatment, of COVID. One huge factor for me was that the government recommendations didn’t include any guidelines for us to upgrade our nutrition, or improve the quality of our food, or to take any nutrient supplements. Not sure if anyone remembers but I thought it was interesting when Trump was hospitalised for COVID, and the news reported that he was given zinc and vitamin D. Practicing it in the hospital, but not telling us regular folk to do this, when they knew doing this might help.
In his book Dr. James puts together a useful chart on the top nutrient deficiencies and how much they increase the risk of having a poor outcome from COVID, with the top nutrient deficiency being vitamin D. The chart shows that if someone was significantly vitamin D deficient they were at a 15-fold higher risk of dying from COVID. As well as vit.D, both selenium and zinc sit somewhere between a 3/5-fold higher risk of having a poor COVID outcome. So why weren’t we all told this? Zinc plays a huge role in immunity - personally, whenever I feel the first effects of something viral invading my body, I dive on zinc citrate as it has a direct anti-viral effect in reducing viral replication and penetration into the cell. (And Oregano-Oil as well 😉).
Our old friend magnesium is also one of the most important antiviral minerals because the ionic magnesium in immune cells actually controls their receptors to be able to attack viruses.
Collectively zinc, magnesium and selenium are vital for antioxidant functions. Basically the body makes its own natural, very powerful antioxidant system – i.e. glutathione, superoxide dismutase, catalase – which are way more powerful than any antioxidant we can take via a supplement, but in order for them to function they need the right levels of specific minerals to function.
Given that we’re more nutrition-deficient than ever, especially with COVID also exposing that we’re under-nourished of real nutrients. It won’t hurt to pay attention to our mineral intake. Minerals are so critical to our biology - by tweaking our nutrition naturally, even in small amounts, can have really profound effects, whether human or horse.
I’ve seen first-hand with my own horses that feeding our EquiVita range of balanced minerals in their diet over the last 10-years has been one of the most powerful factors in improving their overall well-being and health, and many of our clients concur.
And because we don’t use any synthetic minerals in the composition, it’s also all been without making expensive urine 😉
If you're interested from a human perspective, and want to know how to Improve your own nutrient-rich diet, here’s Dr James' guide on how to increase our mineral intake.
First up, another apology to the veggies/vegans out there but it’s red meat. But not just any old red meat. True ancestral meat, i.e. bison/venison, has around 50% more minerals than grass-fed cattle. If we’re not getting even a little bit of red meat in our diet, it’s going to be difficult to get B12, protein, zinc and iron, because these four nutrients are packed in animal foods.
That said, these days we don’t typically eat true ‘fresh’ meat, so we’ve diminished our natural vit.C sources simply by buying supermarket meats which have been hanging for 2-3 weeks, which have a whole lot less vit.C than fresh meat. The key is to try to eat as fresh as possible when we can.
We also do well with just 30g of liver per day for copper, folate and vit.A, as well as liver being a great source of vit.C – 100g of apple provides 7mg vit.C whereas 30g liver provides 27mg – some call liver a seriously powerful superfood.
Once we have our red meat sorted, then we can start adding plant foods into our diet. Plant foods are really great for things like potassium, magnesium and calcium. Many of us are deficient in these three, but the dark greens, i.e. kale, spinach, broccoli, are super-high in them, with magnesium also high in beans and nuts.
Some fish have a decent amount of magnesium, lobster and crab particularly. We can get folates and vit.A from eggs, which are also a source of vitamin D, pretty much the only dietary source of vitamin D. They’re also good sources of lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3.
To recap, and unless you’re a veggie/vegan, eat eggs, some red meat, 30g liver per day, then add in plant foods for magnesium, potassium and calcium, and don’t forget nuts and seeds - selenium is high in Brazil nuts with pumpkin seeds high in protein and zinc. Seaweed and fish gives us iodine if we need it, and calcium from chia and sesame seeds/tahini.
By understanding where our nutrients come from, we can start to build a more nutrient dense diet, but is this enough? If we’re eating our 3 brazil nuts and 17 pumpkins seeds each day, and we’ve made all these great dietary changes that help us upgrade our mineral intake, do we still need to be taking supplements?
At the end of the day it all comes down to the difference between the RDA and the optimal intake. What’s interesting is that us humans only need around 150mg magnesium to live per day, but the optimal intake sits more at around 700mg. Generally it’s a 3-fold difference between just maintaining balance and having optimal mineral intakes, so, if we’re building our diet appropriately and hitting optimum nutrient intakes, we shouldn’t need to supplement.