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Nutrition Basics


A number of inorganic elements or minerals are essential to the human body. Their three main functions are:

  • As constituents of skeletal structures of the body and teeth
  • As electrolytes to maintain cell structure and fluid
  • As constituents of enzyme systems

The dietary source, and body uses of the major minerals can be found in table 3. Minerals required in larger quantities (milligram amounts) include calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium and iron.

There is also a group of minerals which are only required in minute quantities (microgram amounts, which is 1/1000th of a milligram). These minerals are called trace elements and are shown in table 4.

Examples of essential minerals12

Click to open table
Table 3
CALCIUM Dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese, eggs), sardines/salmon, cereal products, nuts Growth and maintenance of bones and teeth.
Intracellular signalling control of muscles and nerves.
Maintenance of cell membranes, blood clotting, enzyme activity and hormone function
Reduction in peak bone mass and bone mineral content, increased risk of osteoporosis
PHOSPHOROUS Present in all natural foods and many additives.

In particular dairy foods, cereals, meat and meat products, fish, nuts, fruit and vegetables.

Contributes to normal function of cell membranes.
Contributes to the maintenance of normal bones.
Contributes the maintenance of normal teeth.
Bone changes as above
SODIUM Present, often in alarming quantities, in processed foods Maintains proper fluid balance essential for muscle and nerve function Hyponatraemia / muscle cramps
POTASSIUM Vegetables, meat, milk and coffee Maintains proper fluid balance essential for muscle and nerve function Hypokalaemia - symptoms of which include anorexia, muscle weakness, paralysis drowsiness and cardiac arrhythmias
Iron Meat, meat products, fish, eggs, bread, cereals and cereal products, vegetables, nuts, dried fruit. Oxygen transport as component of haemoglobin Anaemia - pallor, fatigue
Zinc Meat, cereals, dairy products, vegetables, fruit, nuts Enzyme systems, immune system Hair loss, diarrhoea, dermatitis, psychiatric disorders, weight loss, hypogonadism in males and poor ulcer healing

Trace Elements12

Click to open table
Table 4
COPPER Liver, vegetables, nuts, plain chocolate Iron absorption, enzyme systems Bone disorders, impaired immunity
IODINE Milk, fish, dairy products Required for synthesis of thyroid hormone Goitre, hypothyroidism
FLUORINE Drinking water, tea, seafoods Incorporation into bone and teeth Dental caries
MANGANESE Bread and cereal products, milk, fruit, nuts Activation of several enzymes, regulation of glucose homeostasis and calcium mobilisation Weight loss, dermatitis, depressed growth of hair and nails
MAGNESIUM Cereals and cereal products, meat and meat products, milk and milk products. Enzyme systems, synthesis of DNA and RNA Muscle spasm, tremors, personality changes, lethargy, cardiac arrhythmias, sudden cardiac death
CHROMIUM Brewers Yeast, wholegrain cereals, broccoli, processed meats Glucose metabolism Glucose intolerance
SELENIUM Meat, cereals, fruit, nuts Protects against oxidative damage Muscle pain and tenderness, heart disease, low thyroid function
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