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Is there any point in taking mineral supplements?

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On the whole, if you're eating a varied diet you're unlikely to suffer from mineral deficiencies. If they do occur they're more likely to result from an increase in the body's requirements, for instance during periods of rapid growth in childhood, and during pregnancy, or repair of tissues after an operation. It may be necessary in these special circumstances to take mineral supplements. Similarly, if a person has been ill for a long time, or has for any reason been unable to eat a normal diet, mineral supplements may be a good idea. Your doctor can advise whether they are medically necessary and, if so, prescribe them.

Magnesium and phosphorus, like calcium, are important for healthy bones and teeth, but as they occur widely in so many foods deficiencies are rare. They only arise when specific illnesses or conditions, like chronic diarrhoea or alcoholism, cause large magnesium losses.

Potassium, sodium and chloride, vital for maintaining the internal environment of your body, are so widely distributed in foods that it's virtually impossible not to get enough. Certain medical treatments may result in potassium deficiency but your doctor will know this and can advise supplements.

There is little likelihood of people having a deficiency of trace minerals although in certain areas of the world, particularly those which form the central part of a continent like Switzerland and parts of North and South America, iodine is lacking in the soil and hence in the water, crops and food. A deficiency of iodine leads to goitre, a swelling of the thyroid gland in the neck. Because of this, and the scarcity of sea-food, which is rich in iodine, these areas are known as 'goitre belts'.

However, the disease can be prevented simply by adding minute traces of iodides to drinking water or using iodized table salt, which is usually available wherever salt is sold.

If you're the person who decides what the family has to eat, make sure you keep in mind the most important minerals, iron and calcium, when you plan the shopping list. The calcium and iron chart given earlier may give you some ideas on how to meet your daily requirements.

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