Microelements are defined as a group of mineral salts whose daily income may not even reach the milligram, so much so that another name that distinguishes them is that of “trace elements”. Their function is almost entirely connected to very selective enzymatic roles; their deficiency is often underestimated, but it can lead to severe dysfunctions that can not easily be easily confirmed by diagnostics. The distribution of microelements in the various types of food is likewise very heterogeneous and their abundance is not at all uniform within the various categories of food. In fact, microelements are not exclusively present in plant foods; some of them are more represented in products of animal origin.
Diabetes mellitus is a condition that brings an “inherent fragility” to the human body, making it prone and / or vulnerable to multiple disorders, infections and possibly complications very often due to poor management of blood glucose. Those with diabetes can also easily develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which are important for the proper metabolism of carbohydrates and lipids. A mineral salt that often is harmful in the diabetic is magnesium, which is traditionally considered a modulator of neuro-muscular transmission. However, it is underestimated that it is an essential cofactor of most glycolysis enzymes, the chain of reactions that allows the body to extract energy from glucose.
Magnesium, however, is a macro-element, that is introduced at doses of 300-500mg / day and does not fall under the term of micro-element, such as those that will be described shortly. As mentioned above, in fact, the microelements are present only in a few foods of the animal or vegetable kingdom, and very rarely are introduced in doses higher than one milligram every day. Some microelements are specifically involved in pancreatic functioning, in blood glucose control, in the synthesis of insulin and the release of this bloodstream hormone. Only one of them is not a microelement, but a trace element (necessary at doses between 10-50mg / die) and is the first on the list of those described below.
ZINC. Surely it is the best known metal ion connected to the functions of insulin. In fact, it is useful for its synthesis (transcription from DNA) and for the assembly of its molecules in the granules of the pancreatic beta cells. In fact, zinc is necessary for the molecular stabilization of this hormone: many commercial preparations of insulin in the “pen” are in the form of zinc salt. It is not difficult to access foods that are rich in it, since it is very abundant in meat, entrails, eggs, legumes, almonds and dairy products. Among other things, the glycemic index of these food groups is favorable to the diabetic patient, with the exception of fresh milk that can raise the glycemia due to the presence of lactose. Zinc is important for people with diabetes also for another reason: it enters the establishment of antioxidant enzymes (eg SOD2). Given that the basic oxidative stress is higher in those suffering from diabetes, compared to a normal subject, a possible supplementation with zinc is highly recommended.
CHROME. Here is the first surprise, given that this metal is traditionally associated with the metallurgical field (alloys and special steels) and we would not expect its normal presence inside our body. Yet it is a constituent of the so-called glucose toll-bearing factor (GTF), which enhances cellular insulin action. As a food supplement (chromium picolinate) it is commercially available to sports bodybuilders and health professionals in general. Its definitive composition is still unknown. In brewer’s yeast, the chromium ion appears to be in complex with a protein; in higher animals and humans, the GTF appears to be composed of inositol, glutathione and a small peptide that coordinate the chromium ion at the center of its structure. The GTF is absorbable through feeding, enters the bloodstream and can directly interact with insulin. Modest amounts of chromium can be found in cereals, fish, meat and eggs. Among the very rich vegetables are mushrooms, black pepper, dates, parsley and onion. But more than all the brewer’s yeast, which among other things is often recommended as a food supplement to people with diabetes.
VANADIUM. For those skilled in the art he knows that, like chromium, even vanadium becomes part of special alloys. Finding it as an essential element to the human body certainly arouses much curiosity. While in the lower animals and in certain marine organisms, the vanadium is present linked to specific proteins, in humans there are no known proteins that directly need this mineral as an enzyme cofactor. Yet it is found in bones, teeth, liver, kidneys and lungs. Referring to the biology of insulin, as a free vanadate ion or complexed to organic compounds, it is a potent regulator of the PTP-1B protein. This enzyme extinguishes the functions of the insulin receptor after triggering cellular signals for glucose uptake, synthesis of fats and proteins. In a certain percentage of cases of type 1 diabetes mellitus (the genetic form), PTP-1B may be mutated and lose efficiency in switching off the insulin receptor. Assume foods rich in vanadium, could therefore find a valid rationale for improving the diabetic patient’s glycemic homeostasis. Rich in vanadium are cereal bran, seafood, parsley, mushrooms, garlic and nuts (almonds and walnuts) oils.
NICKEL. This metal is known and feared by those who suffer from its annoying and problematic “allergy” (for more information read the article “Allergy to nickel: what would lie beneath” on this site). In fact, it is very common among plants and scholars have always been skeptical about the real importance of this ion in cellular enzymatic functions. In humans there are no known proteins that possess nickel atoms as a cofactor. Yet, a pancreatic enzyme seems to be conditioned by this microelement: hormone-sensitive lipase (LPL). It is the main cellular enzyme that breaks down triglycerides, whose function is suppressed by insulin. It has already been proven that nickel deficiency can cause hypoglycemia, hypertension and abnormal cholesterol synthesis, even if the responsible mechanisms are not yet known. It is not difficult to access plants rich in this microelement so widespread, and if we consider that the fluctuating hypoglycemic crises and hypertension are two relatively frequent phenomena in diabetic patients, a good intake of nickel may slow down the appearance of some of the diabetic complications .
After all, the human body is a complex laboratory of thousands of reactions. No wonder that in order to optimize each of them, Nature can resort to unusual structures or substances. The important thing is a place for everything and everything in its place…..
– edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.