As a trace mineral, manganese is of crucial importance for our health, both physical and mental. Aside from supporting the reproductive function and promoting bone growth, it ensures the good functioning of the nervous system as well, hence its nickname ‘brain mineral’. Manganese is essential for human survival meaning that a deficiency can lead to numerous health problems such as bone loss and fertility problems. Modern diets consisting largely of processed foods offer a rather poor nutrient intake which is why deficiencies can easily occur.
Statistics estimate that about 1/3 of the world’s population is manganese deficient, a condition that can have serious effects on human health and may even require medical attention. The human body contains around 15-20 mg of manganese. The mineral is stored mostly in bones but smaller amounts can be found throughout the body, in the pancreas, liver, kidneys, adrenal glands (situated right above the kidneys) and pituitary gland (a hormone-producing gland found beneath the brain and behind the nose bridge).
Manganese is rather sensitive to prolonged cooking time, meaning that large amounts can easily be lost if foods containing it are badly handled. Also, choosing the right foods is just as important as knowing how to cook them. When possible, that is when both time and budget allow it, go for healthier purchases such as spelt, brown rice, buckwheat, shiitake mushrooms, pecans, chickpeas, almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, sesame seeds, garlic and so on. A more pronounced deficiency can commonly lead to impaired growth in children, frail bones and osteoporosis and reduced fertility. However, it is important to keep in mind that resolving such problems isn’t only a matter of resolving the manganese deficiency.
Every system in our body needs multiple essential nutrients to work optimally. For example, adults with a risk for osteoporosis need sufficient calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin D for strong bones. Similarly, women with fertility problems need nutrients such as zinc, vitamin C, iodine, vitamins A and E and several other nutrients in addition to manganese.
However, the big question is what does our body use this mineral for? Here is a list of the best 9 health benefits of manganese:
1) The mineral activates special enzymes necessary for proper digestion and synthesis of carbohydrates and fats. In addition to this, it helps the body synthesize fatty acids and cholesterol.
2) Because it helps the body process nutrients from food, it ensures elevated energy levels and efficiently contributes to combating tiredness, low blood sugar levels and mood swings associated with it.
3) Manganese also promotes bone growth and prevents bone loss. Our body sustains two continual processes: re-absorption of old bone and creation of new bone. By maintaining a balance between the two, manganese ensures a strong, healthy bone structure. In addition to this, it promotes cartilage growth.
4) Manganese is crucial for the production of a structural protein called collagen which promotes fast wound healing and helps delay the onset of wrinkles by ensuring skin structure and flexibility.
5) Due to its impressive antioxidant properties, it protects against free radical damage and stimulates immunity. Manganese is part of the superoxide dismutase enzyme, a sort of innate antioxidant protection of the body.
6) Very important: because it is involved in the formation of reproductive hormones, manganese can increase fertility and maintain a healthy reproductive system. In addition to this, a good intake is recommended during pregnancy and after birth to help with lactation (read more about what the best vitamins and minerals for fertility).
7) Improves nervous system function. Having enough manganese in your diet is believed to contribute to nervous system health. The mineral promotes the health of nerve cells, improves nerve-muscle coordination and nervous cells recovery and overall cognition.
8) It supports thyroid activity and promotes thyroid hormone production (thyroxine, to be more exact). This supports bone and nerve development and helps increase metabolic rates, meaning we enjoy a faster, better regulated metabolism.
9) Last but not least, manganese works together with B group vitamins to ensure a good state of health and general well-being. Both B vitamins and manganese play an important part in fat and carbohydrate metabolism.
Considering the high variety and availability of many foods nowadays, the risk for a manganese deficiency should be low. However, poverty, bad lifestyle habits and an overall poor diet, rich in processed foods, may lead to a deficit of the mineral. Here are the most telling signs and symptoms of manganese deficiency: excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, skin rashes and even acne, elevated blood sugar levels, low cholesterol, bone loss, fertility problems and loss of hearing. If you are experiencing more of the following symptoms, it is best that you see your doctor.
A deficit of the mineral can also indicate malabsorption problems. Because there are plenty of foods rich in manganese, a change in diet is recommended rather than supplementation. For an excellent intake you can include in your diet whole grains, nuts and seeds which provide good amounts of the mineral. At the same time, remember that good health requires a sufficient intake of all essential vitamins and minerals, not just manganese, so make your diet as varied as possible.