Are These Life-Giving Minerals Causing Diabetes and Alzheimer’s?

Steve Kroening, ND
August 7, 2019


There’s no doubt that minerals are vital for good health. You need ample amounts of magnesium, selenium, and other minerals for your body to function correctly. But did you know some minerals – even healthy minerals – can cause health problems?

In fact, new research shows that getting too much of these minerals can cause diabetes and even Alzheimer’s. But it’s easy to avoid overdosing on these minerals.

You would think eating a diet full of nutrients is standard fare these days. But it’s not – especially for people over 60 and children. The average child these days has significant nutrient deficiencies. While their bodies are young, they won’t notice too many problems. As they age, though, they will see the problems. The solution, obviously, is to eat a great diet. But if Karen is any indication, it’s not happening.

Karen is a typical middle-class mother of four. She came to me asking for help with one of her kid’s health issues. Karen has the means to feed her children a nutrient-dense diet. But when I asked Karen how many servings of vegetables her kids ate each day, I was shocked at the answer. She said, “Most days, none. Some days, one.”

I told Karen that while I might be able to help her child, nothing was going to be permanent unless she started feeding her kids more veggies. She didn’t look too happy. Feeding kids veggies, especially when they didn’t grow up eating them, is hard. And it’s even harder for those over 60 to change their ways. But you can do it.

Veggies are vital for good health because they pull minerals out of the soil and supply those minerals to you in an easy to digest and absorb form. Your body needs far more minerals than you realize. To me, minerals are the missing key to good health that so many people are lacking. And while these minerals are vital for good health, you can get too much of a good thing.

For instance, magnesium is crucial for over 300 biochemical processes in your body. So taking up to 1,000 mg of magnesium every day can help you avoid heart disease, bone disease, and many other health problems. But taking more than that can lead to magnesium toxicity, which can cause nausea, depression, muscle weakness, an irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, breathing difficulties, and even a heart attack.

Fortunately, magnesium overdose is rare. It won’t happen by eating five or more servings of veggies each day. And taking no more than 1,000 mg in tablet form won’t cause it either. It’s not something you should worry about. But there are other minerals that are easy to overdose on. And doing so can lead to diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other health problems.

The Problem With Too Much Iron

Every time you have your blood work done, be sure to take a look at your serum ferritin levels. Compare them to the levels you had last year and those from the year before. You’re looking for an upward trend. Ferritin is a protein in the body that stores iron. The serum ferritin level is the amount of ferritin in the blood. It’s the best way to assess iron levels stored in the body. If ferritin levels are high, so are iron levels. And if your iron levels are creeping up, significant health problems are not far behind!

Unfortunately, not everyone in the supplement business understands this. Years ago, Geritol advertised its product as a tonic that would save us all from iron-poor blood. “Geritol has more than twice the iron of ordinary supplements,” they bragged. Those messages droned into our subconscious night after night until everyone believed that the way to youthful vim and vigor was in boosting levels of iron.

Don’t get me wrong, iron is not all bad. Iron deficiency is a real and widespread problem – the most common nutritional problem in the world, according to the World Health Organization. But, with iron, too much can be just as big of a problem as too little.

The Risk of Having Too Much Iron

Not too long ago, a large study connected higher than normal levels of iron with the development of non-insulin dependent (type-2) diabetes. Scientists followed 1,414 women who participated in Harvard’s Nurses’ Health Study. These women gave blood samples at the study’s beginning for iron analysis. The study group included 698 women who developed diabetes during 10 years of follow-up and 716 similar subjects who remained diabetes-free.

What the study showed would probably upset Geritol stockholders. As body levels of iron rose, so did the risk of diabetes. In fact, those women who had the highest levels of iron were nearly three times more likely to have diabetes than those with the lowest levels.

Even after adjusting for a host of diabetes risk factors, such as age, race, obesity, diet, history of heart disease, family history of diabetes, and total calorie intake, iron levels remained a constant predictor of diabetes. This means that you should pay very close attention to your iron levels from year to year.

Too much iron roaming freely in your body can damage cells because it creates free radicals, those reactive molecules that attack cell membranes and DNA. And this may directly relate to diabetes. Studies have suggested that when iron accumulates in muscle, it interferes with the muscle’s ability to absorb glucose, because of cell damage. In addition, lots of iron in the pancreas can hamper insulin secretion. The excessive iron first leads to insulin resistance – a diabetes precursor – and then to a drop-off in levels of the vital hormone. And that’s often the path to type-2 diabetes.

This is why I recommend only iron-enhanced vitamin supplements for folks who have been tested and found to be lacking. Testing for iron levels is really simple and inexpensive. There are three tests: serum transferrin saturation, serum ferritin, and total iron-binding capacity (TIBC). Of the three, the serum ferritin is the best overall indicator of high iron stores.

Total body iron stores tend to be more elevated in men than in premenopausal women. Higher iron levels are more likely in men and postmenopausal women than in premenopausal women because iron levels drop with blood loss during menstruation. Both high and low iron stores can easily be determined with these tests and you can easily correct them.

Easy Ways to Reduce Iron

If your blood work shows that your iron levels are creeping up, supplemental lipoic acid, flavonoids, milk thistle, and green tea are known to chelate (bind to and dispose of) excess iron. You can also donate blood periodically. The Red Cross offers a donation called Power Red that takes out twice as many red blood cells, but returns your plasma into your body. Since red blood cells store iron, this is a great way to reduce iron levels fast. And because they return the plasma to your body, you don’t feel weak after the donation.

But iron isn’t the only mineral you need to worry about getting too much of. Copper and zinc also can cause problems.

The Dangers of Too Much Copper and Zinc

You probably think that copper and zinc are always healthy. After all, they’re in almost every multivitamin formula and zinc is in eye formulas, wellness formulas, and almost every prostate formula. So they must be good in all circumstances! Right?

Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. Copper and zinc are metals, like lead and mercury and if they are present in accumulating levels in the brain, they may accelerate the damage of Alzheimer’s disease.

Brain abnormalities found in Alzheimer’s disease are caused by two problems. One is a buildup of the protein called beta amyloid. The other is when the finger-like projections of nerve cells, which allow those cells to talk to each other, get tied up into tangled masses (called neurofibrillary tangles). Studies show these tangles are to blame for most of the nerve cell death in Alzheimer’s. But the newest studies seem to indicate that the buildup of beta amyloid initiates the destruction. In other words, one gets the destruction started (beta amyloid) and one does more damage (neurofibrillary tangles).

Recent studies have shown that beta amyloid is a metalloprotein, which accumulates zinc, copper, and iron deep within its folds. Scientists studying Alzheimer’s speculate that those bits of metal might be an important key to the damage caused by this dreadful disease. The good news, though, is that they may provide help for its treatment!

You see, copper, zinc, and iron can all react with oxygen. Oxygen is a natural, necessary component in our body’s production of energy. But the production of that energy comes at a price. Energy production also releases rogue compounds called free radicals, which you know are toxic. They damage genetic material, fats, and proteins. And free radical damage appears to be a significant component of Alzheimer’s disease and the formation of amyloid plaques. Copper can accelerate the production of these free radicals.

Fortunately, I showed you a couple of weeks ago how to keep these plaques from forming. You can find that information here.

Is Zinc Guilty, Too?

Zinc’s role in amyloid plaque is not as clear. Normally, zinc is protective in tissues because it has antioxidant properties, which counteract free-radical damage. Beta amyloid releases hydrogen peroxide, which is a very toxic free radical. Zinc sometimes will suppress the hydrogen peroxide and may make beta amyloid itself less toxic.

But evidence does show that abnormally high zinc levels do the reverse and contribute to the formation of amyloid plaques. One study found that at low levels, zinc provided protection against the formation of amyloid plaques, while at high levels, it promotes their formation. So whether taking zinc supplements promotes the disease or treats it is still not clear. However, most of these new studies suggest that it would be prudent to guard against excess zinc.

Here’s the problem: what are excess levels of zinc? Most people think that taking more than 15 mg of zinc is too much. I don’t think that’s the problem. Studies show the problem has more to do with the form of zinc than the amount. You remember those vegetables I told you about at the beginning of this article? Vegetables ionize minerals so your body can use them more effectively. Ionized minerals don’t cause the health problems that excessive non-ionized forms can. And your body can easily remove any excesses of ionized minerals, so overdose isn’t a problem.

Many of the zinc supplements on the market contain non-ionized zinc. This would include zinc citrate, zinc glycinate, zinc tartrate, and other forms of zinc. These forms of zinc do not release zinc in its ionic form. However, there’s one form that does release its zinc in the ionic form – and that’s zinc acetate. It releases 100% of the zinc it contains in its ionic form. That doesn’t mean the other forms are necessarily bad. You just shouldn’t take more than 15 mg of them. In the ionic form, we don’t know what the upper level is – perhaps 75 mg or more.

Don’t Wait to Take Action

It’s a good idea to identify and remove high levels of copper, zinc, aluminum, mercury, and lead to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s and other illnesses. How do you tell if the metals are too high in your system? Hair analysis is the best way. A simple hair analysis can determine if element imbalances or toxicity may be compromising your health and causing symptoms. Hair analysis is an inexpensive and noninvasive means of measuring elements, often revealing abnormalities not detected through other routine tests. Once you have determined that metals or other elements, such as minerals, are too high, you can use oral or intravenous chelation to correct the problem.

You can find a doctor who will do a hair analysis for you at


Journal of the American Medical Association, February 2004.

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