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Trace Minerals

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Also known as: Trace Elements; Micronutrients; Microminerals; Essential Minerals
Formal name: Trace Minerals
Related tests: Chromium; Copper; Ceruloplasmin; Fluoride; Iodine; Iron Tests; Manganese; Molybdenum; Selenium; Zinc; Vitamin B12 and Folate; Vitamin D

At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To detect and monitor a mineral deficiency or excess; sometimes to evaluate your nutritional status

When to Get Tested?

When you have symptoms or signs of a mineral deficiency or excess; as indicated by your health care provider when you have a condition that affects mineral absorption, use, or storage

Sample Required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm; sometimes a 24-hour urine sample; rarely, a hair sample, tissue sample, or another body fluid sample

Test Preparation Needed?

Check with your health care practitioner to find out if fasting is needed before your test.

The Test Sample

What is being tested?

Trace mineral tests measure the concentration of specific minerals in a sample of blood, urine, or other body fluid or tissue. These minerals are substances that the body needs in minute amounts on a regular basis for normal functioning. They are absorbed from the diet and are used in the production of enzymes and hormones, in the regulation of glucose, and in the formation of bone, teeth, muscles, connective tissue, and blood cells. The minerals assist in the metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, promote wound healing, and are vital for the transport of oxygen throughout the body.

Trace minerals are a subset of micronutrients and essential minerals. They include:

  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Fluoride (usually included but rarely tested)
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Molybdenum
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

Trace mineral deficiencies may occur as a result of insufficient food, insufficient variety of food, and/or mineral deficiencies in the soil where food is grown. The World Health Organization lists iodine, iron,  and vitamin A as the most important micronutrients in terms of global public health. In the United States, deficiencies and excesses of trace minerals are less common, although iron deficiency remains a significant problem. Deficiencies may occur with:

  • Insufficient intake – such as from malnutrition or a restricted diet. Sometimes seen when someone receives only intravenous nutrition.
  • Insufficient absorption – may be seen with a variety of chronic conditions, such as celiac disease, associated with malabsorption or with surgeries that remove part of the stomach or intestines.
  • Inability to use – some people may not be able to properly utilize one or more trace minerals.
  • Increased use/need – pregnant women, children, and those recovering from an illness or injury may require increased nutritional support.
  • Increased loss – an example is the loss of iron that occurs when red blood cells are lost due to acute or chronic bleeding.
  • Interference – an example is the decrease in copper often associated with an excess of zinc.

Trace mineral excesses may be seen with:

  • Too much intake – this may be chronic or acute, due to taking supplements or to accidental or occupational exposure.
  • Decreased loss – with conditions such as kidney and liver disease, the body may not be able to remove trace minerals at a normal rate. With some inherited conditions, the body may store minerals in tissues and organs, which can cause damage. An example includes the overabundance of copper storage seen in Wilson disease.

How is the sample collected for testing?

Trace mineral testing is usually performed on a blood sample obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm. Sometimes a 24-hour urine collection is obtained. Special metal-free blood or acid-washed urine containers are used to minimize the potential for sample contamination by any outside sources of minerals.

Blood and urine samples best reflect recent mineral intake. Rarely, hair may be collected or a biopsy may be performed to obtain a tissue sample to evaluate mineral deficiencies, excesses, and storage that have occurred over time.

NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

Talk to your health care practitioner; fasting is preferred for some tests.

The Test

Common Questions

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Article Sources

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NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.

Sources Used in Current Review

World Health Organization. Micronutrient deficiencies. Available online at http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/ida/en/ through http://www.who.int. Accessed on Mar. 24, 2013.

Baratz, R. S. (2011 February 11, Reviewed). Hair Analysis Panel Discussion. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. Available online at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/hair_analysis/Appendix_c_robert.html through http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov. Accessed on Mar. 24, 2013.

Table 5-1 Trace Minerals. Merck Manual. PDF available for download at http://www.merckmanuals.com/media/professional/pdf/Trace_minerals.pdf through http://www.merckmanuals.com. Accessed on Mar. 25, 2013.

National Institutes of Health. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Iron. Available online at http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/ through http://ods.od.nih.gov. Accessed on Mar. 25. 2013.

Mayo Clinic. A Vitamin A Day Might Not Keep The Doctor Away. Mar. 14, 2012. Available online at http://www.mayoclinic.org/news2012-mchi/6760.html through http://www.mayoclinic.org. Accessed Mar. 26, 2013.

Sources Used in Previous Reviews

Clarke, W. and Dufour, D. R., Editors (© 2006). Contemporary Practice in Clinical Chemistry: AACC Press, Washington, DC. Pp 407-410.

Wu, A. (© 2006). Tietz Clinical Guide to Laboratory Tests, 4th Edition: Saunders Elsevier, St. Louis, MO. Pp 260-261, 292-295, 408-409, 634-637, 710-713, 746-747, 976-977, 1152-1155.

(Updated 2005 August 5). Chromium. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet [On-line information]. Available online at http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/chromium.asp through http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov. Accessed April 2009.

(Updated 2007 August 24). Iron. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet [On-line information]. Available online at http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov/factsheets/iron.asp through http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov. Accessed April 2009.

(Updated 2004 August 1). Selenium. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet [On-line information]. Available online at http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov/factsheets/selenium.asp through http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov. Accessed April 2009.

(Updated 2009 January 21). Zinc. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet [On-line information]. Available online at http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov/FactSheets/Zinc.asp through http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov. Accessed April 2009.

Johnson, L. (Reviewed 2008 August). Mineral Deficiency and Toxicity The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec01/ch005/ch005a.html?qt=trace%20mineral&alt=sh through http://www.merck.com. Accessed March 2009.

Johnson, L. (Reviewed 2008 August). Minerals and Electrolytes. The Merck Manual of Medical Information – Second Home Edition [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec12/ch155/ch155a.html through http://www.merck.com. Accessed March 2009.

McMillin, G. (Updated 2008 September). Trace Minerals. ARUP Consult [On-line information]. Available online at http://www.arupconsult.com/Topics/GastrointestinalDz/NutritionalAssessment/TraceMinerals.html through http://www.arupconsult.com. Accessed April 2009.

L. Aills, et al. (2008 March 12). ASMBS Allied Health Nutritional Guidelines for the Surgical Weight Loss Patient. Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases 4 (2008) S73-S108 [On-line information]. PDF available for download at http://www.asbs.org/Newsite07/resources/bgs_final.pdf through http://www.asbs.org. Accessed April 2009.

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