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The following is a report by Dr.G Schrauzer PhD, Professor Emeritus, Biological Trace Element Research Institute :

How many Nutrients do we need ?

In his public lectures, Dr. Wallach claims that we need 90 nutrients for the maintenance of health. Do we really need this many, or is this number exaggerated, as some of Dr. Wallachs critic's charge? To find out who is right we have asked noted trace element researcher Professor Gerhard Schrauzer to address this frequently asked question.

Thanks to extensive research we know with a reasonable degree of scientific certainty that our body needs 18 vitamins, 21 amino acids and 3 essential fatty acids. We also know that the body needs 6 major minerals- calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride and phosphate and several essential trace elements. The exact number of the latter is still uncertain, because research in this field is still very active. Also, the number depends on how we define "essential". An element was until recently considered essential only if the organism could not grow or complete its life cycle in its absence and if it could not be replaced by any other element [1]. We know today that some essential elements can be replaced by others, thus invalidating the previous definition of essentiality. Whereas most nutritionists agree that we need 7 trace elements, iron iodine, cobalt, manganese, copper, zinc, selenium, several top researchers now believe that the number is actually much larger. Before addressing the question as tohow many trace elements we need, let me turn back the clock and give you a glimpse of the state of knowledge as it was a Century ago.

A Hundred years ago, the human body was still believed to be composed of just 14 elements: Oxygen, hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, fluorine, silicon and iron. It was known that these elements had to be supplied day by day " or some bad results are sure to follow" [2]. Oxygen, the gas, was known to be needed for breathing and was recognized as absolutely indispensable. Oxygen, in combination with hydrogen, is found in water and in many other compounds: so is carbon, nitrogen and sulfur, the elements from which proteins and other cellular components are made. Phosphorus, in the form of phosphate, was considered to be the physical source of vitality and the most important of the mineral elements. Other major minerals, sodium, potassium, magnesium and chloride, had been found in body fluids and were considered important, but there functions were not well understood. Calcium was viewed primarily as the building material for the bones, as was fluorine, because traces of it had been detected there. Silicon, similarly, was considered to be important in trace amounts for the teeth, nails and hair. Iron was known to be needed for blood formation already in the 17th Century, but was established as essential Only during the first half of the present Century. Iodine though known to have important physiological functions already in 1850, was similarly recognized essential many decades later [3]. By 1950, copper, manganese, zinc and cobalt, in 1953 molybdenum and in 1957 selenium were shown to be essential. However, silicon had been taken off the list and the essentiality of fluorine was also questioned as neither of these elements seemed to fulfil the above mentioned criteria of essentiality. By 1975, chromium, tin, vanadium, nickel were newly recognized as essential, and fluorine and silicon were reclassified as such . A few years later, boron was added to the list [4]. Bringing the total number of essential trace elements to 15. This number is likely to increase in the future, but what is the upper limit? Already more than four decades ago, several researchers expressed the view that, in principle, all naturally occurring elements with the exception of the rare gases and some of the heavy radioactive elements, could possibly have important biological functions [5]. However, in order to be able to discover new essential elements, the old definition of essentiality, which recognises only two categories - essential and nonessential elements- has to be abandoned H.A Schweigart, from the Friedrich-Wilhelm University of Berlin, introduced a new classification system [6], which allows the placement of the elements into four categories:

1. Main (or constituent)

2. Integrating (essential)

3. Facultative (partly essential or beneficial)

4. Indifferent (or negative)

Under this classification system, numerous elements, which previously had been neglected by researchers, are now being studied. Manfred Anke at the University of Jena, for example, devised a diet composed of pure potato starch, sugar, casein, urea and sunflower oil, to which calculated amounts of vitamins A, E, D3 and salts of 56 elements are added at concentrations which reflects their natural abundance [7]. This diet can be fed to goats and other animals for extended periods without impairing normal growth and reproductions. By removing one element from this diet at a time, it is possible to study the effects of these omissions if necessary over several generations of animals. The effects are often spectacular. Removing aluminium, bromine, vanadium or nickel, for example, reduces the life expectancy of kids [7-10]. Aluminium deficient goats produced significantly more male than female kids; kids weaning from their Al-deficient mother developed a characteristic weakness of the hind legs and co-ordination problems. These observations show that trace-element depletion can occur during embryonic development and the postnatal period. It was found that the trace element deficiency was especially noticeable in young animals receiving the milk from the deficient mothers. It should be noted that human milk normally contains 60 trace minerals, including significant amounts of aluminium, bromine as well as vanadium and nickel. The presence of these elements was previously considered spurious but now may suggest that humans in fact also need these elements. So far the human body is concerned, detailed analyses revealed that it contains 81 of the 92 natural elements. Not all of these elements are likely to be essential, but many are likely to be partly essential or beneficial. Since the number of essential or beneficial trace elements may be much larger than is presently assumed, the claim that we need 90 nutrients for health thus can be rationalized. A formula with this many nutrients would have to contain 4he 11 main elements, 15 essential and 36 partly essential or beneficial trace elements, 1 vitamins, coenzymes or vitamin like substances, 3 essential fatty acids and 21 amino acids. Willamette Valley Nutritional Products have several products whose composition is already very similar to that given above. The minerals and trace elements in these products are significantly derived from extracts of humic shales, which are known to be rich in trace elements. Such "complete" vitamin-mineral supplements may be preferable to conventional supplements in which only purified metal salts are used as the sources of minerals and trace elements.

G.N Schrauzer, Ph.D.
Professor emeritus
Biological Trace Element Research Institute


[1] H.J.M Bowen: Trace Elements in Biochemistry. Academic Press, London and New York, 1966, pp. 102-118.

[2] A.J Dellows, "The Philosophy of Eating", Glasgow, Thomas D. Morison, 1892, pp/16-18.

[3] G.N Schrauzer. The Discovery of the essential trace elements. An outline of the history of biological trace element research, In: Biochemistry of the Essential Ultratrace Elements (E. Frienden.ed), Plenum Press, New York and London, 1984, pp. 17-31.

[4] C.J Lovatt and W.M Dugger, Boron. In: Biochemistry of the Essential Ultratrace Elements (E. Frieden, ed.) Plenum Press, New York and London, 1984, pp. 389-421.

[5] B. Nemec: Trace elements in plant physiology. Waltham, Mass. USA 31-38

[6] H.A Schweigart, Vitalstoff Lehre, Veriag Hans Zauner. Jr., Munich (1962), pp. 106- 108.

[7] M.Anke, B. Groppel, M. Muller, A.Regius, Effects of aluminium-poor nutrition in animals. In: Proc. 4' Internatl. Symp. on New Results in the Food Industry, Budapest 1990, pp. 303-324.

[8] M.Anke, B.Groppel, L.Angelow, W.Dorn, S.Drusch, Bromine, and essential element for goats. In: Proc. Trace elements in Man and Animals (TEMA 8). Verlag Media Touristik, D 09355 Gersdorf, Germany, 1996, pp. 737-738.

[9] W.Arnhold, M.Anke, M.Muller, M.Glei, Vanadium an essential element for goats, In: Proc. Trace elements in Man and Animals (TEMA 8), Verlag Media Touristik, D 09355 Gersdorf, Germany, 1993, pp. 739-740.

[10] M.Anke, S.Szentmihalyi, A.Regius, M.Grun, Essentiality of nickel for flora and fauna In: Proc. Internatl. Symp. on New Results in the Research of hardly known Trace Elements, University of Horticulture and Food Industry, Budapest 1982, pp. 15-60