What are trace elements and what are they for?


Although it is a kind of essential nutrients for living, trace elements are unknown to many people. When we talk about trace elements, we are referring to a series of fundamental substances to carry out our day to day life whose main characteristic is that they are present in very basic forms: in chemical elements of the periodic table, in the form of simple molecules, etc.

What are trace elements and what are they for

These are very important elements for life and it is essential to know that an imbalance in their quantity, both due to excess and deficiency, can have very harmful consequences for living beings. 

What are trace elements

Broadly speaking, trace elements are chemical substances that fulfill certain functions in living beings. These are the most basic chemical substances for living beings, since they are the ones that allow each of their functions to develop.

Trace elements of many types can be found and, in fact, some are more fundamental than others. There are, for example, four essential trace elements for life , since they are the ones that make up living beings to a greater extent. These four fundamental trace elements are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.

However, in addition to these four fundamental trace elements, there are also many others that are present in biological processes in smaller quantities, but that are equally of great importance for it to develop correctly. Some of these other trace elements are cobalt, copper, chromium, fluorine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, selenium, silicon, iodine, zinc, sodium, potassium, chlorine, calcium, phosphorus, or magnesium among others.

On the other hand, it must be taken into account that the need for certain trace elements varies from one living being to another . In this way, the trace elements that are essential for some living beings may be merely secondary in others and vice versa.

What are trace elements for?

Trace elements are fundamental, mainly, for two reasons: on the one hand, they fulfill the function of constituting the very tissues of living beings . For example, and as you surely know, hydrogen and oxygen are trace elements found in water molecules, present, in turn, in all living beings. In the case of iron, it constitutes a large part of the red blood cells, while calcium, to give another example, constitutes part of the tissues that make up the bones.

On the other hand, beyond the very constitution of the tissues of living beings, trace elements are necessary for the performance of certain functions . For example, cobalt is a trace element that is present in the molecules of vitamin B12, essential for the proper functioning of our nervous system. Another example would be zinc, a trace element related to the activity of multiple enzymes, protein synthesis and the proper functioning of the immune system.

Trace elements in some foods

We take trace elements from the environment. In the case of human beings, we absorb oxygen through respiration, but the rest of the trace elements that we need are taken in through the intake of water and food. We show you, below, the trace elements that you can find in certain specific foods :

  • Potassium: it is a fundamental trace element when it comes to regulating the amount of sodium in the body. It is found in legumes, tomatoes or bananas.
  • Phosphorus: This trace element is necessary both for our bones and for most of the cells in our body. You can find them, for example, in nuts, brown rice, salmon or corn.
  • Magnesium: essential to perform certain metabolic functions and to strengthen our bones. It can be found both in nuts and other dried fruits as well as in soybeans and cocoa.
  • Calcium: although its best-known function is to provide strength and resistance to bones, it is also an essential trace element for the development of muscle tissue, the heart and the digestive system. It is mainly found in nuts, seeds, legumes and fish.
  • Iodine: it is a trace element necessary, only, for the synthesis of hormones related to the thyroid. You can find iodine mainly in fish and shellfish. Although algae also contain a lot of iodine, they have such high levels of this trace element that their consumption is not recommended.


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