In recent years, many spectacular and far-reaching advances in the knowledge and role of minerals and trace elements in human health and disease have been made. Several new trace elements have been discovered and analytical techniques to measure trace elements have grown in their sophistication. Nineteen minerals are considered significant for human health. Some of these are essential for growth and development such as iron, zinc and iodine. Others are essential but we know less about their exact requirements such as copper and manganese. Finally, some are not only essential but can also be associated with adverse effects at high intakes, for example, selenium or calcium.
Minerals are unique nutrients because they are extremely active metabolically, and can be both potent intracellular oxidants through their role as mineral catalysts as well as antioxidants through their role as an essential part of many important enzymes. Minerals are subject to numerous interactions with other components in the diet, such as fat and protein and vitamins C and E and with each other. Since new evidence concerning the benefits of trace elements and risks associated with mineral deficiencies and interactions are continually emerging, a number of studies are conducted at Health Canada to address these questions.
The research is used in numerous areas of nutritional policy setting in the Food Program, such as review of the policies concerning the addition of vitamins and minerals to foods, standard setting activities such as establishing mineral levels for infant formulas, and determining the safety and effects of food processing or changes in food composition on mineral levels and requirements and is used in many risk assessments conducted in the Department.