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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Ultratrace Elements in Nutrition: Current Knowledge and Speculation

Author
item Nielsen, Forrest

Submitted to: Journal of Trace Elements in Experimental Medicine
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: June 1, 1998
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: The term ultratrace element has been defined as an element with an established, estimated or suspected requirement generally indicated by ug/day for humans. Between 1970 and 1984, it was suggested that 11 elements should be added to the list of ultratrace elements that included chromium, iodine, molybdenum and selenium; these elements were arsenic, boron, bromine, cadmium, fluorine, lead, lithium, nickel, silicon, tin an vanadium. Since 1984, it has been suggested that three more elements, aluminum, germanium and rubidium, should be added to the list, and circumstantial evidence has continued to accumulate which indicates that several of the ultratrace elements in addition to iodine and selenium, particularly arsenic, boron, chromium, nickel, silicon and vanadium, are more important in nutrition than currently acknowledged. This evidence includes findings from human studies suggesting that boron has an essential function or beneficial effect in calcium metabolism, brain function, energy metabolism and perhaps immune processes, and chromium has an essential function in potentiating insulin action in the metabolism of glucose and lipids, and/or a beneficial effect on diabetes resulting from inadequate synthesis of insulin or insulin resistance. The major shortcoming that has prevented the unequivocal acceptance of the nutritional importance of any of the ultratrace elements suggested as being essential since 1970 and chromium is that a specific biochemical function has not been identified for any of these elements. The current status of the evidence suggesting essentiality, the possible biological function, and speculated dietary need for each of the 15 elements without an identified biochemical function is reviewed.

Technical Abstract: The term ultratrace element has been defined as an element with an established, estimated or suspected requirement generally indicated by ug/day for humans. Between 1970 and 1984, it was suggested that 11 elements should be added to the list of ultratrace elements that included chromium, iodine, molybdenum and selenium; these elements were arsenic, boron, bromine, cadmium, fluorine, lead, lithium, nickel, silicon, tin an vanadium. Since 1984, it has been suggested that three more elements, aluminum, germanium and rubidium, should be added to the list, and circumstantial evidence has continued to accumulate which indicates that several of the ultratrace elements in addition to iodine and selenium, particularly arsenic, boron, chromium, nickel, silicon and vanadium, are more important in nutrition than currently acknowledged. This evidence includes findings from human studies suggesting that boron has an essential function or beneficial effect in calcium metabolism, brain function, energy metabolism and perhaps immune processes, and chromium has an essential function in potentiating insulin action in the metabolism of glucose and lipids, and/or a beneficial effect on diabetes resulting from inadequate synthesis of insulin or insulin resistance. The major shortcoming that has prevented the unequivocal acceptance of the nutritional importance of any of the ultratrace elements suggested as being essential since 1970 and chromium is that a specific biochemical function has not been identified for any of these elements. The current status of the evidence suggesting essentiality, the possible biological function, and speculated dietary need for each of the 15 elements without an identified biochemical function is reviewed.

Last Modified: 7/22/2014
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