Essential Nutrient Elements and What They Do for Your Body – Part 1

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

Our bodies need essential nutrient elementsEssential nutrient elements are just that for your body – essential. Even though most of them are in your body only in very small amounts, they perform vital functions to keep your body working properly. And they all have optimum levels within which they can best help you. When these elements get out of their optimum levels, they can have adverse effects as well. One of the things that can push these nutrient elements, that are so essential, out of balance, is stress. Unfortunately, in this hurry-up world, you will experience stress, so it’s important for you to know how it affects these nutrients.

What Happens To Your Body Under Stress?

When something comes into your life that brings stress, no matter what the event is, your body responds the same way every time. The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis is set in motion. This starts a cascade of several hormones, the major one being cortisol, to fight the effects of stress on your body. The adrenal glands secrete cortisol in an effort to stop stress from tearing down your body. If the stress stops, your body returns to normal. However, much of the time, stress continues. This pushes your adrenals to continue secreting cortisol until at some point, they no longer can do so. This is the condition known as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). At its worst, AFS brings on a set of sometimes nonspecific symptoms that cause a great deal of discomfort. Symptoms such as:

  • Gaining weight around your waist
  • Catching every ‘bug’ that comes around
  • Feeling tired even after a good night’s sleep
  • Craving certain foods
  • Being ‘wired and tired’ at bedtime
  • Developing hypoglycemia
  • Foggy thinking
  • Depression and anxiety

These symptoms are more typically the end result of continuing stress that leads to the depletion of your adrenal glands, the loss of hormones, and imbalance of the essential nutrient elements.

A conventional physician’s approach is driven by patching symptoms. The holistic approach is often missing. Practitioners need to consider the interaction of your body systems and what is needed in order to fully appreciate and comprehend the body’s way of dealing with stress.

The body’s overall mechanism to reduce stress is called the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response from a functional medicine perspective. This is a more comprehensive way to view symptoms and to get at the root cause. For example, the NEM model considers how hormones released in response to stress affect your metabolic response and the gut system. The gut system is intricately associated with your immune response system. Essential nutrient elements are key nutrients to ensure an optimized NEM response state vital for our well-being.

Essential Nutrient Elements: Benefits and Cautions

Each of the nutrient elements said to be essential for your well-being work in your body in different ways. Each also has signs and symptoms of too much and too little of the nutrient. It’s important for you to know when you have an excess or a deficiency.


One of the major minerals your body needs, calcium is important in bone health, in keeping your heart pumping optimally, and in helping to release enzymes and hormones affecting all parts of your body. It helps muscles move and nerves to carry their messages throughout your body.

essential nutrient elements include calcuimCalcium is stored in your teeth and bones, so these essential nutrient elements are readily available for your body to use. This makes it important to get a good supply, because your body will take it from the teeth and bones if necessary. This can lead to brittle bones and teeth. A large part of how calcium is stored, in the body, depends on the body’s pH. An acidic body (low pH) will tend to lose calcium as it is leached out of the bones to buffer and raise pH. An alkaline (high pH) body will tend to allow calcium to be kept in the bones.

Signs of calcium deficiency include numbness and tingling in your fingers, convulsions, and heart rhythms that are abnormal are severe enough. Women who are past menopause may have difficulty absorbing calcium from their diet and thus require supplementation. People with lactose intolerance and vegans may not get sufficient calcium in their diet.

Too much calcium has been thought to lead to kidney stone formation in adults, also. There may be some risk of disease from high levels of calcium. Some interference in absorbing iron and zinc may be seen with high levels of calcium.

When AFS is considered, sufficient levels of calcium are necessary to offset the effect of cortisol on your bones. Estrogen dominance, too much calcium, and too little magnesium, in AFS conditions, may lead to heart problems.


One of the trace nutrient elements essential for optimum functioning of your body is chromium. Researchers differ in their opinions regarding whether chromium is actually essential for your body’s functioning.

There is evidence that chromium plays a role in controlling blood sugar and supporting healthy metabolism. It appears to help you absorb nutrients from proteins, carbohydrates, and fats you consume. This essential nutrient element may also lower cholesterol.

With continuing stress such as in AFS, the liver releases more sugar to provide energy for your body. Chromium plays a role in controlling blood glucose levels. In the case of AFS, it helps support healthy blood sugar which in turn will stabilize reactive hypoglycemia.

Some signs of too little chromium include:

  • Increased risk of developing diabetes
  • Weakness
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Poor skin health
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Changes in appetite and weight

What are the signs of too much chromium? There aren’t many, because chromium toxicity is rare. Your body only needs a very small amount of this essential nutrient element. Any excess is easily passed out of your body. However, if toxicity levels should be reached, the excess chromium could enter your cells and damage your DNA.


One of the trace essential nutrient elements, cobalt plays a role in helping your body use Vitamin B12 and Vitamin C. It also appears to help your body absorb iron as well as helping stabilize your cardiovascular functions.

Signs of cobalt deficiency include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness in limbs
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Mood changes

Signs of cobalt toxicity include:

  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Deafness
  • Nerve problems
  • Thickening of the blood
  • Thyroid problems

In conditions of AFS, a deficiency in cobalt could increase the confusion and memory issues present. Too much cobalt would impact the problems with thyroid function commonly seen in AFS.

reduce the rist of diabetes with essential nutrient elements


Another of the trace minerals considered essential nutrient elements, the amount of copper in your blood is typically regulated by the liver. It plays a part in the functioning of metabolic processes and in the enzymes that work in metabolism. Copper plays a role in producing energy for your body. It assists in the production of dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, all of which are involved in the stress response.

Signs of excess copper:

  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Foggy thinking
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Cold extremities
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dry skin
  • Problems with concentration and memory
  • Panic attacks, anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Hypoglycemia

Signs of copper deficiency:

  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Nerve damage
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Iron deficiency

Chronic stress leads to an accumulation of copper, which then leads to more stress. Under stress, your body doesn’t detox itself well, leading to more copper building up, leading to more stress. Thus, a devastating cycle is set in motion. Also a part of this mix is estrogen. Estrogen causes a buildup of copper in your body that then leads to more stress.

Taking copper in high doses is unsafe. Copper supplements can make Wilson’s disease worse. High levels of copper can potentially lead to overstimulation of your nervous system. This could bring on mood swings, restlessness, and anxiety. Those who are in advanced stages of AFS are particularly at risk. Adrenal crashes may be triggered.

Read Part 2 | Part 3

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Essential nutrient elements