Most of us have heard about manganese, but do you know what it is and why is it important?
We can find this trace element in most healthy foods, such as green leafy vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts.
The body needs manganese for healthy bones and connective tissue.
Manganese is also required for a myriad of body reactions, as we will discuss in this article.
After reading this piece, you will understand why this nutrient is so important, the health benefits of manganese, and how the body uses it.
We will also provide a list of manganese-rich foods so you can get started increasing your manganese intake.
What is manganese?
Manganese is a chemical element with the symbol Mn and atomic number 25. It is a grayish-white, hard, brittle metallic element.
It is a mineral that is essential to human nutrition. However, many people do not eat enough manganese in their diet.
Manganese works in multiple ways in the human body. It is needed to maintain healthy bones, help with the immune system, boost metabolism, and control blood sugar levels. It’s also a common element in nature and is used as a catalyst in the chemical industry.
It is considered a “trace element,” which means the body needs it, but only small concentrations of this nutrient are enough to prevent a deficiency of manganese.
It is important to highlight the difference between magnesium vs manganese. Manganese is not magnesium.
Magnesium is not a trace element, and the element symbol is Mg. It is used for entirely different body functions.
What is manganese used for?
Manganese is essential for the body as it helps produce energy, synthesize hormones, and aid in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
It is an essential cofactor for more than 20 enzymes and their respective metabolic process, including glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH), and glutamine synthetase (GS).
G6PD is a marker enzyme for hemolytic anemia, and PDH is an enzyme in the citric acid cycle. The GS enzyme is a vital component of urea synthesis and plays an essential role in the urea cycle.
Thus, only small concentrations of manganese are used by the body, but the element interacts with metabolic functioning.
Manganese is also heavily used in the chemical industry. It is essential for steel production, manufacturing automobiles, piping, valves, and batteries.
As noted, manganese causes potent chemical reactions inside and outside the human body and has many potential applications.
How does manganese work?
Manganese works differently for each enzyme and metabolic pathway. These are essential body functions of manganese:
- To interact with the enzyme G6PD, manganese joins a sulfate salt. Only then does manganese interact and activates the enzyme. Indeed, to become activated, the enzyme also needs its substrate, known as UDP glucose (1).
- As mentioned above, the enzyme PDH is essential for the citric acid cycle. It can work with zinc and magnesium. However, studies show that the preferred cofactor is manganese. In other words, the enzyme is much more active when manganese is around (2).
- Similarly, manganese activates the enzyme GS, which converts glutamate into glutamine. This is a nucleotide precursor used by white blood cells to perform their function. This enzyme also has a pivotal role in ammonia detoxification (3).
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What are the symptoms of manganese deficiency?
Manganese deficiencies are rare in the general population. However, people with liver disease or those who consume less than 2 mg/day are at risk of developing a deficiency.
Since manganese deficiency is considered rare, the associated signs and symptoms are not clearly studied. However, most patients with manganese deficiency report symptoms such as (1):
Changes to the color of the skin and hair
Manganese helps in the production of melanin, which is a pigment that gives hair, skin, and eyes their color.
Manganese deficiency can decrease melanin production, making hair and skin appear paler than usual.
Glutamate is a neurotransmitter in the brain. By helping convert glutamate into glutamine, manganese can change concentrations of brain chemicals and alter brain function.
Thus, an imbalance of this trace mineral will also cause neurological problems. This may also lead to fatigue, tiredness, muscle weakness, and mood swings.
Muscle pain, twitching, and cramps
A manganese deficiency affects the urea cycle and the availability of glutamine, the most abundant amino acid in the muscle fibers. It triggers muscle pains and muscle spasms.
Manganese is important to absorb nutrients and take them to your bones. It is involved in bone mass formation and balances your levels of calcium and phosphorus.
Pigments are essential for visual health. The change in the synthesis of pigments triggered by manganese may also affect visual health.
Consult your healthcare provider if you have one or more of these symptoms. Manganese deficiency is possible, but there could be many others to rule out first.
How much manganese should you take daily?
Manganese is an absolutely essential nutrient that your body needs to stay healthy. It is considered a trace mineral with many health benefits, and low concentrations in foods can help you achieve adequate serum manganese levels.
However, there is a recommended intake according to health authorities, depending on your age and gender.
How much manganese should you take daily?
The recommended daily manganese intake is 2.3 mg for men and 1.8 mg for women aged 19 years and older.
Pregnant and lactating women need more manganese than the average. The recommended dietary allowance is 2 mg for pregnant women and 2.6 mg during lactation (1).
How much manganese is too much?
Although manganese is an essential mineral for human health, there are also dangers to consider if too much is consumed.
Excessive manganese blood levels can cause side effects such as stomach pain, tremors, irritability, and a brain activity disorder characterized by inflammation, which triggers symptoms such as spasms, hallucinations, and aggressiveness.
This is known as manganese toxicity or manganism and only happens when your intake is excessive.
As noted above, the safe level of manganese consumption recommended by the US Food and Nutrition Board is 2.0 and 1.8 mg per day for adult men and women, respectively. We can consume more without a problem, but there is also an upper tolerable limit.
The upper tolerable limit is a threshold of nutrient intake that is unlikely to cause problems. Any intake above this limit is too much manganese and potentially toxic.
Studies suggest setting 11 mg/day as the upper tolerable limit of manganese (5). Manganese overdose limit is lower in adolescents (9 mg/day) and children (6 mg/day for 9-13 years, 3 mg/day for 4-8 years, and 2 mg/day for 1-3 years).
7 benefits of manganese
This trace mineral is essential for more than one body reaction. There are plenty of uses of manganese. However, let us consider the top seven manganese health benefits (1):
1) It aids in bone formation through various mechanisms
Manganese protects against bone loss and prevents osteoporosis. It helps your body absorb more calcium. It also helps absorb other nutrients essential to maintaining a healthy bone mass.
2) It plays a role in energy production and antioxidant protection
Manganese activates an antioxidant enzyme known as manganese superoxide dismutase. It helps protect your cells from oxidative stress, especially the energy-producing mitochondria.
3) It helps your body metabolize carbohydrates and sugars
This happens through enzymes such as phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase in the pancreas and other organs.
It can prevent or treat high blood sugar levels, helping patients with metabolic syndrome and improving diabetes control.
4) Maintains adequate levels of other electrolytes
A healthy manganese concentration in the blood may also modulate other elements and molecules. For instance, it prevents hypokalemia, a low potassium concentration in the blood.
5) Manganese has applications in reproductive health
Manganese is used for male fertility. Adequate levels can also prevent and reduce the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
6) Manganese protects the nervous system
It is important to maintain cognitive function through modulating neurotransmitter balance. It is essential for the growing brain in young children and infants.
7) Manganese promotes normal growth and development
Manganese promotes vitamin digestion and absorption in children and adolescents. Additionally, the brain needs manganese to develop correctly; both insufficiency and excessive levels can be harmful. Children are particularly vulnerable to manganese deficiency.
What foods contain manganese?
Manganese is a trace mineral found in whole grains, vegetables, meats, nuts, beans, and nuts. It is most commonly found in plant-based foods, which is why manganese is considered a nutrient in healthy foods.
You can increase your intake of manganese by eating these foods (1):
- Soy milk
- Pinto beans
- Chia seeds
Manganese can also be added to multivitamins and other supplements in the lab. These are particularly helpful if you want to correct a deficiency.
They can also be used to prevent manganese deficiency because their concentration stands very far from the upper tolerable limit.
Manganese is an essential nutrient your body needs, but you can get too much of a good thing. Many foods come with enough manganese to achieve a healthy intake. You can also increase the intake through manganese supplementation and multivitamins.
Having an adequate intake of manganese has plenty of health benefits. Manganese prevents osteoporosis, provides antioxidant protection, improves energy metabolism, protects the nervous system, and improves male fertility.