Mineralogy

Mineralienkunde

Water, minerals and trace elements

A big thank you to Ms Anne Endrizzi, ETH food scientist, for her expert assistance with the research.

To remain healthy, our bodies need vitamins, minerals and trace elements, which it receives in our diets. As the name suggests, mineral water contains precisely these kinds of substances.

Tap water here in central Switzerland usually comes from ground water and lakes. Some of it is also pumped from sources in the Alpine and Jura regions. The water is treated and analysed carefully in Switzerland and is therefore completely harmless. Nevertheless, even the best tap water will never reach the same standards as mineral water, as it is pure and untouched – while tap water is often treated.

Certain minerals are needed by our bodies for vital functions and are therefore described as essential. Elements are called bulk elements if the body needs more than 50 milligrammes; any less and they are known as trace elements.

Bulk elements Trace elements
Sodium
Potassium
Chloride
Calcium
Phosphorous
Magnesium
Iron
Zink
Iodine
Fluoride
Selenium
Copper
Manganese
Chromium
Molybdenum
etc.

Each mineral water has a characteristic and singular set of minerals. This is expressed also in Article 280 of the Food Regulation (LMV): ‘Natural mineral water must be characterised by its particular geological origins, the type and quantity of mineral components, its pristine purity, and by its consistent composition and temperature within natural levels of fluctuation.’

Numerous mineral waters have a natural, aggregate volume of minerals in a dry state of between 50 and 1,500 milligrammes per litre.

Many people who avoid dairy products, whether it be a question of preference or intolerance (lactose), suffer from calcium deficiency. In contrast, athletes need more magnesium.

Not only are calcium and magnesium involved in a large number of bodily functions, they also regulate each other. Valser contains favourable levels of both these minerals. The low sodium levels found in Valser also make the products ideal beverages for a low-salt diet. Valser is therefore always suitable to regulate fluid intake and can be salubrious in cases of disturbances in the mineral metabolism, in the prevention and treatment of kidney stones and gastrointestinal disorders, brittle bones (osteoporosis), muscle cramps and other afflictions.

Of all the many and varied, important minerals and trace elements contained in Valser, calcium and magnesium deserve special mention, as Valser is an important source for both of these substances.

Calcium

Calcium is an essential mineral that is needed for healthy bones and strong teeth. Our bodies each contain around 1 kilogramme of calcium, and more than 99% of it is found in the teeth and bones. Calcium is found in animal and vegetable foods, and the main sources include dairy products and some mineral waters.

What calcium does:

  • Indispensable constituent of teeth and bones
  • Important contributor to signal transmission in the nervous system and the stimulation of muscle cells
  • Necessary for coagulation

Symptoms of calcium deficiency:

  • Osteoporosis (bone depletion)
  • Hypocalcaemia (inadequate calcium level in the blood), leading to neuromuscular hyperexcitability

Possible adverse effects of calcium overdose:

  • 2 grammes are considered a harmless intake limit for adults (condition: urine volume above 2 litres/day).
  • Indications of overdose may include calcium deposits in the soft tissue and urinary calculus among predisposed persons with insufficient fluid intake.

Reference values for daily intake (recommendations as at www.ssg-ssn.ch):

  • Children and adolescents: 1,200 milligrammes
  • Adults: 1,000 milligrammes*

* An adult needs 800 milligrammes per day according to the EDI Ordinance on the addition of essential or physiologically beneficial substances in food (SR 817.022.32, appendix I).

Current situation in the Swiss population:

It appears that the calcium intake among Swiss inhabitants is satisfactory, at first glance at least. In 2001/02, each person consumed 1,100 milligrammes per day with their diets. This value is above the weighted recommended intake of 985 milligrammes.

But a survey conducted among 11- to 16-year old adolescents in the Canton of Waadt in 1996/97 comes to the conclusion that 81.5 per cent of girls and 61.5 per cent of boys consume less than the recommended amount. The average calcium intake among girls was 813 milligrammes and 911 milligrammes among boys.

Moreover, a representative survey in the city of Zurich indicated that 22 per cent of women aged between 45 and 54 have low-calcium diets. Another study of 25- to 35-year-old women in Zurich demonstrated that their average calcium intake was below the recommendation and that some of the subjects were at risk of deficiency. A study in Geneva revealed daily consumption of 1,020 mg among Swiss men, 843 mg among male foreign nationals, 764 mg for Swiss women and 747 mg for female foreign nationals. The average daily intake among students in St. Gallen was also below recommendations.

Remarks:
Vitamin D stimulates calcium absorption.

Oxalates (for instance in rhubarb and spinach), phytates and lignins (from wholegrain products and legumes) tend to inhibit calcium intake. But this will not have much of an impact, provided the diet is otherwise normal.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an important contributor to skeletal development among children and is necessary for normal muscle functions in all age groups. Moreover, magnesium is indispensable to ensure healthy energy metabolism.

It is essential for bones and cells, specifically muscle cells, and many enzymes. Magnesium-rich mineral water (> 100 milligrammes per litre) can contribute to satisfying elevated intake requirements. Nervousness, nausea and muscle cramps are among the indications of magnesium deficiency.

The body of an adult contains approximately 25 grammes of magnesium, 60 per cent of which is found in the bones and another 30 per cent in the muscles.

What magnesium does:

  • Magnesium plays an important role in signal transmission in the nervous system and in muscle contraction.
  • The mineral is involved in the growth of bones, sinews and teeth.
  • Like calcium, magnesium reduces the risk of blood clots and helps to prevent muscle cramps.
  • Magnesium activates numerous enzymes, especially those contributing to the energy metabolism.
  • It is also active in the DNS synthesis (genetic material).

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency:

  • Magnesium deficiency is very rare, provided the person has a normal diet.
  • But it may be triggered by chronic alcohol abuse, chronic intake of various medicaments and diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Susceptibility to muscle cramps.
  • Functional disorders of the heart and skeletal musculature.
  • Nervousness.
  • Nausea.

Possible adverse effects of magnesium overdose:

350 milligrammes as a nutritional supplement for adults (in addition to the magnesium contained in their diets) are considered harmless.
Diarrhoea is a symptom of acute overdose (3 to 5 grammes daily).

Reference values for daily magnesium intake (recommendations as at www.ssg-ssn.ch):

  • Children: 310 milligrammes
  • Adolescents: 350 mg for girls and 400 mg for boys
  • Adults: 300 mg for women and 350 mg for men
  • Expectant mothers: 310 milligrammes; breastfeeding mothers: 390 milligrammes
  • The recommended daily intake rises sharply in case of intense workouts and endurance training in hot temperatures.

* An adult needs 800 milligrammes per day according to the EDI Ordinance on the addition of essential or physiologically beneficial substances in food (SR 817.022.32, appendix I).

Current situation in the Swiss population:

The average magnesium intake of 344 milligrammes per person/day in 2001/2002 (dietary consumption 312 milligrammes) indicates suboptimal magnesium supply among persons living in Switzerland. Competitive athletes and people with stressful lifestyles require significantly more magnesium, which may precipitate deficiency.

Sources: 5th Swiss Nutrition Report 2005 and www.ssg-ssn.ch.

Fluoride

Unlike calcium and magnesium, fluoride is a trace element and not a mineral. Fluoride helps to build and preserve healthy teeth.

An adult body will contain around 2 to 5 grammes of fluoride. It is found exclusively in the bones and teeth.

There is 0.6 milligrammes of fluoride in one litre of Valser, equivalent to 17 per cent of the recommended daily intake for adults. This is an important factor, as although many foods contain fluoride, the only significant source of dietary fluoride in Switzerland is table salt (250 milligrammes per kilogram).

What fluoride does:

  • Helps to prevent caries.
  • Plays an important role in the mineralisation of teeth and bones.

Symptoms of fluoride deficiency:

  • Elevated risk of caries.

Possible adverse effects of fluoride overdose:

  • 10 milligrammes as an upper intake limit for adults are considered harmless.
  • Symptoms of acute overdose (more than 1 milligram per kilogramme of bodyweight) include nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
  • Symptoms of chronic overdose (more than 10 milligrammes per day for over 10 years) include skeletal fluorosis with joint pain and stiffening. Moreover, children under 8 who are suffering from chronic overdose (more than 0.1 milligram per kilogramme of bodyweight/day) will show white to brownish discolouration of the teeth.

Reference values for daily fluoride intake (recommendations as at www.ssg-ssn.ch):

  • Children: 2.9 milligrammes for girls and 3.2 milligrammes for boys
  • Adolescents: 2.9 milligrammes for girls and 3.2 milligrammes for boys
  • Adults: 3.1 milligrammes for women and 3.8 milligrammes for men

Current situation in the Swiss population:

Switzerland has achieved a dramatic reduction in tooth decay thanks to the confluence of collective (fluoride in salt and in toothpastes), semi-collective (preventative programmes in kindergartens and schools) and individual preventative programmes. The prevalence of decay in the permanent teeth of children and students fell by almost 90 per cent in the last 40 years.

Iodized and fluoridated table salt (250 milligrammes of fluoride per kilogramme) has been available in Switzerland since 1983. Basel Stadt is an exception: It introduced fluoridation of drinking water as early as 1962. Fluoridated, packaged table salt has held a market share of more than 80 per cent since 1994; 85 per cent of the table salt sold in Switzerland in 2001 was iodized and fluoridated. This makes an important contribution to preventing caries and goitre, without consumers incurring any additional costs.

Sources: Oral Health in Switzerland, Monitoring March 2003, Giorgio Menghini, as well as at www.ssg-ssn.ch.

Sulfate

Salubrious qualities are often attributed to waters enriched with sulfate, and they are used in cases of liver, gall bladder and bowel diseases. Sulfate stimulates intestinal activity. As little as 1,000 mg/day can have a laxative effect. Waters with a high sulfate content (> 250 mg/l) are less suitable for young children, as a laxative effect has been observed in rare cases.

Sources: Doctors’ Fact Sheet by German Green Cross and ‘Sulfate in drinking water’, WHO, 2004.

With its 941 milligrammes per litre, Valser is among the mineral waters with the highest sulfate contents, which its is the reason for its characteristic taste. Valser is therefore ideal for sluggish bowels, but should not be used in the preparation of baby bottles. Children over 2 can drink one to two glasses of Valser per day with no adverse effects, as a laxative effect cannot be expected at these quantities.

Sodium

Most of the sodium we ingest comes from common salt, which consists of sodium and chloride. The human organism needs both of these substances. A reduction in salt intake – at least among sensitive persons – is recommended, as salt consumption affects blood pressure.

In Switzerland, a work group at the Federal Commission for Nutrition (FCN) prepared a report on salt consumption and blood pressure on behalf of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). Like most other countries and the WHO, this report recommends reducing daily consumption of common salt to 6 grammes. Reducing salt consumption is also included in the Swiss nutritional objectives defined by Public Health Switzerland.

The food pyramid also advises a moderate salt intake and endorses the use of iodised and fluoridated table salt. A target intake of 6 grammes was also included in the new food pyramid.

Containing just 10.5 milligrammes per litre, Valser is among the low-sodium mineral waters. A mineral water with modest sodium levels is recommended anyway, as the consumption of common salt tends to be above the recommendations for most people anyway, apart from in exceptional cases (severe diarrhoea, excessive sweating, hypotension).

Despite this widespread overconsumption of sodium in Switzerland, healthy people will experience hardly any problems. Patients with kidney damage (renal insufficiency, pyelitis) and persons with hypertension or cardiovascular conditions should nevertheless take care to select water with a low sodium content.

Current situation in the Swiss population:

There is no precise data available on salt consumption in Switzerland. Depending on the source and whether it includes just added salt or also considers salt concealed in foods, the average daily intake of tale salt in Switzerland is 9 to 17 grammes per person and therefore almost one-and-a-half times over the recommended daily amount of 6 grammes.

Remark:
Salt consists of sodium and chloride in the following ratio:
1 gramme of salt (NaCl) = 400 milligrammes of sodium (Na) and 600 milligrammes of chloride (Cl). The conversion factor is therefore 2.5: 2.5 grammes of salt = 1 gramme of sodium.

Sources: 3rd, 4th and 5th Swiss Nutrition Report, EEK Federal Expert Panel Report: ‘Salt and HighBlood Pressure’, food pyramid by the Swiss Nutrition Society.

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