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Why Molybdenum Is An Essential Nutrient

Why Molybdenum Is an Essential Nutrient

You may not have heard of the trace mineral molybdenum, but it is essential to your health.

Though your body only needs tiny amounts, it’s a key component of many vital functions. Without it, deadly sulfites and toxins would build up in your body.

Molybdenum is widely available in the diet, but supplements are still popular. As with many supplements, high doses can be problematic.

This article covers everything you need to know about this little-known mineral.

What Is Molybdenum?

Small White Pills on a Wooden Spoon
Molybdenum is an essential mineral in the body, just like iron and magnesium.

It is present in soil and transferred into your diet when you consume plants, as well as animals that feed on those plants.

There is very little data on the specific molybdenum content of certain foods, as it depends on the content of the soil.

Although amounts vary, the richest sources are usually beans, lentils, grains and organ meats, particularly liver and kidney. Poorer sources include other animal products, fruits and many vegetables (1).

Studies have shown that your body doesn’t absorb it well from certain foods, particularly soy products. However, this is not considered a problem since other foods are so rich in it (2).

Since your body only needs it in trace amounts and it’s abundant in many foods, molybdenum deficiency is rare. For this reason, people don’t usually need supplements, unless for some specific medical reasons.

Summary: Molybdenum is found in many foods, such as legumes, grains and organ meats. Your body only requires it in trace amounts, so deficiency is extremely rare.

It Acts as a Cofactor for Important Enzymes

Molybdenum is vital for many processes in your body.

Once you eat it, it is absorbed into your blood from your stomach and gut, then carried to your liver, kidneys and other areas.

Some of this mineral is stored in the liver and kidneys, but most of it is converted into a molybdenum cofactor. Any excess molybdenum is then passed in urine (3).

The molybdenum cofactor activates four essential enzymes, which are biological molecules that drive chemical reactions in the body. Below are the four enzymes:

  • Sulfite oxidase: Converts sulfite to sulfate, preventing the dangerous buildup of sulfites in the body (4).
  • Aldehyde oxidase: Breaks down aldehydes, which can be toxic to the body. Also, it helps the liver break down alcohol and some drugs, such as those used in cancer therapy (5, 6, 7).
  • Xanthine oxidase: Converts xanthine to uric acid. This reaction helps break down nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA, when they’re no longer needed. They can then be excreted in the urine (8).
  • Mitochondrial amidoxime reducing component (mARC): This enzyme’s function isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought to remove toxic byproducts of metabolism (9).

Molybdenum’s role in breaking down sulfites is especially important.

Sulfites are found naturally in foods and also sometimes added as a preservative. If they build up in the body, they can trigger an allergic reaction that can include diarrhea, skin problems or even breathing difficulties (10).

Summary: Molybdenum acts as a cofactor for four enzymes. These enzymes are involved in processing sulfites and breaking down waste products and toxins in the body.

Very Few People Are Deficient

Oats in a Brown Bag

Although supplements are widely available, molybdenum deficiency is very rare in healthy people.

The estimated average daily intake of molybdenum in the US is 76 micrograms per day for women and 109 micrograms per day for men.

This exceeds the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults, which is 45 micrograms per day (11).

Information on molybdenum intake in other countries varies, but it’s usually well above requirements (11).

There have been a few exceptional cases of molybdenum deficiency, which have been linked to adverse health conditions.

In one situation, a hospital patient was receiving artificial nutrition through a tube and not given any molybdenum. This resulted in severe symptoms, including fast heart rate and breathing, vomiting, disorientation and eventually coma (12).

Long-term molybdenum deficiency has been observed in some populations and linked to an increased risk of esophageal cancer.

In one small region of China, esophageal cancer is 100 times more common than in the US. It has been discovered that the soil in this area contains very low levels of molybdenum, resulting in a long-term low dietary intake (13).

Furthermore, in other areas that have a high risk of esophageal cancer, such as parts of northern Iran and South Africa, molybdenum levels in hair and nail samples have been found to be low (14, 15).

It is important to…

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