Manganese is a trace mineral needed for normal functioning of the brain, nervous system, and various other important enzyme reactions in the body.
While the body can store some manganese, it can’t produce it, so we need to get it from our diet. However, it’s key to strike the right balance because manganese is only needed in small amounts and too much can be harmful.
With this in mind, here’s everything you need to know about manganese; including its benefits, best sources, and how to make sure you’re getting the right amount.
What is manganese?
Manganese is a trace mineral that’s necessary for healthy body function. For example, it plays a role in metabolism, bone formation, blood clotting, and aids the production of several enzymes and antioxidants needed to fight inflammation and free radical damage.
The body can store manganese in the bones, kidneys, liver, and pancreas. However, it can’t produce it itself – so we have to get manganese from the food we eat. It’s only needed in small amounts and according to experts, the majority of people can get enough manganese by eating a typical diet.
What are some of the health benefits of manganese?
Due to its role in various body processes, manganese offers a number of health benefits.
1. In combination with other nutrients, manganese may improve bone health
Manganese is essential for bone health, development, and maintenance. And when combined with nutrients like calcium, copper, and zinc, manganese supports bone mineral density.
This is especially important for older adults, as research has revealed that around 50% of postmenopausal women and 25% of men over 50 are likely to suffer a bone break related to osteoporosis.
This study found that women with weak bones who took a supplement with these nutrients experienced improved bone mass, and another study suggested that taking manganese with calcium, copper, and zinc may help to reduce spinal bone loss in mature women.
2. Manganese may reduce the risk of certain diseases
Manganese forms a part of the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase (SOD), which experts regard as one of the most important antioxidants in the body.
Antioxidants help to protect against free radicals (molecules that can cause damage to body cells). Research suggests that free radicals contribute to ageing, heart disease, and some forms of cancer.
Studies have also revealed that SOD is particularly effective at combating the negative effects of free radicals because it converts superoxide (one of the most dangerous free radicals) into smaller molecules that can no longer damage cells.
For example, in this study, researchers concluded that having low SOD overall antioxidant levels in the body may play a larger role in the development of heart disease than total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
3. Manganese may play a role in blood sugar regulation
Various research suggests that manganese may play a role in regulating blood sugar. In some animal species, manganese deficiency can cause a glucose intolerance similar to diabetes. However, results for human studies remain mixed.
Several studies have shown that people with diabetes have lower levels of manganese in their blood.
Part of the reason that manganese may help to stabilise blood sugar is because it’s heavily concentrated in the pancreas and involved in the production of insulin, which removes sugar from the blood.
In addition, other research has revealed that people with diabetes have lower levels of the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase (SOD), which manganese forms part of. Again, this links low levels of manganese in the blood with blood sugar problems.
However, experts are still trying to determine whether low levels of manganese contribute to the development of diabetes, or whether having diabetes causes manganese levels to drop.
4. Manganese may help to reduce inflammation
Being part of the powerful antioxidant, superoxide dismutase (SOD), manganese may reduce inflammation.
There’s evidence to suggest that manganese can help to reduce osteoarthritis pain – particularly in combination with glucosamine and chondroitin (structural components of cartilage; the tissue that cushions joints).
For example, in this study of 93 people with osteoarthritis, 52% reported improved symptoms after four and six months of taking a manganese, glucosamine, and chondroitin supplement. However, it should be noted that only minor osteoarthritis may benefit from supplementation, as those with a severe condition didn’t report the same improvements.
Another study found that men with chronic pain and degenerative joint disease who took a manganese, glucosamine, and chondroitin supplement experienced decreased inflammation, specifically in their knees.
5. Manganese may improve brain function
Manganese is needed for healthy brain function and is often used to help treat particular nervous disorders.
This is partly down to its antioxidant properties – particularly its role in the function of superoxide dismutase (SOD) – which helps to protect against free radicals that damage brain cells in the neural pathway.
Research shows that manganese can also bind to neurotransmitters and lead to faster or more efficient electrical impulses in the body, which improves overall brain function.
Note: While having enough manganese is necessary for brain functioning, it’s important to recognise that too much can have negative effects on the brain. However, without the use of supplements this is unlikely to happen.
6. Manganese is involved in the metabolism of nutrients
Manganese plays a role in a number of chemical processes in the body and activates certain enzymes that are involved in metabolism.
Studies show that manganese aids digestion and utilisation of protein and amino acids in the body, as well as the metabolism of carbohydrates and cholesterol.
7. Manganese contributes to thyroid health
As we’ve already seen, manganese supports the proper functioning of various enzymes in the body. And one of its roles is in the production of thyroxine.
Thyroxine is an essential hormone needed for the normal functioning of the thyroid gland, which helps you maintain a healthy metabolism, appetite, weight, and organ efficiency.
As a result, research has shown that manganese deficiency can sometimes cause or contribute to a hypothyroid condition, potentially leading to weight gain and/or hormone imbalances.
8. Manganese has been linked to a reduced risk of stroke
A stroke is caused by decreased blood flow to the brain, and according to the Stroke Association, 100,000 people have strokes each year in the UK.
However, research suggests that manganese could play a role in helping to prevent stroke. This is because it’s known to help enlarge veins, so they can efficiently carry blood to tissues like the brain.
As a result, having adequate levels of manganese may help to improve blood flow and decrease the risk of health conditions like stroke.
9. Manganese may help to reduce PMS symptoms
Many women experience symptoms including anxiety, mood swings, cramping, and pain at certain times of their menstrual cycle.
Some research has suggested that combinining manganese and calcium may help to improve premenstrual (PMS) symptoms.
For example, this study showed that women who had lower levels of manganese in their blood experienced more pain and mood-related symptoms during the premenstrual stage of their cycle, regardless of how much calcium they had.
10. Manganese may aid the healing process of wounds
Trace minerals like manganese are important in the healing process of wounds. This is because wound healing requires increased production of collagen – and manganese is needed to produce the amino acid, proline, which is essential for collagen formation and the healing of wounds in human skin cells.
Some research has suggested that applying manganese, calcium, and zinc to chronic wounds for 12 weeks may improve healing.
However, further studies are needed to fully determine the effectiveness of manganese on wound healing.
How much manganese do I need and what are the best food sources?
There’s no official recommended daily intake of manganese. However, most experts agree that it should be around 2.3mg per day for adult men and 1.8mg a day for adult women.
According to the NHS, since we only need small amounts of manganese, you should be able to get all the manganese you need by eating a healthy and varied diet.
For example, manganese is found in small amounts in a variety of foods, including…
- Pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, and peanuts
- Raw pineapple and pineapple juice
- Spinach, kale, and Swiss chard
- Brown rice
- Soybeans, tofu, and tempeh
- Chia seeds
- Pinto beans
- Black and green beans
- Sweet potato
- Whole wheat bread
For inspiration on how to include some of these foods in your diet, check out these 15 plant-based recipes with the benefits of manganese from One Green Planet. If you’re a meat eater, you could always add in any side of meat or fish that you fancy.
What are the symptoms of manganese deficiency and who’s at risk?
Due to its presence in a variety of different foods, manganese deficiency in the UK is rare. That being said, poor lifestyle habits, eating a nutrient-poor diet, and certain health conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, Down’s Syndrome, and osteoporosis can increase a person’s risk.
Symptoms of manganese deficiency can include bone and joint issues, skin rashes, impaired bone growth, poor glucose intolerance, and changes in mood.
However, it’s important to note that consuming excess amounts of manganese in supplement form for long periods of time can lead to toxicity and be harmful.
Therefore, if you’re concerned about your manganese intake, it’s important to speak with your GP first, as they’ll be able to advise you on whether or not supplements could be right for you.
As we move into the colder months, we all want to do what we can to boost our health; and making sure we’re fueling our body with enough essential vitamins and minerals is an important way to do this.
While only needed in small amounts, manganese is necessary for healthy body function and brings a number of health benefits – from improved brain function and bone health. And the good news is that the majority of people can get enough simply by eating a healthy, balanced diet.
For more information on other essential vitamins and minerals, head over to the diet and nutrition section of our website.
Are you aware of your manganese intake? Have you learnt anything new from this article that you’ll be taking forward? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.