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Big things in small packages

Big “Things” in Small Packages

Our metabolism is absolutely amazing, almost beyond understanding. One of the most amazing things to me is the incredible power of tiny amounts. Certain nutrients (“micronutrients”), hormones, enzymes, for example, exert a spectacular impact on health, but in incredibly small doses. It’s not easy to visualize a scale, but let’s imagine that the 225 ton Statue of Liberty – steel and copper as tall as a 15 story building – weighs one ounce. On this pretend scale, one gram could be represented by a giant bull African elephant, 1 milligram by a bowling ball, and one microgram would be the weight of a shiny nickel. Now, consider the power of these micronutrients:

    • You only need about 2.5 micrograms of vitamin B12 daily. That’s a tiny amount, but a deficiency can lead to severe disorders of the nervous system, including dementia. There are no sources of this key vitamin we can get from plants, so strict vegetarians must be certain to get an adequate amount of B12 from fortified foods. For others, beef, shrimp and salmon are good sources. Aging and possibly even the popular diabetes medication metformin may increase the risk for a deficiency of this essential vitamin.
    • The shiny bumpers of older cars and trucks may be plated with lots of chromium, but you need only trace amounts of this metal to help insulin work better as part of a substance known as “glucose tolerance factor.” We need a measly 20 to 35 micrograms per day (depending upon age and gender), but a minimum amount of chromium is essential for glucose control. Eggs, whole grains, beef, broccoli and brewer’s yeast contain chromium.
    • For most people getting the necessary daily dose of thiamine (vitamin B1) – only about 1.5 milligrams – is easy, since most grain products are fortified with this nutrient. However, some studies have hinted that diabetes may cause a thiamine deficiency, and even that this deficiency could be related to diabetic complications. While these questions are still unclear, there is no doubt that thiamine plays a key role in extracting energy from carbohydrates. You can get plenty of vitamin B1 from sunflower seeds, beans and lentils, barley and oats.
    • Zinc is another metal used for plating, but some of the 10 milligrams of zinc we need each day goes to bind molecules of insulin into a package that’s easily stored as a stable, inactive “hexamer” (6 molecules of insulin), ready for action when it’s needed. The limited activity of zinc-insulin hexamers is the key to long-acting insulin formulations many people with type 2 diabetes take by injection.

These important micronutrients are certainly powerful, but insulin is “the” powerhouse most associated with diabetes. How powerful is the hormone insulin? One gram of pure insulin (secreted by your pancreas or injected) could be sufficient to compensate for the carbohydrates in about 23,000 apples, or 720 gallons of kidney beans, or 4,300 pounds of medium-sized white potatoes.

When it comes to balance in our health, size does not always matter.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.