Molybdenum is a trace element with symbol Mo and atomic number 42 that is necessary to nearly all of the earth's life forms. Human beings are no exception, and a deficiency of molybdenum can cause health problems that include rapid heartbeat, headache, mental health problems and even coma.
Fortunately, molybdenum is found in unfiltered water, as well as a wide variety of foods, including beans, cheese, grains, leafy green vegetables, nuts and organ meats such as liver. Because the amount of molybdenum found in plant-based foods varies according to the amount of the substance in the soil, a few areas of the globe have less than optimal levels of molybdenum in locally grown food. However, molybdenum deficiency is very rare in humans. The exception is in the case of individuals who must be fed entirely through a vein for a prolonged period of time.
Molybdenum helps your body to maintain a healthy state by breaking down substances in the body, including proteins. Your body can store molybdenum for a limited time for future use, but most of the molybdenum you eat is eliminated through your urine. Although molybdenum is known to be necessary for proper health and well-being and is currently being studied for use as a treatment for a large number of medical conditions, more research must be done before it becomes an accepted medical therapy. One area that appears especially promising is the use of molybdenum in the treatment of Wilson's disease, which is a genetic disease that causes copper to build up in the body, eventually causing damage to the liver and brain. Other areas that are being explored are the treatment of inflammatory diseases and even some types of cancer. Reduced levels of molybdenum in the diet of some populations have been linked to increased rates of cancer of the esophagus and stomach.
The National Institute of Medicine has set the recommended daily allowance (RDA) at 45 micrograms a day for adults. Teenagers need 43 micrograms a day, children from nine to 13 years old need 34 micrograms a day, children from four to eight years old need 22 micrograms a day and very young children from one to four years old need 17 micrograms a day. Pregnant or lactating women need 50 micrograms per day. Most Americans meet these requirements through their diets alone. Although these amounts are sufficient to prevent molybdenum deficiency, at this time no one knows what levels are necessary for optimal health. However, there is no scientific evidence that taking more is helpful for healthy people, and too much molybdenum is known to have harmful effects.
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Although two milligrams of molybdenum a day is considered the tolerable upper intake level for adults, research is still needed before anyone can say for certain that this amount is safe. Safe levels for children, teenager and pregnant or lactating women are certainly even lower. Additionally, high levels of dietary molybdenum or workplace exposure to molybdenum has been linked to the development of gout and the worsening of symptoms for people who already have gout.
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