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10 Facts About the Most Critical Element, Molybdenum

Krista H January 16, 2019

Molybdenum isn’t exactly a trace mineral you hear about on a regular basis — but that doesn’t mean it’s not essential to your health.

Although your body technically only requires this trace mineral in small amounts, it plays a key role in critical bodily functions and processes. Working its way into your body through plants, molybdenum keeps you out of harm’s way each and every day.

Here’s what you need to know about this all-important element.

10 Facts That Will Help You Understand the Importance of Molybdenum

Just like magnesium or iron, molybdenum is an essential mineral. The following ten facts will help you better understand the role that molybdenum plays in regards to your daily life and overall well-being.

1. Without molybdenum, deadly toxins and sulfites would accumulate in your body

One of the most important roles of molybdenum is its ability to act as a critical cofactor for specific enzymes, including sulfite oxidase. This is the enzyme that breaks down sulfite, turning into useable sulfate.

Although you could technically avoid sulfites, it would be next to impossible in today’s Western culture. The FDA did make it illegal for producers and distributors to add sulfites to raw fruits and vegetables — but these compounds are still lurking in just about everything else at the grocery store. Beer and wine also naturally contain sulfites.

This means that without molybdenum, nearly all the food you consume would essentially poison you and for some, fatal allergic reactions could occur. Not only does molybdenum prevent the accumulation of sulfites in your body, but it also activates three other key enzymes, including:

  • Aldehyde oxidase — Breaks down aldehydes which can become toxic to your body, while assisting the break down of alcohol and certain drugs.
  • mARC — Standing for mitochondrial amidoxime-reducing component, this molybdenum enzyme was only recently discovered in mammals. Although its function is not completely understood, researchers believe that its function is to remove toxic byproducts of metabolism.
  • Xanthine oxidase — This enzyme converts xanthine (a type of purine) into uric acid, which dissolves in the blood where travels to the kidneys to be excreted through your urine.


2. Although you need molybdenum, too much may cause harm

It’s clear that you need molybdenum, but too much can actually be dangerous. Since molybdenum is so closely connected to sulfur, when you have extra in your system, it can actually form tetrathiomolybdate.

At this point, you would likely begin to suffer from a copper deficiency, as tetrathiomolybdate will bind to any available copper in your system. Although this would be a negative to most, there are special circumstances where tetrathiomolybdate supports the recovery of patients with Wilson’s disease. This genetic disease causes an abnormal accumulation of copper in tissues, leading to brain and liver damage.

There are also concerns regarding the correlation between molybdenum and uric acid. When your levels are too high, uric acid levels increase, causing gout-like symptoms. That is also why anyone with kidney problem or gallstones should avoid molybdenum supplements.

3. Molybdenum is stored throughout the body

Mainly found in the liver, spleen, brain, kidneys, lungs, and muscles, Molybdenum is stored in your body. However, approximately 90 percent of the molybdenum you consume through dietary sources is eliminated by the body through your urine.

4. It was first discovered back in 1778

Although the first molybdenum-containing enzyme was not discovered until the 1950s, which has influenced various studies since then, molybdenum itself was discovered in 1778. Karl Scheele, a Swedish chemist initially thought to was lead, which is why it is named after the Greek word molybdos — which means lead-like.

Then in the 1930s, it was found that cattle that consumed forage with high amounts of molybdenum became ill. Today, only four enzymes requiring molybdenum have been discovered as mentioned above. However, since mARC was discovered less than a decade ago, researchers may unlock new clues in the near future.

5. It is said that molybdenum was fundamental to the evolution of life

Scientists believe that molybdenum played a key role in the evolution of life on our planet, mainly due to its ability to convert inorganic nitrogen (i.e. ammonia) to organic nitrogen, as well as proteins, amino acids, nucleotides, and even DNA.

As stated by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere evolved over a billion years ago — and it wasn’t always rich in oxygen. As mentioned, molybdenum could have been the key limiting factor in regards to the planet we know today.

After discovering in the enzymes of ancient cyanobacteria, researchers believe that this critical element may have oxygenated the atmosphere, allowing life to form.




6. Deficiencies are rare but possible

Since humans only need small amounts of molybdenum, deficiencies are rare. However, they have been documented. The most common sign of a deficiency is when individuals display defects in uric acid production and a reduced ability to metabolize amino acids which contain sulfur.

Researchers have stated that there are populations who are at a greater risk than others, particularly those who live in areas where the soil has very low molybdenum levels. In these cases, individuals may face a greater risk of esophageal cancer.

As stated in this study, published in the Global Journal of Health Science, the researchers concluded that one’s risk of esophageal cancer correlates to low levels of molybdenum and zinc, based on hair analysts in South Africa and East Cape. It’s believed that dietary deficiencies may be the cause.

There are also two forms of sulfite oxidase deficiency which are extremely rare, including molybdenum cofactor deficiency and isolated sulfite oxidase deficiency — both of which cause neurological damage.


7. Men and women require around 45 mcg (μg – micrograms) of molybdenum per day

The average male in America consumes around 109 mcg of molybdenum per day, while women consume around 76 mcg. These amounts are well above the daily recommended amount.

Experts agree that the risk of molybdenum toxicity in humans from common food sources is extremely low. In fact, the tolerable upper intake level for adults is around 2 mg a day, which would only occur in those who do not follow supplementation guidelines.

Children require less. While those years 9-13 require around 34 mcg per day, children between the ages of 4-8 require 22 mcg, and those who are 1-3 years old require 17 mcg daily. Pregnant or breastfeeding women require closer to 50 mcg daily.


8. The amount you consume depends on the type of food, as well as the soil it was grown in

The best available sources include legumes, such as lentils, beans, and peas, as well as grains and leafy greens. Organ meat is also a good source, and molybdenum is also naturally found in water.

Legumes are such a good source due to their molybdenum needs. Requiring more of this element than other crops, such as corn or grass, legumes utilize molybdenum within their root nodules. This is based on the relationship between atmospheric nitrogen and the bacteria in which live in legume roots.

Being an essential micronutrient for plant growth, without molybdenum, plants cannot fix nitrogen from the air and soil. This means that when soil levels are low, a nitrogen deficiency occurs and poor growth results.


9. Molybdenum is abundant in tooth enamel

This element is found in human tooth enamel and is believed to play a role in the prevention of tooth decay. In one study, it was found that when cow tooth enamel was treated with molybdenum-supplemented fluoride, an increased rate of healing cavities occurred. The researchers also documented an accelerated rate of mineral repair.


10. Molybdenum may improve circulation

This element acts a key component of nitrate reductase, which is an enzyme that allows your body to break down nitrate. In turn, this fuels nitric oxide production, supporting healthy circulation. More specifically, nitric oxide dilates blood vessels, regulates cell growth, and protects blood vessels from injury.

Bottom line: Although you may have never heard of molybdenum before, it is working with your body day-in and day-out, ensuring optimal health.

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Krista H
The Ultimate Vitamin and Mineral Guide