Cobalt, the forgotten mineral, found to offer anti-inflammatory and antioxidant health benefits

A study conducted by two American doctors showed that cobalt, a mineral that’s a crucial component of the batteries that power smartphones, doesn’t get credit for having two of the most important attributes that contribute to overall health: antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

“The human health-supporting properties of dietary cobalt are underappreciated,” said the paper’s authors, Dr. Michael Glade, a Hawaii-based clinical nutritionist, and Dr. Michael Meguid, professor emeritus of surgery, neuroscience, and nutrition at the Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York.

“In the eyes of regulatory agencies, dietary requirements for cobalt are considered to be determined by dietary requirements for vitamin B12. [This reflects] a complete reliance on determinations of vitamin B12 status to determine cobalt status, to the exclusion of the possibility that cobalt may play important biological roles independent of and in addition to its sequestration within vitamin B12 molecules,” Drs. Glade and Meguid noted.

According to the study, cobalt contains antioxidant and anti-inflammation properties, thus a person can relish in these benefits…if they took cobalt in small amounts.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization classified cobalt and cobalt compounds as “possibly carcinogenic.” However, the study’s authors argued that the classification was “based on extreme intakes in animal experiments” and that there existed “no evidence of human carcinogenicity of cobalt and cobalt compounds.”

“When cobalt ions are consumed in amounts greater than provided as vitamin B12, systemic antioxidant and anti-inflammatory processes are stimulated. Although CO+2 ions act through the stimulation of HO-1 degradation of heme into biliverdin and CO, the endogenous enzymatic production of CO from heme is safe,” the authors added.

Cobalt’s antioxidant activity indicates high scavenging abilities against hydroxyl free radicals and superoxyl radicals.

Other potential uses for cobalt

Recycling of an estimated 1.6 billion supply of battery metal cobalt could secure the demand for use of millions of electric vehicles, according to Brussels, Belgium-based multinational materials technology company Umicore. “There is an amazing mine of cobalt that is totally untapped,” said Umicore chief executive officer Marc Grynberg.

Car makers are wondering about how to unfold other possible sources of cobalt since it doubled in price last year. More than half of the world’s cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo before it is shipped to China for refinement and manufacture into batteries. (Related: If you buy Apple devices, you’re supporting child slave labor that’s used to mine rare elements used in manufacturing.)

“We have billions of dismissed end-of-life smartphones…that could be utilized to power millions of electric vehicles. Millions. If there is one thing that needs to be done in the first place starting now is to make sure there are mechanisms in place to motivate people to return their disused smartphones,” Grynberg said.

One of these measures could be a non-refundable deposit on the purchase of a smartphone, as only around 5-10 percent of smartphones are collected for recycling, Grynberg said.

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