Relevance of Essential Trace Elements in Nutrition and Drinking Water for Human Health and Autoimmune Disease Risk

Nutrients. 2020 Jul 13;12(7):2074. doi: 10.3390/nu12072074.


Trace elements produce double-edged effects on the lives of animals and particularly of humans. On one hand, these elements represent potentially toxic agents; on the other hand, they are essentially needed to support growth and development and confer protection against disease. Certain trace elements and metals are particularly involved in humoral and cellular immune responses, playing the roles of cofactors for essential enzymes and antioxidant molecules. The amount taken up and the accumulation in human tissues decisively control whether the exerted effects are toxic or beneficial. For these reasons, there is an urgent need to re-consider, harmonize and update current legislative regulations regarding the concentrations of trace elements in food and in drinking water. This review aims to provide information on the interrelation of certain trace elements with risk of autoimmune disease, with a particular focus on type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. In addition, an overview of the current regulations and regulatory gaps is provided in order to highlight the importance of this issue for everyday nutrition and human health.

Keywords: autoimmune diseases; autoimmunity; elements in water and food; elements legal regulation; metalloids; metals; multiple sclerosis; trace elements; type 1 diabetes; water policy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Coenzymes*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / chemically induced
  • Drinking Water / analysis*
  • Food Analysis*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular*
  • Immunity, Humoral*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / chemically induced
  • Nutrients*
  • Risk
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Trace Elements* / analysis
  • Trace Elements* / immunology
  • Trace Elements* / metabolism
  • Trace Elements* / toxicity


  • Antioxidants
  • Coenzymes
  • Drinking Water
  • Trace Elements