Micro, Macro, and Chelated – The Differences among Minerals

Minerals are inorganic molecules, also called elements, which are derived from the earth. Minerals can be incorporated into living tissue (organic) but eventually return to earth in the inorganic form when excreted by the horse, or as ash once the animal is buried or cremated. Minerals are essential to the physical and mental well-being of horses and are components of all cells, including blood cells, as well as nerve, muscle, bone, teeth, hormones, and soft tissue. Many minerals are also an integral part of enzymes that catalyze biochemical reactions such as:

  • Energy production
  • Metabolism
  • Nerve transmission
  • Muscle contraction
  • Cell permeability

The various types of minerals that the horse requires in its diet can be broken down into two categories: macrominerals and microminerals. The bioavailability of these macro- and microminerals can also be enhanced by a process called chelation.

Macro versus Micro

Macrominerals, which have established daily intake requirements, are elements needed in large concentrations from the diet. The amount needed is expressed in percentage and these minerals are needed to:

  • Maintain acid-base balance
  • Maintain fluid balance
  • Enable nerve conduction
  • Assist with muscle contraction

Macrominerals include:

  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Chlorine
  • Potassium
  • Sulfur
  • Sodium
  • Magnesium

Microminerals, or trace minerals, are required in minute amounts but also must be obtained from the diet. These minerals are measured in parts per million (ppm), act as components of enzyme systems, and have numerous individual effects within the body.

Microminerals include:

  • Selenium
  • Silicon
  • Iodine
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Cobalt

Chelated Minerals

Minerals vary in how the horse absorbs and uses them. The bioavailability of minerals, or its relative availability to the animal, is determined by its interaction with other minerals or dietary components. The more bioavailable a mineral becomes, the lower the dietary concentration needs to be to meet the daily requirement.


Technology that combines the inorganic mineral with an organic molecule has become an alternative to using inorganic minerals in feeds. This process is called chelation and the organic minerals are called “chelates” or “proteinates”.

Chelation involves the attachment of the mineral to an amino acid or other organic component so the two do not disassociate in the digestive system, essentially protecting the minerals so it can be absorbed across the luminal wall of the small intestinal intact.

While chelation can increase the biolavailability of some minerals, the absorption rate of other minerals is not improved with complexing. For minerals that are better fed as a chelate, absorption is more efficient due to a neutral electrical charge.

Both calcium and magnesium are examples where chelated forms are not any better absorbed than inorganic forms, such calcium carbonate and magnesium oxide. Both are easily separated, and the calcium and magnesium ions are well absorbed.

To get the most benefit from your mineral source, organic minerals should comprise at least 25% of the total mineral supplementation.

We will discuss more about minerals and their specific functions, so be sure to check back soon!

This blog post was originally posted on Wednesday, March 28th, 2012 at Equine Nutrition and Health Services Blog. Blog article was re-posted with permission from blog owner, all rights reserved.