The above photo is not Superman’s kryptonite, though it does have magical properties. At a concentration of just 2%, the molybdenum mineral is what prevents salt water corrosion in marine grade 316 stainless steel.
You’re already familiar with iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. You know they’re dietary minerals which are classified as being essential to your health.
Now it’s time for you to learn the facts about why element number 42 on the periodic table (symbol Mo) is also important.
Is molybdenum an essential nutrient?
Yes, it is considered an “essential trace element” since mammals, including humans, need it as a cofactor for three important enzymatic processes.
Those processes are (1):
This enzyme is vital for the metabolism of purines.
All living organisms contain some purines, but it’s meat, seafood and alcohol (especially beer) which contain high amounts. Purines need to get converted to uric acid before they can leave the body via urination.
Xanthine oxidase’s purpose of breaking down purines into uric acid (and hydrogen peroxide) can be a problem for people with gout, because they produce too much uric acid. That causes side effects like severe joint pain, among others.
For gout, the remedy is not to strive for low molybdenum levels. Rather, there are medications which can reduce this specific enzyme (to slow conversion), while not affecting the other two enzymes which need this mineral.
Just a few years ago (2014) it was discovered that xanthine oxidase also plays a crucial role in cell signaling, for the myeloid cells found in your bone marrow (2).
This enzyme is for breaking down sulfur-containing amino acids (proteins).
This include the amino acids methionine, cysteine, homocysteine, and taurine.
For these particular types, the protein in meat and dairy tend to have higher ratios of them.
In fact, taurine isn’t even found in plants, but that’s okay because bodies can produce it using other aminos if and when needed. That’s why having these specific aminos in excess is less of a problem for those on a plant-based or vegan diet.
Excess sulfur-containing aminos may cause more calcium to leave the body via urination (5).
Just one serving of chicken breast, lean beef, or Parmesan cheese contains over 100% of your RDI for methionine.
Yes it’s an essential amino, but excess is probably bad for you.
If you’re eating meat and/or dairy multiple times per day, that high methionine diet might not be a good thing when it comes to cancer. A scientist at Baylor College went so far as to say (6):
“Findings to date support further investigation of dietary methionine restriction as a novel treatment strategy for advanced cancer.”
For decades now, it has been known that high methionine levels promote cancer (7) (8) (9). For that reason, you probably don’t want excess lingering around in your body. The sulfite oxidase enzyme is needed for digesting it.
This enzyme converts aldehydes to acids.
Alcohol – whether that’s beer, wine, or liquor – is probably the biggest dietary source of aldehydes for most people. Fermented foods also contain a fair amount.
Having a high aldehyde load has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis (MS), and ALS (3).
One benefit of a low or oil free diet is that you are avoiding a high aldehyde food source: fried foods. Sunflower and olive oil, among others, generate these toxic compounds when heated (4).
Conclusion? It’s probably a good idea for your body to usher their removal (by conversion to acids) as promptly as possible.
Although unproven, there has been research suggesting the possibility of molybdenum intake correlating with longevity and reduced risk of certain cancers. More speculatively, some have proposed a theory that it might be beneficial for Candida yeast infections.
We will dive into all of these topics below, but first let’s review the basics about this trace mineral.
Why am I just hearing about it?!
Given the benefits of molybdenum for 3 key enzymes, why is no one talking about this mineral?
Probably because deficiency is quite rare.
Unlike vitamins, minerals remain intact through processing and heat. For that reason, even an American who eats a processed junk food diet still obtains this from the food they eat. No matter how baked, fried, grilled, and chemically treated it may be.
Because of that and how little is actually needed, molybdenum deficiency is practically unknown among healthy individuals.
That’s why no one talks about it.
You almost will never see a supplement for sale whose label clearly reports containing it.
Plus, it doesn’t exactly roll off your tongue easily, like the word zinc or calcium does.
At first it’s challenging, but saying it is not as hard as it looks. The pronunciation is muh-lib-du-num. Four syllables is all you have to remember to say it.
Given its tiny particle size, the disulfide form is used as a dry lubricant for mechanical uses. Uses like that are what the mineral is mined for, not diet.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sets the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) at 45 micrograms per day for adults and children age 4 and above (10). Pregnant women need slightly more, 50 mcg.
How much molybdenum you need per day
|Adults and children 4 years and older||45|
|Infants through 12 months of age||3|
|Children 1 to 3 years of age||17|
|Pregnant women and breastfeeding women||50|
How much are people consuming on average? According to the World Health Organization, the average molybdenum intake in the U.S. ranges from 100 micrograms per day for women and 240 micrograms per day for men.
This is actually a nutrient where those on lower incomes tend to have higher average consumption (11).
It is worth noting that data was collected decades ago, before the trend of drinking filtered and bottled water. The same WHO report points out that within those amounts, up to 20 micrograms is coming from drinking water.
If you’re drinking purified water, it might be removed – at least in part – through reverse osmosis and other methods.
But even if you shave off 20 mcg from the average 100 that women are consuming, that still would leave 80 mcg per day, which is 175% of the RDI.
Highest food sources
Among the nearly 200,000 foods within the USDA National Nutrient database, none include data for this mineral. For that reason, we have to turn to non-government sources and cumulatively, they have only published data on a very small number of foods, relatively speaking.
Therefore, this list shouldn’t be considered as being the absolute top dietary sources of molybdenum, since values for all foods aren’t available. The good news is that the trend of the list is correct, as plants are by far the richest dietary sources and those listed below are among the best.
Since plants get their minerals from the ground, how much – or how little – they have is dependent on the soil they grow in. For that reason, it should not be assumed you’re getting the same dose listed when you eat these.
With those caveats out of the way, here are some specific measurements.
25 Molybdenum Dietary Sources
|Food||Serving Size||Molybdenum (mcg)||Amount vs. Adult RDI|
|2.||Dried peas||1 cup||147.0||327%|
|3.||Lima beans||1 cup||141.0||313%|
|4.||Kidney beans||1 cup||132.8||295%|
|5.||Black beans||1 cup||129.0||287%|
|7.||Pinto beans||1 cup||128.3||285%|
|9.||Oats (dry)||1/4 cup||28.9||64%|
|16.||Eggs||1 whole egg||8.5||19%|
|17.||Green peas||1 cup||6.9||15%|
|20.||Romaine lettuce||2 cups||5.6||13%|
|23.||Bell peppers||1 cup||4.6||10%|
|Sources: (12) (13) (14)|
Beans will be your best food source. Fruits contain only moderate amounts. Very little is found in animal-derived foods.
The National Academy of Sciences Food and Nutrition Board says that “little is known” about how well it absorbed from different food sources, other than concluding that soy has subpar absorption (15).
Even subpar is pretty good though – 58.3% bioavailability from soy.
With kale, 86.1% is absorbed. That’s more typical of what to expect, as the consensus is that molybdenum absorption averages 80% to 95% for most foods. While only a small number have been tested, none are expected to be worse than soy.
Can you overdose on molybdenum?
When coming from natural food sources, there almost no documentation in medical literature of humans overdosing on this mineral or experiencing adverse side effects from their dietary consumption.
One report from 1974 claims that consumption of 500 to 1,500 micrograms per day caused more copper to leave the body via urine. However, a controlled human study done in 2000 to test that found it wasn’t happening (16).
Despite that, you still hear people talking about the possibility of too much molybdenum causing copper deficiency. Not just because of that 1974 report, but also because the problem occurs in cattle.
Yes, cows consume a lot, since grains are potent food sources of this mineral. However the molybdenum toxicity that happens with cattle has to do with the type of stomach they have; the rumen.
In a rumen, those two minerals compete for absorption, so if they’re getting too much of one, it can cause too little of the other.
There are about 150 grazing animals on earth which have s rumen as a stomach and humans aren’t one of them. Therefore, this mechanism of how an overdose of molydenum causes copper deficiency in cows is not possible in humans (17).
Since they contain a much higher concentration than natural food sources, one should assume that molybdenum supplements could be a problem if used against the manufacturer’s dosage instructions.
As of the date of this review, there is only one entry in the entire NIH’s PubMed database about a human experiencing molybdenum poisoning from supplements.
For 18 days, a male in his late thirties had consumed a total of 13.5 mg (not mcg, but mg). That was estimated to be 300 to 800 mcg per day.
The author of the report claims he experienced acute psychosis, which subsided after beginning chelation therapy. One year later, the patient was reportedly left with permanent side effects of the molybdenum; a learning disability, depression, and post-traumatic stress (18).
Frightening indeed, but this 1999 case report coming out of Croatia is the only one we can find. Only one doctor authored that paper. There’s no supporting evidence of this psychosis side effect seen elsewhere.
If 300 to 800 mcg per day really caused this, then why didn’t the 1974 or 2000 copper studies mentioned above – where people were consuming 500 to 1,500 mcg everyday – not report similar side effects?
There was also a controlled study where 4 healthy men were given supplementation for 24 days, with daily dosages for ranging from 22 micrograms to 1,490 micrograms and it was said (19):
“Adverse effects were not observed at any of the dietary intakes.”
Now there is research about a group of Armenians who had symptoms of gout, but they were ingesting a whopping 10,000 to 15,000 micrograms (10 to 15 mg) per day from their food (20).
In short, toxicity in humans is not well documented. Then again, it is a rare supplement which few people use. If there is a risk of adverse side effects, they may not be widely known yet.
An overdose is possible with anything, even water. Anyone using this supplement should not exceed the dosage recommended by the manufacturer and before taking it, consult their doctor.
Since toxicity data for humans is limited, the Food and Nutrition Board has set the highest safe limits based on rat studies. That means there are a lot of assumptions involved when it comes to calculating the numbers for humans. Here’s what they came up with…
Molybdenum Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)
|Age Range||Amount Per Day|
|Infants 0 to 12 months||Not possible to establish. Intake should only come from food and formula.|
|Children 1 to 3 years||300 mcg|
|Children 4 to 8 years||600 mcg|
|Children 9 to 13 years||1,100 mcg (1.1 mg)|
|Adolescents 14 to 18 years||1,700 mcg (1.7 mg)|
|Adults 19 years and older||2,000 mcg (2.0 mg/day)|
Molybdenum deficiency symptoms
When it comes to “healthy people” the Food and Nutrition Board says deficiency has never been observed.
There is a disease called inherited molybdenum cofactor deficiency. Severe neurological side effects result from it including (21):
- dying brain tissue
- inability to learn basic skills (talking, sitting, etc.)
- seizures that don’t respond to treatments
- intraocular lens dislocation (also a possible side effect of cataract surgery)
- small head side
This is an extremely rare genetic condition, with only a few dozen recorded case worldwide. It will be present from birth and typically, a seemingly healthy baby’s health will deteriorate within the first week.
As far as adults without this disease having a deficiency, there is one documented case of a person with severe Crohn’s disease who was on a total liquid diet (TPN) using a solution which was missing this mineral (22). As a result, he went into a coma and prior to that, suffered cardiac and respiratory problems.
Thankfully, that situation was reversed when they gave him a 160 mcg daily dosage of ammonium molybdate.
Potential anti-aging benefits
Deficiency is almost non-existent, but are there any health advantages for adults to consume more than the RDI amount of 50 mcg per day?
There’s no concrete proof of that, but increasing amounts of research are pointing to how important trace minerals like this one are in our diet.
A study out of China looked at the number of 90 year olds per 100,000 inhabitants. It evaluated how mineral consumption correlated with longevity (22). Here were their findings:
Negative effect (shorter lifespans)
Weak effect (unknown influence)
Positive effect (longer lifespans)
Those last 5 minerals were more plentiful in the diet of the Zhongxiang region, who “commonly have long life spans.” Their staple diet of rice, as well as the water they drink, contained higher amounts of these minerals.
There’s a study for the Jiangsu Province which said (23):
“The concentrations of available Se, B, Ni, and Mo [molybdenum] in soils of the area with the high 90-rate were markedly greater than those in the area with the low 90-rate.”
The two metals which were said to correlate negatively with longevity – copper and barium – also support the latest research regarding Alzheimer’s. Too much copper appears to be highly correlated with the disease (24) (25).
Is it just a coincidence that around the time we began using copper plumbing, this disease also went from being rare to relatively common?
To be clear, copper is an essential nutrient, but excess is bad. Aside from the neurodegenerative evidence, copper is highly oxidative. Too much copper causes oxidative stress and damage in the body (26).
Going back to that report from 1974 linking molybdenum and copper deficiency. That was disproved later, but only with one study. If it turns out that it does lower copper absorption, that may not be a bad thing, given that many of us get too much copper in our diet today due to our plumbing (27).
Even if you’re not drinking tap, you are showering in it daily and your skin absorbs it.
Dosage for candida die off?
Candida yeast are a normal part of human gut flora, but for a small percentage of the population their overgrowth can create ongoing problems and often, there is no good treatment for them (28).
For many who suffer from candidiasis, it turns into a lifelong problem where rather than being able to fix the overgrowth, they merely have to find ways to manage and minimize the side effects as much as possible.
If you look online at reviews for supplements, you will read many who claim to be using chelated molybdenum for candida management. Likewise for other forms of the metal.
As of today there is not clinical data to support this use. One naturopathic doctor out of New Zealand, Dr. Eric Bakker, reports on his website that he tried using it clinically on candida patients a few years ago and saw “no benefit at all,” though he does seem to leave the door open to the possibility.
So why do people think it might help?
When it ferments alcohol and sugars, candida yeast is believed makes acetaldehyde (an aldehyde) and having high amounts of that in your body can cause side effects. The theory out there is that because molybdenum is a cofactor in the aldehyde oxidase enzyme, it’s important to have adequate levels to ensure aldehydes are being broken down.
In short, the theory is assumptions based on assumptions.
Yes, this mineral is a cofactor in the enzyme which breaks down aldehydes. However as long as you’re not deficient in it, there’s not scientific evidence (at least as of today) which shows higher levels of the mineral will lead to even more of the aldehyde oxidase enzyme.
Even though a lot of product reviewers and forums talking about using it for this purpose, the proof is just not there. No clinical trials have been done. Among the beneficial uses of molybdenum, the candida die-off concept is probably the most speculative.
That being said, one of the most popular books about this disease, The Candida Cure, recommends chelated molybdenum.
Esophageal and stomach cancer
When the World Health Organization declared that red and processed meat causes cancer, there was a lot of controversy, but that was because people didn’t want to hear the truth about their favorite foods (29).
The correlation with gastric cancers and N-nitroso compounds (like those in meat) have been clearly documented in study after study (30).
Ammonium molybdate supplements haven’t demonstrated this, but when the mineral is added to the soil in which food grows, it is believed to decrease esophageal cancer risk (31).
The enzyme nitrate reductases in plants, which converts nitrate to nitrite, uses molybdenum as a cofactor (32). Might that explain why adding it to soil seems to help?
The Linxian Nutrition Intervention Trials Study was conducted in China during the 80’s and 90’s (33) (34).
Their rates for gastric cancers were 1,000% higher than China’s average and 10,000% versus the U.S.
In this Linxian region, the dietary molybdenum intake (and other minerals) were low due to the soil. Using extra vitamins and minerals did not improve the death rate for these cancers over a 5 year period. Though it was said “modest protective effects on worst overall diagnosis were seen in the supplemented group.”
Whether lacking mineral(s) contributed to the staggering rates of cancer is unknown, but the findings infer their importance nonetheless. They go beyond the common benefits like bone health and anemia, which seem to be about the only things that the general population associates with mineral intake.
Is Mo in your multivitamin?
If you look at the supplement facts label, you probably won’t see it.
For example, not even the Garden of Life MyKind Organics has it listed (and being a premium brand, its price is expensive). The label for their men’s version is pictured here.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not in there.
For men and women who take supplements, the median intake of molybdenum from them is 23 and 24 mcg, respectively, according to data from the 3rd National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
For those people, the U.S. government reports they’re getting around half of their RDI on average from taking supplements (35).
Being that almost no multivitamin lists this nutrient on the label, it’s impossible to know exactly how much they contain. Since consumers aren’t asking about this obscure mineral, most manufacturers aren’t bothering to measure and report the content.
Very few manufacturers offer this mineral separately. We checked with GNC and Vitamin Shoppe, not even they sell any.
If you can find them, supplemental forms for sale are typically as sodium molybdate or ammonium molybdate, according to the Physicians’ Desk Reference.
However there are companies selling other forms, such as molybdenum glycinate that the brand Seeking Health sells on Amazon. Solgar sells the mineral in a chelated form. Either should be effective if you need supplementation.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
Main Photo Credit: Alchemist-hp (talk) (www.pse-mendelejew.de) (Own work) [FAL or GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons