Transition metals are the elements that are part of the periodic table and include well-known metals like iron and zinc. While transition metals may be best known for industrial applications, some of them may be essential nutrients for gut health. Learn more about specific transition metals and digestive health.

What Are Transition Metals?

If it’s been a while since you took a Chemistry course, you may be asking, “what are transition metals?” Transition metals, or transition elements, are part of the periodic table and make up some of the metals that we know well such as iron, gold, silver, mercury, zinc, and chromium.

What are transition metals and where are they located on the periodic table? The metals are a group of elements that make up columns 3 through 12 and are located in the center. As you’re trying to remember what you learned in chemistry, you might be wondering how transition metals play a role in digestive health.

In this article, we will give you a brief overview of transition metals, answering your question of “what are transition metals?” and explain how some of the metals play an integral role in our the health of our digestive system.

A Quick Look At Transition Metals

If you’re still trying to find the correlation between transition metals and digestive health, we’ll cover that shortly, but it’s important to take a closer look at the specific transition metals.

One of the unique things about transition metals is that they have an incomplete inner subshell, which allows valence electrons in a shell. When this occurs, transition metals can form various oxidation states. Transition metals are part of the “d-block” on the periodic table, and there are 35 elements in this section.

While some chemists do not consider zinc, cadmium, mercury, or copernicium as a transition metal, we will include them in this article. The most commonly known transition metals include:

  • Scandium
  • Titanium
  • Vanadium
  • Chromium
  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Cobalt
  • Nickel
  • Copper
  • Zinc
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Mercury

Depending on how much you know about the elements, you may only be familiar with a few of these transition metals.

Silver and gold are well-known for jewelry and other “luxury” items, but you may also recognize manganese, iron, chromium, and zinc as an ingredient in some of your health supplements.

​Transition Metals and Your Health

Mercury and other transition metals are not safe for humans and do not play an essential role in health, but others like manganese, iron, chromium, and zinc can have a variety of health benefits (many of which are related to digestive health).

Let’s take a closer look at each one and how it may benefit you.


​Many people take zinc supplements when they feel a cold coming on and want to combat and shorten the symptoms. Not only is zinc a transition metal, but it is also found in the body, and everyone needs a small amount every day to maintain health.

Zinc is well-known for giving the immune system a boost, but it can help with hormone production, growth, and repair of skin and cells, and acts as an anti-inflammatory. If you are zinc deficient, you may experience health problems and feel fatigued.

If you have a zinc deficiency in may affect your appetite and even change how well you taste and smell. In addition to the possibility of chronic fatigue syndrome, hair loss, infertility, and a weakened immune system, the deficiency can result in digestive issues.

If you don’t get enough zinc naturally, you can experience weight gain or loss, diarrhea, and even leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut syndrome is when the gut lining is unhealthy and has cracks or holes. Partially digested food and toxins can irritate the tissues beneath it, causing inflammation and affecting the healthy gut bacteria.

When your gut bacteria is compromised, it can lead to more serious digestive problems like Crohn’s or IBS. Zinc is naturally occurring in legumes and red meat, but it’s also available as a supplement. If you suspect you have a zinc deficiency, talk with your doctor. The average adult needs 8 mg per day (for women) and 11 mg per day (for men).


Like zinc, manganese is naturally occurring in the body, but you still need to get more of the mineral from foods (and in some cases supplements) to benefit your health. Manganese is commonly found in seeds, whole grains, legumes, nuts, tea, and leafy green vegetables.

The recommended adequate intake dose of manganese is between 1.8 and 2.3 mg per day, but since it’s a heavy metal most individuals should not exceed over 11 mg per day; to ensure the correct dose for your health needs it’s best to contact your health professional.

The most common signs of a manganese deficiency include poor bone growth, skeletal defects, or impaired or slow growth overall. Some individuals with a manganese deficiency may have issues with low fertility, an impaired glucose tolerance, or an abnormal metabolism.

Manganese, whether you get it through your food or as a supplement, can improve your thyroid health, improve your brain function, reduce PMS symptoms, and improve bone health. Manganese can also help activate enzymes in metabolism, which can aid in your digestion.


Like the other minerals we’ve already discussed, chromium is essential but it’s uses as a supplement are a bit controversial. While chromium is naturally found in foods like broccoli, potatoes, and even red wine, there is not much evidence to suggest that people have chromium deficiencies.

Currently, the most popular use of chromium is in weight loss and body building supplements. While chromium may be beneficial in individuals who have Type 2 diabetes, it should be used cautiously to prevent getting too much chromium.

The recommended dosage of chromium is between 25 to 35 mcg a day depending on age and gender (children’s dosages are much lower)

Chromium has shown some success with weight loss, and if some of your digestive issues stem from being overweight, chromium supplements may be an option worth exploring. Rather than buying products that are designed as a workout formula (and contain chromium), it’s best to consult your health professional first.


If you are a healthy adult, there’s a good chance that you may not be iron deficient. An iron deficiency can be difficult to diagnose until you suffer from anemia, have fatigue,breathlessness, and heart palpitations.

Depending on your age, gender, and health needs, an iron supplement dose may be between 60 to 120mg a day. While iron is a naturally occurring mineral in many of the foods we eat on a daily basis, such as meat, nuts, and spinach, a supplement may be beneficial.

The most common benefits of iron include a healthy pregnancy, increased energy, and even improve athletic performance, but it’s also essential for your digestive health and supporting healthy gut bacteria.

Iron supplements can increase the number of gut bacteria as well as the anti-inflammatory butyrate. If you have Crohn’s disease or another malabsorptive digestive disorder, there may be a good chance that you could be at a great risk for being iron deficient.

​Some Tips For Taking Transition Metals as Supplements


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Before you go out and buy a couple bottles of iron, zinc, and manganese supplements, it’s important to make sure that the will benefit your health. Even if you suspect that you may be deficient in any of these minerals, it’s always best to visit a health professional first to get a thorough examination which includes bloodwork.

Many mineral deficiency symptoms can mimic those of other health issues, so it’s important to get a professional opinion so that you know how to treat your symptoms properly and effectively.

As we mentioned, all of the transition metals are naturally occurring in foods. Before you consider purchasing a supplement, try incorporating more foods in your diet that contain iron, chromium, manganese, and zinc. In many cases, particularly if you don’t have any health issues, dietary changes can make a difference.

If you decide to purchase a supplement, always make sure that you are buying a supplement from a top-rated seller who participates in Good Manufacturing Practices. If your supplement contains ingredients that you don’t understand or recognize, don’t take them until you know what’s in the bottle.

Always follow the dosing recommendations (or what your doctor recommends). Remember, the supplements that we discussed in this article are heavy metals and consuming too much can have adverse effects to your health.

As your treat digestive issues, consider how the supplement may affect other areas of your body and always know the possible side effects, which may include stomach upset and temporary digestive problems.