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What is Molybdenum Deficiency?

By P.S. Jones
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Molybdenum deficiency is very rare, and occurs when the body is lacking or cannot break down the mineral molybdenum. This is a mineral that aides in the detoxification of the liver. It also functions as cofactor in many enzymes essential to human body function. The body's molybdenum requirements are relatively low when compared to the other minerals it needs, and molybdenum deficiency does not normally occur in natural settings.

Most cases of molybdenum deficiency occur in those who were born without the enzyme required to break down the mineral, resulting in very rare recessive metabolism disorders. There has only been one well-documented case of acquired molybdenum deficiency. The patient developed rapid heart and respiratory rates, night blindness and eventually became comatose.

Molybdenum requirements are relatively low in humans. In addition, molybdenum can be easily obtained through a diet of beans, dark green leafy vegetables, and certain grains. In fact, lack of molybdenum has never been observed in a completely healthy patient. Those with the greatest risk of developing it are patients being fed intravenously. For those who suffer from molybdenum deficiency, change in diet or taking molybdenum supplements can reverse the condition.

Though the two are connected, molybdenum deficiency should not be confused with molybdenum cofactor deficiency. Molybdenum cofactor deficiency is a rare metabolic disorder in which the body lacks the xanthine dehydrogenase enzyme, the aldehyde oxidase enzyme, and the sulfite oxidase enzyme. These enzymes are all required to metabolize xanthine, a base that is changed into the uric acid needed for healthy brain function. Molybdenum cofactor deficiency can result in severe neurological symptoms including seizures and coma.

Molybdenum as a mineral has several benefits for the human body. It is essential to liver function, helping the liver filter the body’s blood. Molybdenum regulates calcium, magnesium, and copper metabolism. It also facilitates the body’s use of iron, which is necessary to normal growth and development. Molybdenum has been associated with bone growth and lowered risk of tooth decay. Some studies even link this mineral with low risk of stomach and esophagus cancer.

Too much molybdenum can be bad for the body too. Large amount of molybdenum can cause the body to use copper or alter the activity of alkaline phosphatase. Some side effects of too much molybdenum are diarrhea, anemia, and swelling of joints. While getting too much molybdenum is not good for the body, it is just as rare as molybdenum deficiency, because the body quickly excretes the mineral if it is consumed in large quantities.

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Discussion Comments

By anon268914 — On May 16, 2012

Molybdenum is my savior! After being diagnosed with three times the amount of copper that is healthy, my GP put me on x1 moly capsule a day. Copper can do disastrous things if you have an excess of it in the body. It is linked with anxiety, depression and even schizophrenia. Unfortunately, high copper is often a result of increased estrogen if a woman is taking the Pill, as it was in my case.

It was almost a miracle cure for me after years and years of anxiety and depression.

By Emilski — On Aug 23, 2011

I think it is really interesting that even though most people don't have a noticeable deficiency of molybdenum, it can still be traced to things like tooth decay and cancer.

When molybdenum finally gets transported to somewhere like the liver, what exactly does it do? My guess would be that it binds to different elements in the blood so that they can be eliminated from our bodies. I don't know for sure, though.

By titans62 — On Aug 23, 2011

@Izzy78 - I was wondering as well about what foods have the most molybdenum, and it looks like potatoes are a great source. One serving has about 6 times what we need in a day. We can consume much more that that, though, before we start to reach the level of having too much molybdenum.

Could someone tell me more about the molybdenum cofactor deficiency? How is molybdenum involved with this process? Is the element molybdenum part of the enzymes that were mentioned that are needed to break down xanthine, or does it get involved later during the uptake of the uric acid? I am not sure what the cofactor part of the deficiency means, or that might be able to help me.

By Izzy78 — On Aug 22, 2011

I just looked at my bottle of vitamins, and each tablet has 50 micrograms of molybdenum, so it really is a minor nutrient.

How much molybdenum do we usually get every day by eating beans, vegetables, and grains? Are there certain foods that are really high in molybdenum? If someone started to develop a molybdenum deficiency, what would the symptoms look like?

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