Manganese: For Plant & Human Health


Let’s start this geeky food science article with a serene photo of Greece. 

Lorenzo Gaudenzi


Greece is responsible for naming several elements on the periodic table after one of its regions, Magnesia.  Let’s go no further before we make the distinction that manganese and magnesium are very different! I have a friend who tells everyone to “eat a banana; you probably need magnesium” for nearly everything—that is a different article.  This is manganese!
Although manganese is an element, it never exists on its own in nature; it is always attached to other elements such as iron.  It’s used in making batteries and stainless steel, and is added to gasoline.   All living things—plant and animal—require it for life. This is where it gets weird: manganese is needed for life, has great power to detoxify from free radicals, and is highly poisonous too!  Let’s break that down further so you understand why you need it, how you obtain it, and the healthy limits.


Role of Manganese in Your Soil

Farmers use the term “winterkill” to talk about the devastation caused by manganese deficiency.  Winter grains such as wheat and barley have a greater likelihood of manganese deficiency.  As a result, the plants cannot efficiently utilize chlorophyll or complete photosynthesis.  It won’t be obvious to the grower without testing; by the time the effects are obvious, the plants are dead.  If you have problems in your fields or garden, get your soil tested.  Here are a few steps you can take to overcome manganese deficiency in your garden soil:

1)       It is more likely to occur in sandy soil, so be sure to use organic compost and loam in your fields.

2)      Rotate your crops and companion plant when possible. A dramatic increase in Mn levels occurred in depleted rice fields when wheat rotations were added.

3)      Use pine needles and leaf litter for mulch.  Different pine trees release different amounts of manganese and at different speeds—but any needle litter will help your cause. Remember that this will increase the pH of your soil, so plan accordingly with other supplements and with crop choice.

4)      Cover crops: along with crop rotation and needle mulching, certain cover crops are effective in protecting your plants.

5) Overuse of lime in soil can cause winter-kill (or manganese deficiency).  Check the labels of what you have been using and cease lime supplements immediately.


Manganese for Your Health

Manganese is an essential trace element required at the cellular level.  That means that it is a dietary element only need in minute quantities, but without it, you cannot be healthy.

Here are just a few of the positive & necessary effects of healthy manganese levels:

1)      It is crucial for fetal development, especially brain and motor development.

2)      Bone health: manganese and other trace elements can protect your bone health, and poor trace element levels are considered a risk factor for bone diseases (Zoflkova, 2013).

3)      Necessary for cartilage formation

4)      Important for metabolism

5)      Cellular protection

A Necessary Antioxidant

The mitochondria inside of every cell is what converts nutrients into energy.  It consumes over 90% of the oxygen found within every cell, otherwise known as ATP (Linus Paling).   With that much oxygen consumption inside of the mitrochondria, it can become overwhelmed with the gunk left over (pro-oxidants)—think of the sludge left in the bathtub after your littlest farmboy takes a bath.  Antioxidants neutralize oxidants…(drumroll)…enter Manganese. It is to your mitochondria what the Scrubbing Bubbles are to your tub ring.  Actually, the Manganese joins with a few of its friends and steps out first into the Battle of the Oxidants in the Land of Mitochondria.  It converts the oxidants to hydrogen peroxide so its friends can follow up with their blasters and further break them down into water so they flush out.  No Manganese, no front lines in the war against antioxidants on the cellular level.


Manganese Sources:

There is somewhat of an overlap between foods high in Manganese and foods high in iron but this is not a steadfast rule.  Both black-eyed peas and garbanzo beans are very high in manganese, providing nearly 40% of the recommended daily value in just a ½ cup!  Whole wheat berries and other cereals like barley also have high levels (thus, draining the soil of it and requiring crop rotation).

Manganese Sources

 THOMPSON, JANICE J.; MANORE, MELINDA, NUTRITION: AN APPLIED APPROACH, 4th,©2015. Printed and Electronically reproduced by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.


The bottom line: If you are eating a diet resplendent with whole, natural foods, if you are eating whole grains and legumes, then you have all of the manganese you need at healthy levels.  Linus Pauling Institute states that adults eating natural diets do not have overt deficiencies, but the University of Maryland cited that up to 37% of Americans do not meet the Daily Intake Requirements due to the substitution of refined grains for whole grains (University of Maryland).  Unless you have been instructed by your doctor, you should not supplement.  People on grain-free and legume-free diets may not be getting enough.   If you are on a grain-free and legume-free diet, it might be a good idea to talk to your doctor.


Manganese as Poisonous?

Large amounts are toxic to the central nervous system.  It typically starts with psychotic features since it interferes with dopamine levels, but other symptoms follow shortly.

Although manganese particles can be airborne, the greatest risk of toxicity is in drinking water.  It is typically in locations with high concentrations in water that result in neurological effects (and typically looks like Parkinson’s Disease in symptomology).  One study found that school aged children exposed to higher-than-normal concentrations in their drinking water had a significant difference in cognitive abilities, memory, and motor function (Oulhote).   The United States has a lower incidence of this than many countries, but it can be found in groundwater from areas with heavy iron content in the rocks.  Canada has a much higher instance of manganese in drinking water, and this problem has been at epidemic levels around the globe.   In a strange move, the World Health Organization retracted their official limit recommendation on Mn in drinking water, stating that their number was still too high—so now there is no global standard at all (huh?).

Although we never hear of Manganese in America, it is a major industry in other parts of the world :

Vegetarians may also consume too much Manganese.  Whereas the recommended daily intake for an adult female is only 1.8 miligrams, a vegetarian may have an intake as high as 10.9 miligrams daily (Linus Pauling).   If you consume an alternative diet that eliminates entire food categories, it is always a great idea to seek guidance from a licensed nutritionist.


There are Treatments for Manganese Overdose

This really is not a common thing in the United States.  While overdose of manganese is uncommon here, it is common in places that are heavily mined for it such as Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe.  The good news is that there are treatments available to combat the effects of overexposure.

Take care of your liver!  Manganese poisoning hits the liver hard.  Milk Thistle has long been proven for liver health, but one promising study showed milk thistle to reverse manganese liver damage in rats (Chtourou).

What You Need To Know

If you think you have either manganese toxicity or a deficiency, see your physician.

If a loved one is moving (or even visiting) overseas to an Asian or African country to live in the bush, give them a SolarBag as a housewarming (or travel) gift.

If you live in a mineral-heavy region, use a purification system for your water (such as the Berkey).

If you are on an alternative diet that eliminates all grains and legumes, talk to your doctor.  It really is that important for long term health.



Nothing in this blog constitutes medical or legal advice.  You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes.  Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.






Add These Lesser-Known Legumes to Your Healthy Pantry. (2015). Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, 32(11), 6.

Chtourou, Y., Garoui, E., Boudawara, T., & Zeghal, N. (2013). Therapeutic efficacy of silymarin from milk thistle in reducing manganese-induced hepatic damage and apoptosis in rats. Human & Experimental Toxicology, 32(1), 70-81. doi:10.1177/0960327112455674


Frisbie, S. H., Mitchell, E. J., Dustin, H., Maynard, D. M., & Sarkar, B. (2012). World Health Organization Discontinues Its Drinking-Water Guideline for Manganese. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(6), 775-778. doi:10.1289/ehp.1104693

Linus Pauling InstituteMicronutrient Research for Optimum Health. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2015, from

Oulhote, Y., Mergler, D., Barbeau, B., Bellinger, D. C., Bouffard, T., Brodeur, M., & … Bouchard, M. F. (2014). Neurobehavioral Function in School-Age Children Exposed to Manganese in Drinking Water. Environmental Health Perspectives, 122(12), 1343-1350. doi:10.1289/ehp.1307918


Schmidt, S., Pedas, P., Laursen, K., Schjoerring, J., & Husted, S. (2013). Latent manganese deficiency in barley can be diagnosed and remediated on the basis of chlorophyll a fluorescence measurements. Plant & Soil, 372(1/2), 417-429. doi:10.1007/s11104-013-1702-4

Shihua, L., Xuejun, L., Long, L., Fusuo, Z., Xiangzhong, Z., & Caixian, T. (2004). Effect of manganese spatial distribution in the soil profile on wheat growth in rice–wheat rotation. Plant & Soil, 261(1/2), 39-46.

Sidoryk-Wegrzynowicz, M., & Aschner, M. (2013). Manganese toxicity in the central nervous system: the glutamine/glutamate-γ-aminobutyric acid cycle. Journal Of Internal Medicine, 273(5), 466-477. doi:10.1111/joim.12040

University of Maryland Medical Center. Manganese. (n.d.). Retrieved February 8, 2015, from

Zofková, I., Nemcikova, P., & Matucha, P. (2013). Trace elements and bone health. Clinical Chemistry & Laboratory Medicine, 51(8), 1555-1561. doi:10.1515/cclm-2012-0868

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