Health Benefits of Molybdenum

Little-known Trace Mineral Rarely Needs Supplementation

Canned beans and lentils are a good source of molybdenum.

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Molybdenum is a trace mineral that your body uses to break down proteins and other substances. We get molybdenum from the foods we eat, the richest sources of which include peas, lentils, and other legumes. It is also found in grains, fruits, vegetables, milk, cheese, animal organs, and the water we drink.

Once ingested, molybdenum is stored mainly in the liver and kidneys. It also found in the lungs, spleen, bone, and skin. You don't need much molybdenum to aid in normal metabolism; in fact, around 90 percent of what you consume will be excreted in urine.

Because we typically consume far more than we need, molybdenum deficiency is virtually unheard of. With that being said, molybdenum supplements are available, which some alternative practitioners believe may aid in the treatment or prevention of gout, asthma, bone loss, and even certain types of cancer.

Health Benefits

Molybdenum acts as a cofactor for three groups of enzymes, meaning that it is needed for the enzymes to do their job. It is incorporated into a molecule called molybdopterin, whose role it is to enable the activity of xanthine oxidase, aldehyde oxidase, and sulfite oxidase.

In the unlikely event you have molybdenum deficiency, your body would not be able to process amino acids containing sulfur. This could trigger a condition known as sulfite sensitivity, in which you develop an asthma-like reaction to foods or beverages containing sulfites.

Many of the benefits attributed to molybdenum supplements are based on the conceit that it will enhance the body's natural enzymic function, preventing or treating such conditions as:

  • Sulfite allergy
  • Asthma
  • Gout
  • Tooth decay
  • Osteoporosis
  • Esophageal cancer

Given the high rate excretion from the body, it is unlikely that supplements can increase concentrations to levels considered therapeutic. In the end, the body can only store and utilize so much. Moreover, conditions like these may occasionally be associated with a molybdenum deficiency but are more likely to occur for other reasons.

For example, sulfite sensitivity and asthma are both triggered by an abnormal immune response. Outside of molybdenum deficiency, taking a molybdenum supplement would do nothing to alter this effect.

The same applies to gout. While molybdenum is often touted as a gout treatment, it actually breaks down purine in food and increases the amount of uric acid in the blood. High uric acid is associated with an increased, rather than decreased, risk of gout.

Similarly, while molybdeunum helps to maintain tooth enamel, there has been no evidence that supplementation can make teeth or bones stronger. In fact, the opposite may be true.

A 2016 study from the University of Michigan, which evaluated the medical records of 1,496 adults, concluded that the high intake of molybdenum actually decreased the bone mass density (BMD) in women over 50.

Meanwhile, there are some who will rightly point out that low molybdenum levels are linked to esophageal cancer. But the same would apply to deficiencies of β-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and selenium. Despite what some may tell you, supplementation with any of these vitamins or minerals has never been shown to decrease cancer risk.

While supplementation may be appropriate for people with a rare genetic disorder known as molybdenum cofactor deficiency, there have been fewer than 100 cases reported in medical literature, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Possible Side Effects

Molybdenum supplements are generally considered safe if doses do not exceed 2 milligrams (mg) per day. There is little research available evaluating the long-term safety of molybdenum supplementation.

Molybdenum supplements don't tend to cause side effects since the drug is so quickly excreted from the body. With that said, diarrhea has been reported at exceedingly high doses.

While molybdenum toxicity is rare, a Croatian man who took 13.5 mg per day for 18 straight days developed acute psychosis, seizures, and permanent brain damage, according to report in the Archives of Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology.

People with diabetes and impaired kidney function tend to have higher molybdenum concentrations due to decreased blood clearance. As such, supplementation should be avoided unless a deficiency has been diagnosed with blood tests.

The same applies to people with gout since molybdenum supplementation would only increase the risk of an attack.

Dosage and Preparation

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determines the dietary reference intake (DRI) for vitamins and minerals. These are the amounts you should consume from all sources based on your age, sex, and other factors (like pregnancy).

The DRIs for molybdenum area as follows:

  • 1 to 3 years: 0.017 mg per day
  • 4 to 8 years: 0.022 mg per day
  • 9 to 13 years: 0.034 mg per day
  • 14 to 18 years: 0.043 mg per day
  • 19 years and over: 0.045 mg per day
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding: 0.05 mg per day

If supplements are used, they are most commonly found in tablet formulations, with doses ranging from 250 micrograms (0.025 mg) to 500 micrograms (0.05 mg). Some multivitamins also contain molybdenum but not many.

Although molybdenum toxicity is unlikely, the tolerable upper limit (TUL) for adults from all sources is 2 mg per day. At this level, your body should be able to process and excrete excess molybdenum without the risk of accumulation.

What to Look For

If considering a molybdenum supplement, only choose brands that have been tested and approved by an independent certifying authority like the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, or ConsumerLab. Always speak with your doctor before starting any alternative therapy to fully understand the risks, benefits, and limitations of treatment.

Other Questions

Almost without exception, there is no reason to take a molybdenum supplement. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that Americans consume an average of 0.12 mg to 0.24 mg daily from food sources, well in excess of the DRI.

If you are concerned about nutritional deficiency, speak with your doctor. More often than not, you can get all the molybdenum you need from food sources like:

  • Peanuts: 0.02 mg per 100 grams
  • Peanut butter: 0.008 mg per 100 grams
  • Sunflower seeds: 0.003 mg per 100 grams
  • Rice and rice cereal: 0.002 mg per 100 grams
  • Legumes: 0.002 mg per 100 grams
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