Molybdenum: Benefits, Deficiency, and Function as Cofactor

Anne Kamiya, Laura Foist
  • Author
    Anne Kamiya

    Anne has experience in science research and writing. She has a graduate degree in nutrition (gut microbiome & nutritional microbiology) and undergraduate degrees in microbiology (immunology & medical microbiology) and English (myth & folklore). She has also worked as an ocean & Earth science educator.

  • Instructor
    Laura Foist

    Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

Determine how molybdenum functions and how molybdenum benefits a person. Discuss the effects and symptoms of an individual with molybdenum cofactor deficiency. Updated: 02/26/2022

Table of Contents


Molybdenum Benefits

The human body needs 13 essential vitamins and 16 essential minerals to function, repair, and grow. These nutrients can be obtained from food, supplements, or a combination of the two. The 13 essential vitamins are thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, folic acid, vitamin A, B6, B12, C, D, E, and K. The 16 essential minerals can be divided into macrominerals, required in larger amounts in the diet, and trace minerals, required in smaller amounts in the diet.

These are the macrominerals:

  • Calcium
  • Chloride
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Sulfur

These are the trace minerals:

  • Chromium
  • Copper
  • Fluoride
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Molybdenum
  • Selenium
  • Zinc

Molybdenum is an essential trace mineral that is required in small amounts for the body to function. The recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for daily molybdenum is 45 mcg for adults and 50 mcg during pregnancy and lactation. This means that 45-50 mcg is necessary for the body to meet its needs each day. Such a small amount of molybdenum is needed that deficiency does not occur except in cases of severe malnutrition or a genetic mutation (which will be discussed later in this lesson).

The daily upper limit (UL) for molybdenum is 2000 mcg a day. This means that a person can safely consume up to 2000 mcg a day of molybdenum. If more than that is consumed, blood uric acid will increase to abnormal levels and gout will occur. Consuming an excess of molybdenum does not normally happen through eating foods but can happen if the soil is contaminated with molybdenum in excess, or in certain professions like metalworking and mining, where workers are exposed to large amounts of molybdenum.

Molybdenum is found in a wide variety of foods including meat, dairy, poultry, eggs, seafood, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and grains. Molybdenum benefits health primarily as a cofactor in enzymatic reactions where it is modified into the molybdenum cofactor, or Moco for short.

Molybdenum functions include:

  • Assist in the breakdown of drugs and toxins
  • Metabolizing sulfur-containing amino acids
  • Assists in the breakdown of purines to uric acid which may function as either an antioxidant or inflammatory prooxidant, depending on the circumstance

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Molybdenum Function

But exactly what does molybdenum do in the body and why is it essential? Molybdenum functions in the body as an enzyme cofactor. Enzymes are proteins that increase the rate of chemical reactions within a biological system. Enzymes are also called biocatalysts. They increase reaction rates by lowering the activation energy that is needed for a reaction to occur. The following diagram shows how a catalyst can decrease the amount of energy needed for a reaction to occur. Without a cofactor binding to an enzyme, the enzyme is inactive and cannot function.

A diagram of what happens to a reaction when a catalyst is present. The amount of energy required for the reaction to occur without the catalyst is much higher, and therefore its rate will be lower than if the catalyst is present.

A diagram showing the energy needed for a reaction with and without a catalyst.

There are three major enzymes molybdenum acts as a cofactor to:

  • Aldehyde oxidase
  • Sulfite oxidase
  • Xanthine oxidase

Aldehyde oxidase is an enzyme involved in hydroxylation reactions and the oxidation of aldehydes and is primarily produced in the liver. Aldehydes are a byproduct of the metabolic degradation of toxins and medications, and hydroxylation frequently involves aromatic rings, aiding in their degradation. Many toxins and medications including antivirals and chemotherapeutic drugs have structures that are metabolized by aldehyde oxidase. This enzyme needs Moco to function and is primarily involved in the metabolic breakdown of toxins and drugs.

Benzaldehyde is what gives almond extract its unique smell and flavor. Although this molecule is a food flavoring and not toxic, benzaldehyde is an example of a molecule that the aldehyde oxidase would metabolically catalyze and degrade. Benzaldehyde contains an aromatic ring (left side of the molecule). The molecule is also an aldehyde (carbon + oxygen + hydrogen attached to a functional group).

Chemical structure of the benzaldehyde molecule.

Sulfite oxidase is an enzyme that turns sulfite into sulfate. This enzyme is especially important for metabolizing amino acids with sulfur, like methionine and cysteine. In order for sulfite oxidase to become active, it requires Moco as a cofactor.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the signs and symptoms of molybdenum deficiency?

Molybdenum deficiency is very rare and usually only caused by severe malnutrition or a genetic mutation. Signs of a molybdenum deficiency include neurological dysfunction, coma, seizures and intellectual disability.

How much molybdenum can you take per day?

The recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for molybdenum is 45 mcg a day for adults and 50 mcg a day during pregnancy or lactation. So 45-50 mcg a day is needed for the body to function. The upper limit for molybdenum is 2000 mcg a day. An upper limit is the maximum amount of a nutrient that can be safely consumed without causing negative health effects.

Who needs molybdenum?

Human beings need molybdenum for their enzymes to function. Molybdenum is found in a variety of foods including meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains.

What is molybdenum deficiency?

A molybdenum deficiency is rare because this trace mineral is so plentiful in food. If deficiency does occur, it is usually because of a genetic mutation that causes molybdenum to be turned into a nonfunctional cofactor that cannot activate enzymes.

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