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Molybdenum

Fact Sheet for Health Professionals
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Introduction

Molybdenum is an essential trace element that is naturally present in many foods and is also available as a dietary supplement. Molybdenum is a structural constituent of molybdopterin, a cofactor synthesized by the body and required for the function of four enzymes: sulfite oxidase, xanthine oxidase, aldehyde oxidase, and mitochondrial amidoxime reducing component (mARC). These enzymes metabolize sulfur-containing amino acids and heterocyclic compounds including purines and pyrimidines [1,2]. Xanthine oxidase, aldehyde oxidase, and mARC are also involved in metabolizing drugs and toxins [3-6].

Molybdenum appears to be absorbed via a passive nonmediated process, though where absorption occurs in the intestinal tract is not known [1]. Adults absorb 40% to 100% of dietary molybdenum [2,7-10]. Infants absorb almost all of the molybdenum in breast milk or formula [11,12].

The kidneys are the main regulators of molybdenum levels in the body and are responsible for its excretion [1,2]. Molybdenum, in the form of molybdopterin, is stored in the liver, kidney, adrenal glands, and bone [2,7,13].

Because molybdenum deficiency is rare [14], molybdenum status is not assessed in clinical settings. According to a small study of 30 healthy men and women, serum levels of molybdenum range from 0.28 ng/mL to 1.17 ng/mL, and their average is 0.58 ng/mL [15]. In another small study of four healthy young men, plasma levels of molybdenum reached 6.22 ng/mL with a molybdenum intake of 1,490 mcg per day for 24 days [10]. The average concentration of urinary molybdenum is 69 ng/mL, but urinary molybdenum does not reflect molybdenum status [1].

Recommended Intakes

Intake recommendations for molybdenum and other nutrients are provided in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [1]. DRI is the general term for a set of reference values used for planning and assessing nutrient intakes of healthy people. These values, which vary by age and sex, include:

  • Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): Average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%–98%) healthy individuals; often used to plan nutritionally adequate diets for individuals.
  • Adequate Intake (AI): Intake at this level is assumed to ensure nutritional adequacy; established when evidence is insufficient to develop an RDA.
  • Estimated Average Requirement (EAR): Average daily level of intake estimated to meet the requirements of 50% of healthy individuals; usually used to assess the nutrient intakes of groups of people and to plan nutritionally adequate diets for them; can also be used to assess the nutrient intakes of individuals.
  • Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL): Maximum daily intake unlikely to cause adverse health effects.

The basis for the EAR for molybdenum consists of two carefully controlled balance studies in a total of eight young men. The EAR for children and adolescents is extrapolated from adult values. Table 1 lists the current RDAs for molybdenum [1].

Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Molybdenum [1]
Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 2 mcg* 2 mcg*
7–12 months 3 mcg* 3 mcg*
1–3 years 17 mcg 17 mcg
4–8 years 22 mcg 22 mcg
9–13 years 34 mcg 34 mcg
14–18 years 43 mcg 43 mcg 50 mcg 50 mcg
19+ years 45 mcg 45 mcg 50 mcg 50 mcg
*AI, based on mean molybdenum intakes of infants fed primarily human milk.
 

Sources of Molybdenum

Food
Legumes are the richest sources of molybdenum [16]. Other foods high in molybdenum include whole grains, nuts, and beef liver [1,14,17,18].

The top sources of molybdenum in U.S. diets are legumes, cereal grains, leafy vegetables, beef liver, and milk [17]. Milk and cheese products are the main sources of molybdenum for teens and children [19].

The amount of molybdenum in food depends on the amount of molybdenum in the soil and in the water used for irrigation [1,2]. Drinking water generally contains only small amounts of molybdenum [17]. However, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 0.8% of drinking water samples had molybdenum levels above 40 mcg/L [20]. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) FoodData Central [21] does not list the molybdenum content of foods or provide lists of foods containing molybdenum. Therefore, the amount of information on molybdenum levels in foods is quite limited.

Table 2: Selected Food Sources of Molybdenum [19]
Food Micrograms
(mcg) per
serving
Percent
DV*
Black-eyed peas, boiled, ½ cup 288 384
Beef, liver, pan fried (3 ounces) 104 139
Lima beans, boiled, ½ cup 104 139
Yogurt, plain, low-fat, 1 cup 26 35
Milk, 2% milkfat, 1 cup 22 29
Potato, baked, flesh and skin, 1 medium 16 21
Cheerios cereal, ½ cup 15 20
Shredded wheat cereal, ½ cup 15 20
Banana, medium 15 20
White rice, long grain, cooked, ½ cup 13 17
Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice 12 16
Peanuts, dry roasted, 1 ounce 11 15
Chicken, light meat, roasted, 3 ounces 9 12
Egg, large, soft-boiled 9 12
Spinach, boiled, ½ cup 8 11
Beef, ground, regular, pan-fried, 3 ounces 8 11
Pecans, dry roasted, 1 ounce 8 11
Corn, sweet yellow, cooked, ½ cup 6 8
Cheese, cheddar, sharp,1 ounce 6 8
Tuna, light, canned in oil, 3 ounces 5 7
Potato, boiled without skin, ½ cup 4 5
Orange, medium 4 5
Green beans, boiled, ½ cup 3 4
Carrots, raw, ½ cup 2 3
Asparagus, boiled, ½ cup 2 3

*DV = Daily Value. Daily Values were developed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help consumers compare the nutrient contents of products within the context of a total diet. The DV for molybdenum used as the basis for the values in Table 2 is 75 mcg for adults and children age 4 years and older [22]. This DV, however, is changing to 45 mcg as the updated Nutrition and Supplement Facts labels are implemented [23]. The updated labels and DVs must appear on food products and dietary supplements beginning in January 2020, but they can be used now [24]. FDA does not require food labels to list molybdenum content unless a food has been fortified with this nutrient. Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered to be high sources of a nutrient, but foods providing lower percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet [22].

Dietary supplements
Molybdenum is available in dietary supplements containing molybdenum only, in combination with other minerals, and in multivitamin/multimineral products. Amounts range from about 50 mcg to 500 mcg. Forms of molybdenum in dietary supplements include molybdenum chloride, sodium molybdate, molybdenum glycinate, and molybdenum amino acid chelate [25]. No studies have compared the relative bioavailability of molybdenum from these different forms.

Molybdenum Intakes and Status

Most Americans appear to consume adequate amounts of molybdenum. Although national surveys no longer collect data about molybdenum intake, the FDA’s 1984 Total Diet Study estimated that average daily molybdenum intakes from foods were 109 mcg in men and 76 mcg in women [26]. According to the 1988–1994 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), molybdenum intakes from dietary supplements averaged 23 mcg/day for men and 24 mcg/day for women [27]. Intakes of molybdenum from drinking water collected from the 100 largest cities in the United States are estimated to be about 3 mcg/day based on intakes of 2 liters of water per day [28].

Molybdenum Deficiency

Molybdenum deficiency has not been reported, except in people with a genetic mutation that prevents the synthesis of molybdopterin and therefore of sulfite oxidase [14]. In this rare metabolic disorder, known as molybdenum cofactor deficiency, mutations in one of several genes prevent the biosynthesis of molybdopterin. The absence of molybdopterin impairs the function of enzymes that metabolize sulfite, leading to encephalopathy and seizures [1,14,29-31]; the neurological damage is severe and usually leads to death within days after birth [18,32].

A single reported incident of acquired molybdenum deficiency occurred in 1981 in a patient receiving total parenteral nutrition that was devoid of molybdenum. The patient developed tachycardia, tachypnea, headache, night blindness, and coma. These effects resolved with molybdenum administration [1,33].

Groups at Risk of Molybdenum Inadequacy

No known groups of people are likely to have inadequate molybdenum intakes.

Molybdenum and Health

Molybdenum is not a standard treatment for any disease or disorder.

Health Risks from Excessive Molybdenum

Acute molybdenum toxicity is rare, but it can occur with industrial mining and metalworking exposure. In healthy people, consumption of a diet high in molybdenum usually does not pose a health risk because the molybdenum is rapidly excreted in urine [1,14,18]. One study assessed the effect of high dietary intakes of molybdenum (10–15 mg/day) in an area of Armenia where the soil contains very high levels of molybdenum. The affected individuals experienced achy joints, gout-like symptoms, and abnormally high blood levels of uric acid [14].

Given the absence of human studies, the FNB established ULs for molybdenum for healthy individuals based on levels associated with impaired reproduction and fetal development in rats and mice [1].

Table 3: Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (ULs) for Molybdenum [1]
Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months None established* None established*
7–12 months None established* None established*
1–3 years 300 mcg 300 mcg
4–8 years 600 mcg 600 mcg
9–13 years 1,100 mcg 1,100 mcg
14–18 years 1,700 mcg 1,700 mcg 1,700 mcg 1,700 mcg
19+ years 2,000 mcg 2,000 mcg 2,000 mcg 2,000 mcg

* Breast milk, formula, and food should be the only sources of molybdenum for infants.

Interactions with Medications

Molybdenum has no known, clinically relevant, interactions with medications.

Molybdenum and Healthful Diets

The federal government’s 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans notes that “Nutritional needs should be met primarily from foods. … Foods in nutrient-dense forms contain essential vitamins and minerals and also dietary fiber and other naturally occurring substances that may have positive health effects. In some cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements may be useful in providing one or more nutrients that otherwise may be consumed in less-than-recommended amounts.”

For more information about building a healthy diet, refer to the Dietary Guidelines for Americansexternal link disclaimer and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate.external link disclaimer

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans describes a healthy eating pattern as one that:

  • Includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, and oils.
    Whole grains contain molybdenum.
  • Includes a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products.
    Legumes and nuts contain molybdenum.
  • Limits saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.

  • Stays within your daily calorie needs.

References

  1. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc.external link disclaimer Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2001.
  2. Eckhert CD. Trace elements. In: Ross AC, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, et al., eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 11th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014:252-3.
  3. Beedham C. Molybdenum hydroxylases as drug-metabolizing enzymes. Drug Metab Rev 1985;16:119-56. [PubMed abstract]
  4. Terao M; Romão MJ, Leimkühler S, et al. Structure and function of mammalian aldehyde oxidases. Arch Toxicol 2016;90:753-80. [PubMed abstract]
  5. Wahl B, Reichmann D, Niks D, et al. Biochemical and spectroscopic characterization of the human mitochondrial amidoxime reducing components hmARC-1 and hmARC-2 suggests the existence of a new molybdenum enzyme family in eukaryotes. J Biol Chem 2010;285:37847-59. [PubMed abstract]
  6. Ott G, Havemeyer A, Clement B. The mammalian molybdenum enzymes of mARC. J Biol Inorg Chem 2015;20:265-75. [PubMed abstract]
  7. Turnlund JR, Keyes WR, Peiffer GL. Molybdenum absorption, excretion, and retention studied with stable isotopes in young men at five intakes of dietary molybdenum. Am J Clin Nutr 1995;62:790-6. [PubMed abstract]
  8. Werner E, Giussani A, Heinrichs U, et al. 1998. Biokinetic studies in humans with stable isotopes as tracers. Part 2: Uptake of molybdenum from aqueous solutions and labelled foodstuffs. Isotopes Environ Health Stud 34(3):297-301. 10.1080/10256019808234063. [PubMed abstract]
  9. Novotny JA, Turnlund JR. Molybdenum kinetics in men differ during molybdenum depletion and repletion. J Nutr 2006;136:953-7.
  10. Novotny JA, Turnlund JR. Molybdenum intake influences molybdenum kinetics in men. J Nutr 2007;137:37-42. [PubMed abstract]
  11. Sievers E, Dorner K, Garbe-Schonberg D, et al. Molybdenum metabolism: Stable isotope studies in infancy. J Trace Elem Med Biol 2001;15:185-91. [PubMed abstract]
  12. Sievers E, Oldigs HD, Dorner K, et al. Molybdenum balance studies in premature male infants. Eur J Pediatr 2001;160):109-13. [PubMed abstract]
  13. Turnlund JR, Keyes WR, Peiffer GL, et al. Molybdenum absorption, excretion, and retention studied with stable isotopes in young men during depletion and repletion. Am J Clin Nutr 1995;61:1102-9. [PubMed abstract]
  14. Novotny JA. Molybdenum nutriture in humans.external link disclaimer J Evid Compl Alt Med 2011;163:164–8.
  15. Versieck J, Hoste J, Barbier F, et al. Determination of molybdenum in human serum by neutron activation analysis. Clin Chim Acta 1978:87:135-40. [PubMed abstract]
  16. Tsongas TA, Meglen RR, Walravens PA, et al. Molybdenum in the diet: an estimate of average daily intake in the United States. Am J Clin Nutr 1980;33:1103-7. PMID: 7369160. [PubMed abstract]
  17. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences. Environmental Toxicology Branch. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Toxicological profile for molybdenum: draft for public comment.external link disclaimer April 2017.
  18. Otten JJ, Hellwig JP, Meyers LD, eds. Institute of Medicine. Molybdenum. In: Dietary Reference Intakes: The essential guide to nutrient requirements.external link disclaimer Washington DC: National Academies Press; 2006:357-61.
  19. Hunt CD, Meacham SL. Aluminum, boron, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc: concentrations in common western foods and estimated daily intakes by infants; toddlers; and male and female adolescents, adults, and seniors in the United States. J Am Diet Assoc 2001;101:1058-60. [PubMed abstract]
  20. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 3): Data Summary, January 2017.external link disclaimer
  21. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Centralexternal link disclaimer, 2019.
  22. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Guidance for Industry: A Food Labeling Guide external link disclaimer(14. Appendix F: Calculate the Percent Daily Value for the Appropriate Nutrients). 2013.
  23. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food Labeling: Revision of the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels.external link disclaimer 2018.
  24. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Total Diet Study: Elements results summary statistics: Market baskets 2006 through 2013.external link disclaimer 2014; revised 2017.
  25. National Institutes of Health. Dietary Supplement Label Database.external link disclaimer 2018.
  26. Pennington JA, Jones JW. Molybdenum, nickel, cobalt, vanadium, and strontium in total diets. J Am Diet Assoc. 1987 Dec;87(12):1644-50. [PubMed abstract]
  27. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Health and Nutrition Examiniation Survey (NHANES) III (1988-1994). Bethesda, Md: National Center for Health Statistics; 1996.
  28. Durfor CN, Becker E. Public water supplies of the 100 largest cities in the United States.external link disclaimer U.S. Geological Survey water supply paper 1812. 1964. Washington DC. U.S. Government Printing Office.
  29. Genetics Home Reference. Molybdenum cofactor deficiency.external link disclaimer March 2014.
  30. Veldman A, Santamaria-Araujo JA, Sollazzo S, Pitt J, et al. Successful treatment of molybdenum cofactor deficiency type A with cPMP. Pediatrics 2010;125:e1249-54. [PubMed abstract]
  31. Bowhay S. Two years experience of the treatment of molybdenum cofactor deficiency.external link disclaimer Arch Dis Child. 2013; 10.1136/archdischild-2013-303935a.26.
  32. Johnson JL, Wuebbens MM, Mandell R, et al. Molybdenum cofactor biosynthesis in humans. Identification of two complementation groups of cofactor-deficient patients and preliminary characterization of a diffusible molybdopterin precursor. J Clin Invest 1989;83:897-903. [PubMed abstract]
  33. Abumrad NN, Schneider AJ, Steel D, et al. Amino acid intolerance during prolonged total parenteral nutrition reversed by molybdate therapy. Am J Clin Nutr 1981;34:2551-9. [PubMed abstract]

Disclaimer

This fact sheet by the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) provides information that should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your healthcare providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health. Any mention in this publication of a specific product or service, or recommendation from an organization or professional society, does not represent an endorsement by ODS of that product, service, or expert advice.

Updated: July 11, 2019