Molybdenum: Trace Mineral with Health Benefits

Molybdenum is one of the lesser known trace elements in human nutrition; nevertheless, it is essential for human health. According to Carl C. Pfeiffer, PhD, MD, “Life would not be possible without molybdenum.” 1 In additional to being a necessary catalyst to nitrogen fixation by plants, molybdenum is needed by all mammals and is present in all our tissues. The total body content of the mineral among individuals residing in the U.S. is less than 9 milligrams.2 Average molybdenum levels in kidney and liver peak in the second decade of life and decline slightly afterward. The mineral forms a part of four enzymes in humans that catalyze oxidation–reduction reactions, and amino acid and purine metabolism in the body.

The Importance of Molybdenum in Humans

It is necessary for molybdenum to be complexed by a cofactor in order to gain catalytic activity. The rare genetic disease known as molybdenum cofactor deficiency which results in a decrease in the enzymes sulfite oxidase, xanthine dehydrogenase, aldehyde oxidase, and mitochondrial amidoxime reducing component usually causes death within a few months of birth and has only recently been successfully medically treated.

Because whole grains are the best source of molybdenum in the human diet, deficiencies are common due to grain refinement. In addition to whole grains, foods that contain significant amounts of the mineral are lima and other beans, lentils, sunflower seeds, and liver.

Health benefits of molybdenum have yet to be fully explored. While the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is 45 micrograms (mcg) for adults, children 0-6 months need only 2 mcg per day. Nevertheless, molybdenum and several other micronutrients were found to be absent from human milk fortifiers given to small preterm infants.3 Adults receiving total parenteral nutrition are also at risk of deficiency.

Molybdenum has an ability to correct copper overload, which can occur among individuals who consume tap water in homes with copper pipes; among women who use oral contraceptives; in Wilson’s disease; and in other conditions. Excessive copper levels in the body have been linked to anxiety, hypertension, dementia, and other diseases.

The Anti-Cancer Effects of Molybdenum

Since copper is required for angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels, which is utilized in the growth of cancer), the copper-chelating molybdenum compound tetrathiomolybdate has been tested in mouse models of cancer and found to help combat the disease. Tetrathiomolybdate has also shown to be active against inflammation, which is involved in the development of cancer as well as angiogenesis.

In a study involving 40 women with breast cancer who were treated with tetrathiomolybdate, those who were copper depleted experienced a significant reduction in endothelial progenitor cells, which are essential for metastatic progression.4 The ten-month, relapse-free survival rate was 85% among study participants. The researchers involved in the study concluded that tetrathiomolybdate “may promote tumor dormancy and ultimately prevent relapse.”

Molybdenum is believed to have a protective effect against the development of cancer of the esophagus. Areas in which residents have low hair levels of the mineral have a high incidence of the disease.5 A clinical trial that examined the effects of tetrathiomolybdate in 48 patients who had been treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation for esophageal cancer found improvement in overall and disease-free survival compared to historic controls treated at the same facility with a similar regimen minus molybdenum.6 Median overall survival time for those treated with tetrathiomolybdate was 31.5 months compared to 24 months among the historic controls, and their 3 year overall survival probability was 11% higher. According to the authors, inhibition of angiogenesis, which is required for progression to clinically apparent metastatic disease, is an attractive target for adjuvants.

In research involving human T-leukemic cells, a molybdenum complex had a greater cytotoxic effect after 24 hours than the commonly used chemotherapy cisplatin.7 The treatment was found to increase apoptosis (programmed cell death) and expression of the tumor-suppressor protein p53. In another study, molybdenum trioxide nanoplates induced apoptosis in metastatic breast cancer cells.8

Research has revealed other benefits for molybdenum. A study conducted in U.S. Navy recruits suggests that the mineral may help prevent dental caries.9 In China, a greater molybdenum intake was correlated with a lower risk of ischemic heart disease and hypertensive heart disease.10

Most people rely on multinutrient formulas to supply their molybdenum needs rather than stand-alone supplements. Be sure to check the product label before purchase to make sure that it contains this essential mineral.


  1. Pfeiffer CC. Zinc and Other Micronutrients. Keats Publishing, 1978.
  2. Schroeder HA et al. J Chronic Dis. 1970 Dec;23(7):481-99.
  3. Koo Wet al. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2017 Jun 1:148607117713202.
  4. Jain S et al. Ann Oncol. 2013 Jun;24(6):1491-8.
  5. Ray SS et al. Glob J Health Sci. 2012 Jun 25;4(4):168-75.
  6. Schneider BJ et al. Invest New Drugs. 2013 Apr;31(2):435-42.
  7. ҆ebestov√° L et al. Chem Biol Interact. 2015 Dec 5;242:61-70.
  8. Anh TT et al. ACS Appl Mater Interfaces. 2014 Feb 26;6(4):2980-6.
  9. No authors listed. Nutr Rev. 1974 Apr;32(4):120-2.
  10. Guo W et al. Asia Pac J Public Health. 1992-1993;6(4):200-9.


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