[Oct. 1, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]
With the global surge in dementia numbers, the link between nutrition and cognitive health has never been more important to investigate. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)
With the global surge in dementia numbers, the link between nutrition and cognitive health has never been more important to investigate. Recent studies have placed focus on how vitamins and minerals shape our brain's performance. Now, groundbreaking research suggests that our daily intake of magnesium might play a pivotal role in promoting brain health and reducing the risk of dementia.
Published in the esteemed European Journal of Nutrition, this research relied on data derived from the UK Biobank.
Over 6,000 participants, all cognitively healthy and aged between 40 and 73, formed the study's basis. The team used a 24-hour recall questionnaire, administered five times over a 16-month period, to estimate the daily magnesium intake of each participant.
Dr. Erin Walsh. (CREDIT: Jamie Kidston, ANU)
The results were illuminating: individuals who consumed over 550 milligrams of magnesium daily appeared to have a "brain age" nearly one year younger by the time they turned 55, as opposed to those who consumed the average magnesium dose of around 350 mg daily.
Khawlah Alateeq, Ph.D., from the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, the study's lead author, emphasized the significance of these findings in a recent press release: “Our study shows a 41% increase in magnesium intake could lead to less age-related brain shrinkage, which is associated with better cognitive function and a decreased risk or delayed onset of dementia in later life.”
Further, Alateeq pointed out the potentially early preventative effects of magnesium on brain health: “This means people of all ages should be paying closer attention to their magnesium intake.”
Interestingly, the study also indicated that the brain-protective benefits of increased dietary magnesium were more pronounced in women—especially those post-menopause—than in men. Alateeq theorizes that this might be attributed to magnesium's anti-inflammatory properties.
The Vital Role of Magnesium in Our Diet
But what exactly is magnesium, and why is it crucial for our brain's health?
Dietary Mg intake trajectories in men and women corresponding to different subgroups of individuals identified by latent class analysis. Note: “Time” is the number of waves across 16 months. (CREDIT: European Journal of Nutrition)
Melissa Prest, D.C.N., R.D.N., a prominent national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, explains that magnesium, found abundantly in nuts, seeds, dairy, and leafy greens, plays a critical role in maintaining our body tissues. This includes the essential task of nerve signaling in the brain and preserving the blood-brain barrier's integrity.
A deficiency in magnesium is not something to be taken lightly. As Prest elucidates, low magnesium levels have previously been associated with a heightened risk of brain inflammation and the onset of diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis.
Bar graph of the associations (beta values) between dietary magnesium (Mg) trajectories and a the brain volumes including gray matter, white matter, left hippocampus, right hippocampus, and white matter lesions; and b blood pressure (BP) including mean arterial pressure (MAP), systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP), pulse pressure (PP) stratified by sex. (CREDIT: European Journal of Nutrition)
Moreover, Prest sheds light on the intricate relationship between magnesium and menopause, which might explain the gender-based differences observed in the study. “High magnesium intake in post-menopausal women correlates with reduced inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein, indicating reduced inflammation,” she says.
Optimizing Daily Magnesium Intake
Adults' magnesium needs can fluctuate based on factors such as age and biological sex, typically ranging from 310 to 420 mg/day. Prest recommends a balanced diet rich in magnesium: “A sample day could encompass cereal, milk, and a banana for breakfast; whole wheat sandwich and bean soup for lunch; almonds as a snack; and a dinner of salmon, brown rice, and broccoli, summing up to about 350 mg of magnesium.”
Magnesium rich foods. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)
However, for those unable to meet their magnesium requirements through diet alone, supplements can fill the gap. Before starting any supplement, consulting with a healthcare professional is paramount.
The Bigger Picture on Brain Health
While the potential of magnesium in brain health is promising, it's essential to understand the broader picture. As Melissa Prest asserts, a balanced diet rich in magnesium-laden foods such as whole grains and leafy vegetables can enhance brain function by combating inflammation and supplying the necessary nutrients.
Dr. Amit Sachdev, Director of the Division of Neuromuscular Medicine at Michigan State University. (CREDIT: MSU Health Care)
Nevertheless, Dr. Amit Sachdev, Director of the Division of Neuromuscular Medicine at Michigan State University, reminds us to consider the broader spectrum of factors affecting brain health. “Elements like blood sugar and alcohol have a more substantial link with brain health than magnesium. Hence, while these findings are compelling, they should be taken with a degree of caution.”
As the pursuit of knowledge around cognitive health continues, this study underscores the potential of magnesium as a nutritional ally in our fight against cognitive decline. Balancing our diet and incorporating magnesium-rich foods might just be the key to a sharper, healthier brain.
For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.
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