- New research shows that a higher daily intake of magnesium-rich foods can reduce the risk of developing dementia.
- Researchers also found that the positive effects of more dietary magnesium appeared to benefit women more than men.
- Nutrition and brain health experts explain if you need to add more magnesium to your diet.
For some time now, research has shown the importance of certain vitamins and how they contribute to our brain function. And with the number of people with dementia rapidly increasing in the U.S., scientists are eager to determine what, if anything, can help lower your risk of cognitive decline. Now, one team of researchers has found that increasing your daily dose of magnesium may keep dementia at bay, and boost your overall brain health.
The study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, utilized data from the UK Biobank and analyzed more than 6,000 cognitively healthy participants in the United Kingdom aged 40 to 73. Dietary magnesium was measured using a 24-hour recall questionnaire to estimate the daily amount people ingested and recorded five times over 16 months.
Researchers found that people who consumed more than 550 milligrams of magnesium each day had a brain age that was approximately one year younger by the time they reached 55, compared to someone with a normal magnesium intake of about 350 mg a day.
“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 lower risk or delayed onset of dementia in later life,” lead author and Ph.D. researcher Khawlah Alateeq, from the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, said in a press release.
The study also showed that higher dietary magnesium intake may contribute to protecting our brains earlier in the aging process and preventative effects may begin in our 40s or even earlier, Alateeq said in the press release. “This means people of all ages should be paying closer attention to their magnesium intake.”
In addition to these findings, researchers also found that the brain-protective effects of more dietary magnesium appeared to benefit women more than men, and more so in post-menopausal than pre-menopausal women. Although, Alateeq said this effect could be due to the anti-inflammatory effect of magnesium.
What is magnesium and how does it affect our brain health?
Magnesium is a mineral commonly found in nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and dairy, says Melissa Prest, D.C.N., R.D.N., national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Magnesium is necessary for the maintenance of our body tissues including never signaling in the brain and the integrity of the blood-brain barrier.”
Magnesium deficiency has been associated with an increase in brain inflammation and with the development of diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease, explains Prest.
Additionally, there is a relationship between magnesium status, intake, and menopause that may account for some differences between men and women, says Prest. “Studies have investigated how magnesium levels differ among pre and post-menopausal women with high intake of magnesium in post-menopausal women being associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein, [as protein that indicates the level of inflammation in your body].”
How much magnesium do we need in our daily diet?
Adult needs vary by age and biological sex in a range of 310-420 mg/day, says Prest.
You can meet your needs by adding magnesium-rich foods to each meal and snack. According to Prest, a sample day, optimizing your magnesium intake, could include “cereal, milk, and a banana for breakfast, a sandwich on whole wheat bread with 1 cup of bean soup for lunch, 1 ounce of almonds for a snack, and a dinner of salmon, brown rice, and broccoli, providing around 350 mg of magnesium in total for the day.”
If your diet is deficient in magnesium and you have signs of deficiency, a magnesium supplement can be added to your day.
If you are unsure if you are getting enough magnesium in your diet, talk with a medical professional to find out if you may be magnesium-deficient and what you can do to boost your vitamin intake. Be sure to discuss these options with your doctor before adding a supplement to your everyday regimen.
The bottom line
Including magnesium-rich foods like whole grains and dark-green, leafy vegetables in your diet are beneficial for brain health no matter your age, says Prest. “Eating a healthful diet has a positive impact on your brain health by reducing [brain] inflammation and providing the right nutrients for your brain’s optimal performance.”
Healthy living leads to a healthy brain, says Amit Sachdev, M.D., director of the Division of Neuromuscular Medicine at Michigan State University. He continues to remind us that “more common aspects of health, such as blood sugar and alcohol, are much more associated with brain health than magnesium,” so take these findings with a grain of salt.
Dietary supplements are products intended to supplement the diet. They are not medicines and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure diseases. Be cautious about taking dietary supplements if you are pregnant or nursing. Also, be careful about giving supplements to a child, unless recommended by their healthcare provider.
Madeleine, Prevention’s assistant editor, has a history with health writing from her experience as an editorial assistant at WebMD, and from her personal research at university. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience—and she helps strategize for success across Prevention’s social media platforms.