Magnesium For Brain Health: Why Magnesium is Crucial

Magnesium For Brain Health: Why Magnesium is Crucial

As scientists, medical practitioners, biohackers, and health conscious creators we are deeply passionate about the latest studies and techniques to help optimize the quality of your life. When we find research that excites us we love sharing it with you. Check out this 2023 study showing how dietary magnesium is related to larger brain volumes and fewer white matter lesions as we age.

Magnesium Intake Is Associated with Larger Brain Volumes

As we age, the brain gradually loses volume due to structural changes in both gray and white matter. This natural process of brain atrophy can contribute to age-related cognitive decline. Strategies that help to preserve optimal brain volume can therefore help to maintain healthy cognitive function as we age.* Aiming to find an intervention that may help to mitigate brain aging, a recent study examined the association between dietary magnesium intake of 6001 cognitively healthy participants aged 40 to 73 and age-related structural changes in their brains. 

The study estimated the total amount of magnesium participants consumed in their diet, from both foods and supplements, over a 16-month period. At the end of this period, participants underwent an MRI scan to assess brain volumes, specifically of gray matter, white matter, and the hippocampus, as well as white matter lesions. These measurements were then correlated with magnesium intake. 

Results indicated that, in general, higher dietary magnesium intake was associated with larger brain volumes, particularly in gray matter and the hippocampus, and with fewer white matter lesions. Compared to a magnesium intake of 350 mg/day, an intake above ~550 mg/day indicated the ability to sustain brain volume corresponding to about 1 year of typical aging for the study population, which had an average age of 55. When extrapolated to the general population, the authors estimated that a 41% increase in magnesium intake may help to maintain healthy brain volume and cognition.*

Results indicated that, in general, higher dietary magnesium intake was associated with larger brain volumes, particularly in gray matter and the hippocampus.

Interestingly, although both men and women benefited from higher magnesium intake, post-menopausal women seemed to benefit a bit more from higher magnesium intake, although the reason why was unclear.

The main takeaway from this study is that higher dietary magnesium intake, either from food sources or from supplements, may contribute to the preservation of brain health and cognitive function as we age, with these benefits being noticeable even in early middle age. This reinforces the importance of magnesium as a crucial brain longevity nutrient. 

What is Magnesium? 

Magnesium (Mg2+) is an essential mineral with preeminent functions in human physiology. It is one of the most abundant ions in the human body. Around 50–60% of the total body magnesium content is stored in bone bound to hydroxyapatite crystals that form its mineralized matrix. The rest is stored within cells; only less than 1% of the body’s magnesium is found outside cells or bone [1]. 

Magnesium is critical to the function of every organ in the human body and is involved in most, if not all, major biochemical and metabolic processes within cells. Magnesium is a cofactor for over 600 enzymes and acts as an activator of an additional 200 enzymes. Most intracellular magnesium is bound to ATP, nucleic acids, and ribosomes (cellular organelles responsible for making proteins) [2].

Magnesium is critical to the function of every organ in the human body and is involved in most, if not all, major biochemical and metabolic processes within cells.

One of the many important cellular roles of magnesium is the maintenance of genomic stability. Magnesium has key functions in enzymatic reactions that catalyze the synthesis of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) and proteins. Magnesium is necessary for the activity of DNA and RNA polymerases, which are the enzymes that build DNA and RNA molecules. It is also necessary for the activity of enzymes involved in DNA repair, DNA replication, RNA transcription, amino acid synthesis, and protein formation. Magnesium also binds to the nucleotide chains that form DNA and RNA and stabilizes their structure. Because of its role in DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis and function, magnesium is an essential factor for cell division and growth [2].

Magnesium is also the unsung hero of cell energy metabolism. Magnesium is required for the activity of all enzymes that use and many that synthesize ATP, the cell energy molecule that powers cellular activities. This means that magnesium is an important regulator of many enzymes involved in cell energy pathways, particularly in glycolysis, which oxidizes glucose to generate ATP, and in the production of NAD+, a core molecule of cellular energy and health (which is why we included magnesium in Qualia NAD+). Importantly, ATP itself must bind to a magnesium ion to be biologically active. Consequently, magnesium availability is paramount for the efficiency of cellular energy generation and for the viability of all cellular activities that require ATP [2]. 

Among its many functions in the human body, magnesium plays an important role in skeletal and cardiac muscle metabolism and contraction, promotes bone formation, has vasodilator and bronchodilator effects, supports lung function, influences immune responses, supports gastrointestinal function and the microbiota-gut-brain axis (which is why magnesium is included in Qualia Synbiotic) and, as you’ll see, has a crucial role in brain function [1,2]. 

Why Magnesium is Important For Brain Health

In the brain, like in all other organs, magnesium is involved in all biochemical and metabolic pathways essential for cellular energy metabolism and growth. In addition, magnesium is also fundamental for neurotransmitter synthesis, neuronal signal transmission, neuroplasticity, and neuroprotection, all of which are essential for brain health and cognitive function [4].

Magnesium’s function in metabolism and cell energy generation is in itself an absolutely essential role because the brain has massive energy requirements, being responsible for 20% of our daily energy expenditure [3]. Brain function is energetically demanding even at the basal level, but if you add active mental work requiring alertness, focus, holding and manipulating information, learning, reasoning, and decision-making, it drains energy. To meet these needs, the brain must be very apt at generating and using ATP to power brain activity, and that requires magnesium. If brain magnesium levels are insufficient, you may experience feelings of low mental energy, distraction, difficulty concentrating, and lack of motivation. This is what is known as brain fog, a sign that something is interfering with your mental performance.

Magnesium’s function in metabolism and cell energy generation is in itself an absolutely essential role because the brain has massive energy requirements, being responsible for 20% of our daily energy expenditure.

Magnesium is a cofactor for enzymes that synthesize several neurotransmitters and neurohormones, such as dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin. It is also an important regulator of neurotransmitter signaling, namely GABA and glutamate signaling, the main inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters, respectively. Magnesium is an agonist of the GABAA receptor, which is involved in mood and sleep regulation [5,6]. Magnesium is also a modulator of the glutamate NMDA receptor [7], whose fine-tuned action is essential for synaptic transmission and neuronal plasticity and plays a key role in learning and memory [8]. Magnesium also supports brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels, which also promotes brain plasticity and is essential for learning, memory, and mood regulation [4,9]. These actions were part of the reason why we included magnesium in Qualia Resilience and Qualia Night.

Magnesium is a cofactor for enzymes that synthesize several neurotransmitters and neurohormones, such as dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin

Magnesium also has several neuroprotective functions. The modulation of the NMDA receptor by magnesium helps to prevent an excessive activation that can be toxic to neurons [2,10]. Overactivation of the NMDA receptor results in an excessive influx of calcium into neurons that may lead to the production of toxic reactive oxygen species (ROS) and eventually to neuronal cell death; this process is known as excitotoxicity [11]. Magnesium also contributes to maintaining adequate calcium levels in neurons by regulating calcium channel activity [4]. 

In addition, magnesium supports the integrity and function of the blood–brain barrier (BBB) [12], which protects the brain against toxins and other damaging molecules and controls the flow of molecules between the blood and the central nervous system. Magnesium is also required for the proper functioning of an enzyme involved in the synthesis of the antioxidant glutathione and helps to regulate the levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) responsible for oxidative stress [1]. Furthermore, magnesium blocks the mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis and helps to promote neuronal survival [10]. Therefore, magnesium is essential for maintaining healthy neurological function.

On account of its neuroprotective and neurotransmitter regulator functions and all the cellular processes that depend on magnesium, maintaining adequate brain levels of magnesium is also essential for maintaining cognitive health. This is important throughout life, but particularly relevant as we age. Aging is associated with a magnesium deficit [1,13] and brain magnesium levels are significantly reduced in age-­associated neurological dysfunctions [14]. 

In humans, clinical trials that studied the role of magnesium in cognitive health have indicated that people consuming diets rich in magnesium may have a reduced risk of cognitive decline [15,16]. The study we described above adds to the evidence of the beneficial role of magnesium in cognitive aging by showing that higher dietary magnesium intake was associated with larger brain volumes in gray matter and the hippocampus, which are essential for cognitive health [17]. 

Sources of Magnesium

Magnesium is widely distributed in plant and animal foods. In plants, magnesium is part of the structure of chlorophyll, the green pigment that absorbs energy from light. Therefore, leafy green vegetables are rich sources of magnesium. Other good vegetable sources include nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. Foods containing dietary fiber are generally high in magnesium [18]. 

However, because the soil used for conventional agriculture is becoming increasingly depleted of essential minerals and other micronutrients [19], these foods may not always provide the expected amount of nutrients. It has been found that conventional crops may have around 30% less magnesium than organic crops [20]. Furthermore, it is estimated that around 80% of magnesium is lost during food processing [21]. As a result, many people have insufficient physiological levels of magnesium [22]. This may go unnoticed because mild magnesium deficits are generally asymptomatic. But a consistently poor dietary intake of magnesium has pernicious effects as low magnesium levels can alter myriad biochemical pathways and slowly lead to a wide range of dysfunctions. 

The United States Food and Nutrition Board recommends a daily intake of 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women [18]. Excessive magnesium intake from foods has no associated health risks in healthy individuals because the kidneys readily eliminate it. However, excess magnesium supplemental magnesium may cause gastrointestinal side effects. Therefore, the recommended upper intake level for supplemental magnesium is 350 mg/day [18]. 

Magnesium is a key mineral in the body and is vital for the functioning of all living cells. It’s used in more than 300 enzymes. Magnesium is needed to make some neurotransmitters used in the brain (and the gut) and is essential for mitochondrial performance (about 1/3rd of intracellular magnesium is inside mitochondria). 

Why is magnesium in Qualia NAD+? Qualia NAD+ includes magnesium, because making NAD+, and a youthful flux through the NAD+ metabolome is utterly reliant on ATP, and ATP is reliant on magnesium for its activity. The Recommended Dietary Allowances for magnesium in adults varies from 310 to 420 depending upon age and gender and the majority of Americans fall short of this amount from the foods they eat. We included magnesium in Qualia NAD+ to help bridge the gap between dietary intake and the recommended intake.* Shop Qualia NAD+.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Referenced study:

Alateeq et al. Dietary magnesium intake is related to larger brain volumes and lower white matter lesions with notable sex differences. Eur J Nutr (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s00394-023-03123-x


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