Magnesium and Cognitive Health
Carolyn Dean, MD, ND.
One of the top eight nutrients for protecting aging brains suggested by the Institute of Food Technologists and highlighted in its magazine, Food Technology is “magnesium”.
Unfortunately, most of the U.S. population is magnesium deficient and is not getting their Recommended Daily Allowance of this important mineral. This leaves many Americans at a greater risk for a host of serious brain related health issues including cognitive impairment, stroke with severe post-stroke complications, neurotoxin damage from vast numbers of chemicals in our air, food and water, seizure disorders, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
These conditions are the neurological equivalent of heart disease and are preventable. After all, both the heart and brain are made up of excitable tissues that give off electrical energy, and both must have magnesium to stay healthy and function properly.
Cognitive impairment is the loss of brain function including varying degrees of memory loss as we age. But this does not have to be a foregone conclusion.
A French study1 noted the risk factors of cognitive impairment and dementia in both men and women with the research involving almost 7,000 people aged 65 and older. At the beginning of the study none had dementia, though 42% had mild cognitive impairment. Over a four-year period, 6.5% of those with mild cognitive impairment developed dementia while 37% of those with mild cognitive impairment returned to normal.
Dementia Risk Factors for Women – Depression
Women who were dependent on others for daily tasks, increased their risk of developing dementia 3.5 times more than those who were independent. Depression also was a factor that affected women more than men. Women experiencing depression were 2 times as likely to progress from cognitive impairment to dementia.
Magnesium and Depression
Magnesium deficiency can produce symptoms of anxiety or depression, including muscle weakness, fatigue, eye twitches, insomnia, anorexia, apathy, apprehension, poor memory, confusion, anger, nervousness and rapid pulse. Serotonin, the “feel-good” brain chemical that is boosted by some medications which have harmful side-effects, depends on magnesium for its production and function. The body needs magnesium in order to release and bind adequate amounts of serotonin in the brain for balanced mental functioning.
Dementia Risk Factors for Men – Diabetes and Stroke
The men in the study with mild cognitive impairment were more likely to be overweight, have diabetes and/or have had a stroke. The stroke was the most significant risk factor in men, increasing the chances of dementia 3 times. Independence, social network and depression did not come up as risk factors for men.
Magnesium and Diabetes
Magnesium plays a major role in insulin resistance and diabetes. Magnesium is necessary for insulin to open cell membranes for glucose.
One 2013 study involving pre-diabetics found that most had inadequate magnesium intake. Those with the highest magnesium intake reduced their risk for blood sugar and metabolic problems by a whopping 71 percent.2
An ADA study from October 2013 3 found that higher magnesium intake reduces risk of impaired glucose and insulin metabolism and slows progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes in middle-aged Americans. Researchers stated, “Magnesium intake may be particularly beneficial in offsetting your risk of developing diabetes, if you are high risk.”
In a large Japanese study (the Hisayama Study) published in Diabetic Medicine December 2013, researchers found magnesium intake was a significant protective factor against type 2 diabetes in the general Japanese population, especially among those “with insulin resistance, low-grade inflammation and a drinking habit.”4
And in the Framingham Offspring study (2006), higher magnesium intake improved insulin sensitivity and reduced type 2 diabetes risk.5
Magnesium and Stroke
A burst or clot-blocked blood vessel in the brain is all it takes to cause a stroke. The damage destroys critical brain functions. Stroke is said to be caused by hypertension, atheriosclerosis and diabetic complications all of which are associated with low magnesium.
In a study among Taiwanese residents (17,133 cases) from 1989 through 1993 were compared with deaths from other causes (17,133 controls). It was determined that the higher the magnesium levels in the drinking water used by Taiwan residents, the lower the incidence of stroke.
Decades of research show that withdrawal of magnesium from cerebral arteries causes them to spasm, whereas elevated magnesium produces relaxation.
Animal studies show that when there is normal or elevated magnesium in the brain, the damage caused by stroke is reduced and the neurological deficit is lessened. This is because magnesium blocks calcium from flooding the cells and causing injury and cell death.
Further research indicates that the area of the brain damaged by stroke contains injured neurons that remain hyperactive for several hours after the stroke occurred. These cells are frantically struggling to survive and need even more oxygen, glucose and magnesium than normal. When these vital nutrients are deficient more damage occurs.
A study of stroke patients in New York highlights the absolute requirement of magnesium intervention in the Emergency Room. Ninety-eight patients admitted to the emergency rooms of three hospitals with a diagnosis of stroke exhibited early and significant deficits in magnesium as measured with sensitive instrumentation. The stroke patients also had high calcium levels and low magnesium levels and were experiencing cerebral vessel spasm.
Cognitive deficits in general and diseases such as dementia are often associated with reduced cerebral blood flow. Magnesium improves the blood flow in the brain and is being used to rehab the brain after stroke.
How Flexible are Your Brain Structures – Magnesium and Synaptic Plasticity
A synapse is the place where a signal passes from one nerve cell to another. Synaptic plasticity is the biological process by which specific patterns of synaptic activity result in changes in synaptic strength and is thought to contribute to learning and memory.
A new study found that synaptic plasticity8 is a key characteristic of nerve architecture that allows your brain to tolerate stress, recover from trauma, and make changes. Synaptic plasticity is based on having your brain nourished with magnesium in order to properly energize brain cells and prevent them from being inflamed, damaged and functionally impaired. Magnesium is a natural anti-inflammatory.
The health of your nerve cell membranes is vital to their plasticity and in addition to aerobic exercise which stimulates brain plasticity, the study found that the intake of magnesium above the normal dietary amount or Recommended Daily Allowance has a dramatic effect on improving multiple aspects of memory and learning. These findings applied to both young and old alike. Magnesium was found to directly improve synaptic plasticity. Various regions in the brain associated with learning and memory experienced significant improvements in synaptic function as a result of magnesium dietary supplementation.
“Our findings suggest that elevating brain magnesium content via increasing magnesium intake might be a useful new strategy to enhance cognitive abilities,” explains lead author Guosong Liu, Director of the Center for Learning and Memory at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “Moreover, half the population of industrialized countries has a magnesium deficit, which increases with aging. This may very well contribute to age-dependent memory decline; increasing magnesium intake might prevent or reduce such decline.”
In my experience the Recommended Daily Allowance of 300 mg to 400 mg is inadequate for important functions of magnesium including optimal brain function. Keep in mind, magnesium is required for 700-800 enzyme functions in the body. Over the years I have seen significant health improvement in individuals consuming an absorbable form of magnesium such as magnesium citrate powder in the 600 mg – 1,000 mg range.
Magnesium and Brain Health
Magnesium is a solution for brain health that has been widely studied and has proven remarkably effective in clinical settings.
- Alzheimer’s disease: Magnesium blocks the neuro-inflammation caused by the inappropriate deposition of calcium and other heavy metals in brain cells. Magnesium is at work even before the inflammation appears, guarding cell ion channels and not allowing heavy metals to enter.
- Magnesium protects the brain from the toxic effects of chemicals such as food additives.
- Brain dysfunction: Download a free copy of Magnesium in the Central Nervous System (2011) for an extensive overview of the beneficial effects of magnesium on the brain. https://www.adelaide.edu.au/press/titles/magnesium/
- Depression: Serotonin, which elevates mood, is dependent on magnesium. A magnesium-deficient brain is also more susceptible to allergens and foreign substances, which in some instances can cause symptoms similar to mental illness.
- Magnesium deficiency can produce symptoms of anxiety or depression, including muscle weakness, fatigue, eye twitches, insomnia, anorexia, apathy, apprehension, poor memory, confusion, anger, nervousness, and rapid pulse.
- Serotonin, the “feel-good” brain chemical that is boosted by some psychiatric medications with their dangerously harmful side-effects, depends on magnesium for its production and function.
- The body needs magnesium in order to release and bind adequate amounts of serotonin in the brain for balanced mental functioning.
- Cognitive deficits in general and diseases such as dementia are often associated with reduced cerebral blood flow. Magnesium improves the blood flow in the brain and is being used to rehab the brain after stroke.
- Risk profiles for mild cognitive impairment and progression to dementia are gender specific. S Artero, M-L Ancelin, F Portet, A Dupuy, C Berr, J-F Dartigues, C Tzourio, O Rouaud, M Poncet, F Pasquier, S Auriacombe, J Touchon, K Ritchie. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 2008;79:979-984
- Magnesium Boosts Memory and Learning Neuron. Inna Slutsky, Nashat Abumaria, Long-Jun Wu, Chao Huang, Ling Zhang, Bo Li, Xiang Zhao, Arvind Govindarajan, Ming-Gao Zhao, Min Zhuo, Susumu Tonegawa, Guosong Liu.
- “Nutrients”, September 27, 2013
- “ADA Diabetes Care”, October 2, 2013
- “Diabetic Medicine”, December 2013
- “J Am Coll Nutr”, December 2006
- J. Brent Kuzmiski, Quentin J. Pittman, Jaideep S. Bains Metaplasticity of Hypothalamic Synapses following In Vivo Challenge Neuron 2009 June, Hotchkiss Brain Institute and University of Calgary, Calgary, AB T2N 4N1, Canada.
- Magnesium Boosts Memory and Learning Neuron Inna Slutsky, Nashat Abumaria, Long-Jun Wu, Chao Huang, Ling Zhang, Bo Li, Xiang Zhao, Arvind Govindarajan, Ming-Gao Zhao, Min Zhuo, Susumu Tonegawa, Guosong Liu.