Can a magnesium-rich diet reduce dementia risk?

Morgan Liotta

28/03/2023 3:55:30 PM

New research suggests there is an association between increased magnesium consumption and healthier brain ageing, with women benefitting the most.

Spinach, nuts and legumes
Increased intake of magnesium-rich foods such as leafy greens and nuts could help reduce the risk of dementia, according to new research.

Researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) have discovered that increased daily doses of magnesium may lead to a healthier brain later in life.
The findings stem from a UK-based study of more than 6000 people aged 40–73 with healthy brains, which examined the association between dietary magnesium intake and brain volumes and white matter lesions in middle- to early-old age.
Those who consumed more than 550 mg of magnesium each day were found to have a brain age approximately one year younger by the time they reach 55 years old, compared with those who had a ‘normal magnesium intake’ of around 350 mg per day. 
Not only was a higher dietary magnesium intake found to improve brain health in the general population, women in particular benefitted. Currently dementia is the leading cause of death for women in Australia.
‘Dietary magnesium intake is related to larger brain volumes and lower white matter lesions with notable sex differences,’ the study authors wrote.
Menopausal status was also found to ‘significantly modulate’ the association between magnesium trajectories and brain volumes and white matter lesions.
‘We found the neuroprotective effects of more dietary magnesium appears to benefit women more than men and more so in post-menopausal than pre-menopausal women, although this may be due to the anti-inflammatory effect of magnesium,’ lead author and ANU PhD researcher Khawlah Alateeq said.
The study participants completed an online questionnaire five times over a period of 16 months, tracking their daily magnesium intake, which was based on 200 different foods with varying portion sizes. These included mostly magnesium-rich foods such as leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.
As well as traumatic brain injury, air pollution, mental health conditions and socioeconomic status, modifiable lifestyle factors such as alcohol intake, smoking and physical activity have all been linked to dementia risk.
Ms Alateeq said the results highlight the potential benefits of a diet high in magnesium and ‘the role it plays in promoting good brain health’.
‘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,’ she said.
‘The study shows higher dietary magnesium intake may contribute to neuroprotection earlier in the ageing process and preventive effects may begin in our 40s or even earlier.’
But the researcher also underlined that people of all ages should be ‘paying closer attention’ to their magnesium intake.
Meanwhile, study co-author Dr Erin Walsh believes the research could inform the development of public health interventions aimed at promoting healthy brain ageing through dietary strategies.
‘Since there is no cure for dementia and the development of pharmacological treatments have been unsuccessful for the past 30 years, it’s been suggested that greater attention should be directed towards prevention,’ she said.
However, the authors also note that while several modifiable dementia risk factors have been identified, these currently only explain around a third of the non-genetic risk, so there is ‘a pressing need’ to research the factors contributing to the remaining unidentified risk.
And while the ANU study supports existing research that dietary magnesium intake is associated with better cognitive function and may reduce the risk of developing dementia, the authors note it is ‘unclear’ when and in what way dietary intake starts contributing to brain health.
‘Lifestyle and particularly diet are highly modifiable factors, and consequently could be promising targets for risk-reduction interventions in the population,’ they write.
‘Since dietary advice and supplementation are easily scalable, further research on the benefits of dietary magnesium needs to be conducted to provide the necessary evidence base to support possible population health interventions aimed at mitigating age-related neurodegeneration.’
With global prevalence of dementia expected to rise from 57.4 million in 2019 to 152.8 million in 2050, the research highlights that ongoing research in prevention and risk factors is critical.
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