Diet and Brain Health

Greater Magnesium Intake May Reduce Dementia Risk

If you’ve seen someone you love suffer from dementia, you know how debilitating and heartbreaking the condition can be. Although medications and therapies can help manage the symptoms, there is no “cure.”

Still, there are things the average individual can do to reduce their risk of developing dementia, and a new study suggests that increasing eating more magnesium-rich foods may help; especially for women.

The Study

Researchers from the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health had more than 6,000 UK residents between the ages of 40 and 73 complete an online questionnaire five separate times over a 16-month period.

Using the responses provided, the scientists calculated the daily magnesium intake of the participants from 200 different foods of various portion sizes. In particular, the team focused on foods that were reach in magnesium, including nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables.

The Findings

There were some significant findings, especially among women, including:

• Participants who consumed more than 550 milligrams of magnesium daily had a brain age that was approximately one year younger by age 55 (compared to those with a “normal” magnesium intake of approximately 350 milligrams/day).

• A 41% increase in magnesium intake could lead to less age-related brain shrinkage. Decreased brain shrinkage has been associated with better cognitive function and lower risk or delayed onset of dementia later.

• The neuroprotective effect of higher dietary magnesium intake appeared to be greater in post-menopausal women than pre-menopausal women.

“The study shows higher dietary magnesium intake may contribute to neuroprotection earlier in the aging process and preventative effects may begin in our 40s or even earlier,” says lead author Khawlah Alateeq. “We also 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.”

Why Magnesium?

There are several previous findings that led researchers to study magnesium’s effect on dementia. Here are a few:

• A high cerebral magnesium level has been found to lower oxidative stress, enhance synaptic plasticity, lower systemic inflammation, and counteract other mechanisms that lead to neurodegeneration.

• People with Alzheimer’s have significantly lower plasma magnesium levels compared to controls (although plasma magnesium doesn’t accurately reflect the body’s magnesium content because it’s primarily stored in tissues, leaving only 1% in the blood).

• A large, long-term study of middle-aged adults found that the participants who had the greatest dietary magnesium intake (highest quartile) had a 37% reduced risk of developing dementia in old age compared to the lowest quartile.

• Cognitively healthy women 60 and older who had a dietary magnesium intake of more than 407 milligrams was associated with higher global cognition.

• People aged 60 and older without dementia with higher dietary magnesium intake (greater than 434 milligrams) had a lower risk of progressing from normal aging to mild cognitive impairment.

The research was published in the March 10, 2023 edition of the European Journal of Nutrition.


Wendy Burt-Thomas writes about the brain, mental health and parenting.

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