Nutrition Notes

Is There a Link Between Magnesium Status and Healthy Cognition?

Magnesium is essential for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the human body. It is a cofactor for enzymatic reactions associated with protein synthesis, metabolic health, and energy production. It is found in leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. The human body stores between 50% and 60% of magnesium in bones, and only about 1% in blood serum. Correct assessment of magnesium status may be challenging due to its high rate of storage in tissues and bones. Recent research has explored the potential connection between magnesium and healthy cognition.

The brain is the most metabolically active area of the body and is vulnerable to disruptions in cellular energy production. Magnesium is a critical cofactor for cellular energy production and the citric acid cycle. Most cellular adenosine triphosphate (ATP) exists as magnesium-ATP complexes. These complexes help transport ATP from mitochondria to the cytosol.

Evidence indicates that magnesium insufficiencies may lead to suboptimal antioxidative status and inflammation. Preclinical studies have observed increases in nitric oxide production in the presence of magnesium deficiencies. Oxidative stress and neuroinflammation have been associated with certain neurodegenerative diseases.

Research suggests that optimal nervous system function is dependent on magnesium. Magnesium helps conduct active transport between calcium and potassium and is fundamental to nerve transmission signaling and neuromuscular coordination. It also helps support the protection against excessive neuronal excitation. Insufficient magnesium levels have been connected to neuronal cell death and increases in oxidative stress.

Clinical studies indicate that magnesium may play a supportive role in the body’s response to fatigue. A pilot study reported a reduction in the perception of fatigue in individuals with breast cancer who received 400 mg or 800 mg of magnesium daily for 4 weeks. Supplementation with magnesium was also shown to help support exercise-related fatigue and muscle strength. This is believed to be due to the potential of magnesium to help increase the availability of glucose in the brain, muscles, and blood.

Lowered magnesium status has also been correlated with a higher risk of depression and certain neurodegenerative diseases. A clinical study involving 3,600 individuals observed a lower incidence of depression in patients with high serum magnesium. A study involving more than 800 individuals reported lowered magnesium cerebrospinal fluid levels in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease when compared with healthy matched controls.

Magnesium may also help support brain health and a normal response to migraine. Research indicates that individuals with migraines may secrete excessive amounts of magnesium, the downstream effects of which may lead to platelet aggregation, vasoconstriction, and the release of substance P. A systematic review evaluated randomized controlled trials involving more than 700 participants to explore the potential role of magnesium supplementation for headaches or migraines. Studies ranged between 12 and 24 weeks and involved daily supplementation between 360 mg and 600 mg of magnesium. Improvements in the Headache Impact Test-6 (HIT-6), migraine pain, intensity, and duration were reported.  A meta-analysis of five double-blind placebo-controlled studies indicated that oral magnesium may help reduce the number of migraine incidents by 22% to 43%.

While more research is needed, particularly in the clinical setting, recent research indicates that magnesium may help support cellular health and neuronal function. It may also help support antioxidative status, healthy aging, and healthy cognition.

By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT