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Magnesium’s role in the immune defense and in cancer prevention

Magnesium’s role in the immune defense and in cancer preventionMagnesium is required for a well-functioning immune defense and for controlling inflammatory processes that are vital to our health. Magnesium also appears to protect against COVID-19 and other infections and the development of cancer, according to a review article published in Journal of Health, Population, and Nutrition. Our modern, refined diet, stress, ageing, stimulant abuse, and different types of medicine also contribute to the widespread problems with magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium’s importance for bones, muscles, digestion, blood pressure, and the nervous system is well established. The nutrient is involved in over 300 different enzyme processes, and there is increasing focus on this vital mineral and its importance for human health. In the new review article, a team of scientists looked closer at magnesium’s role in the immune defense and how it regulates different inflammatory processes. It is important for the immune system to be a able to launch acute inflammation in situations where we have infections or tissue damage. However, if the immune defense is weak or programmed incorrectly, the inflammation may persist and become chronic, and chronic inflammation is the common thread in many different diseases, including cancer.
By searching medical databases such as MEDLINE, PubMed, EMBASE, and Web of Science, the scientists found different studies of magnesium and its role in connection with infections, inflammation, and cancer.

Magnesium’s vital mechanisms in the immune defense and in cancer prevention

Our immune defense consists of many different proteins and white blood cells that are specialized in attacking germs and protecting our cells. Magnesium is involved in many of these protective mechanisms. The nutrient supports our innate immune defense that is designed to tackle germs and viruses without us noticing it. It also supports the so-called macrophages that trigger inflammatory processes and communicate with our adaptive immune defense. Magnesium helps us produce specialized T helper cells that serve as “immune officers” by mobilizing the killer T cells. T cells are responsible for attacking virus-infected cells and abnormal cells. Magnesium also helps us make B cells and convert them into plasma cells that form a variety of antibodies.
Magnesium generally contributes to regulate different inflammatory processes through the formation of cytokines and antibodies. This function is crucial because COVID-19 infections, influenza, etc. can become complicated and potentially life-threatening if cytokine storm and hyperinflammation suddenly occur and start damaging tissues and organs.
Apparently, killer T cells are only able to attack abnormal cells (e.g., cancer cells) if there is enough magnesium in the affected tissue. What happens, technically speaking, is that magnesium binds to the LFA-1 protein on the surface of the killer T cells. This is a vital step to ensure that the killer T cells can attach to infected cells and cancer cells. Next, the killer T cells launch chemical warfare using cell toxins that dissolve the target cells or trigger apoptosis (programmed self-destruction). Magnesium is also needed to help the body activate vitamin D, which boosts the immune defense and controls inflammatory processes by means of other processes.
Magnesium is also important for the body’s calcium distribution, and it helps maintain a very limited concentration of calcium ions in all the soft tissues. If cells in the soft tissues are flooded by calcium ions, the cells become stressed.
Studies show that chronic magnesium deficiency impairs immune resistance and leads to chronic inflammation and oxidative stress, where harmful free radicals outnumber the protective antioxidants, causing cell damage and a risk of chronic disease.
Several studies have linked magnesium deficiency to several cancer types. Magnesium deficiency may also cause infections to become complicated. Furthermore, having too little magnesium can impair the activity of T cells and B cells’ synthesis of IgG antibodies. This can shrink the thymus, the gland where T cells mature, and cause other disruptions, including excessive amounts of IgE antibodies and histamine, which are involved in asthma and other allergic reactions.
As shown, magnesium is essential for optimal immune functions and regulation of inflammatory processes. Lack of magnesium can lead to various dysfunctions, including an increased risk of acute infections, chronic inflammation, cancer, and other chronic diseases.
A balanced diet with fresh and healthy ingredients normally provides sufficient amounts of magnesium. If the diet is not optimal, a supplement can be useful. The same is the case if a person has nutrient malabsorption or a lifestyle that calls for higher magnesium intake.

Magnesium sources and things that cause deficiency

We primarily get magnesium from chlorophyll-rich leafy greens, wholegrains, almonds, nuts, kernels, and legumes. Dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, fruit, meat, and fish all provide moderate quantities of magnesium, while dairy products contain very little.
Modern farming methods that involve the use of fertilizers and pesticides prevent plants from absorbing optimal amounts of magnesium from the soil. Also, food refinement can leach out around 85 percent of the magnesium content in food. Overcooking also removes magnesium,
and stress, intense physical training, ageing, substance abuse, diuretics, antacids, and birth control pills deplete the body’s magnesium status. If you take a magnesium supplement, always make sure to choose high-quality organic magnesium with good bioavailability. Remember that magnesium oxide, a magnesium form that is found in many supplements, has poor absorption, and it has a laxative effect.

  • Magnesium is absorbed by the small intestine. The kidneys regulate magnesium levels in the blood to some degree.
  • Nearly all magnesium is found inside our cells (intracellular). Here, it helps regulate hundreds of different enzymatic processes.
  • Lack of magnesium increases the risk of infections, chronic inflammation, and several cancer forms.


Sumel Ashique et al. A narrative review on the role of magnesium in immune regulation, inflammation, infectious diseases, and cancer. Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition. 2023

Jonas Lötscher et al. Magnesium sensing via LFA-1 regulates CD8+T cell effector function. Cell, 19 January 2022

University of Basel. Magnesium is essential for the Immune System - Important in the Fight against Cancer. January 20, 2022

Megan Ware. Why do we need magnesium? Medical News Today. 2020

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