COVID-19: Lack of magnesium increases the risk of complications and death
Magnesium is involved in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body, including the activation of vitamin D that we synthesize from sun exposure or take in supplement form. For that reason, magnesium is essential for the immune defense and its ability to fight COVID-19. Moreover, low magnesium levels in the body can foreshadow complications in connection with a COVID-19 infection, according to a study that is published in Nutrients. The scientists therefore say that it is relevant to measure hospitalized patients’ magnesium levels and correct any deficiencies. Many people, especially older individuals, get too little magnesium from their diets, and several types of medicine can impair the uptake and utilization of the nutrient.
Magnesium plays a key role in the immune defense, but its role in connection with COVID-19 has remained largely unknown, especially with regard to complications and sequelae. The aim of the new study was to investigate the prognostic value of serum magnesium in patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
The study included a total of 260 patients with an average age of 65 years. The number of men and women was almost the same. Serum magnesium was measured in all patients. Afterwards, they were divided into two groups. One group had low magnesium levels (≤ 1.96 mg/dl) according to the Youden index, while the other group had a sufficient magnesium status (>1.96 mg/dl).
After adjusting for various confounders, the scientists noted that low serum magnesium in connection with COVID-19 appeared to be associated with:
- Prolonged hospitalization, compared with patients who had adequate magnesium levels (15.2 days versus 12.7 days on average)
- Increased risk of late COVID-19, especially post-traumatic stress symptoms
- Increased risk of death
The scientists found that magnesium deficiency was quite widespread among the hospitalized COVID-19 patients, and 60 percent of the critically ill patients were admitted to intensive care. Based on these observations, the scientists conclude that low serum magnesium in connection with COVID-19 may help predict the length of hospital stay, the risk of complications, and death. It is therefore relevant to measure the patients’ serum magnesium as a way of predicting complications that are related to the disease. It is also relevant to have optimal magnesium levels for prevention and successful recovery.
Magnesium’s role in health and the immune system
Most of our magnesium is found inside our cells and is involved in over 300 chemical reactions in the body. The nutrient is involved in a host of different functions such as the energy turnover, DNA synthesis, protein synthesis, muscle contraction, heart rhythm, and nerve signaling. Magnesium regulates the transport of calcium ions through the cell membranes. This function helps maintain a very low calcium concentration in the cells in soft tissues such as nerve cells, immune cells, muscle cells, etc. This is extremely important for preventing cellular stress.
In terms of the immune defense, magnesium is of vital importance to the innate immune defense that serves as storm troops, but magnesium is also important for the adaptive immune defense, including T cells, B cells, and the production of antibodies (IgG). In addition, magnesium-containing enzymes are involved in the activation of vitamin D, which we get from sun exposure, food, or supplements. Active vitamin D is vital for numerous body functions such as the immune defense and for regulating inflammatory processes.
Complicated cases of COVID-19 are characterized by unhinged inflammation, including hyperinflammation that causes damage to cells and tissue through oxidative stress. Lack of magnesium increases the risk of infections and complications caused by cellular stress and a poorly controlled immune defense. A magnesium deficiency can also affect the circulatory system and the body’s organs in complicated cases of COVID-19.
The scientists behind the new study write that low serum magnesium is a problem in many chronic diseases, typically those that affect older people, for example asthma and chronic lung diseases.
Studies have shown that low serum magnesium increases the risk of bacterial pneumonia in seniors. Because of magnesium’s important role in respiratory diseases, it made sense to look at the nutrient’s important role in preventing and treating COVID-19.
Facts about magnesium
- Magnesium is primarily found in coarse greens
- Artificial fertilizers and pesticides impair the uptake of magnesium in plants
- Food refinement, freezing, and overcooking lowers the magnesium content in food
- Excessive calcium intake and the use of antacids and diuretics can reduce the body’s uptake and utilization of magnesium.
- Stress can increase the body’s magnesium loss
- The official recommendation for magnesium intake is 375 mg/day
Anna la Carrubba et al. Prognostic Value of Magnesium in COVID-19: Findings from the Compea Study. Nutrients 2022
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