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Healthy ageing requires plenty of magnesium

Healthy ageing requires plenty of magnesiumMagnesium is important for numerous physiological functions. In a new review article published in Nutrients, researchers have looked at the relation between the body’s magnesium levels and a variety of different ageing markers. Also, they hypothesize that optimal intake of magnesium throughout life is an easy and inexpensive way to obtain healthy ageing.

The ageing process involves biological, physiological, and mental changes, which increase the risk of acute and chronic disease. Most seniors take some sort of medicine, but the drugs usually fail to treat the underlying cause of their symptoms, and there are often serious side effects. It appears that a simple magnesium deficiency can speed up the ageing process, which is because magnesium is an essential mineral that is important for our bones, nervous system, muscles, digestion, immune defense, macronutrient metabolism, vitamin D activation, and a number of other functions.
In 2013, Lopez-Otin and a group of research colleagues defined nine ageing-related markers. Since then, more markers have been included. The new review article aimed to look closer at the relation between magnesium, the different markers, and the risk of developing different age-related diseases.

Magnesium and cellular health

Magnesium is one of the minerals that we need in the greatest quantities. Ninety-eight percent of the body’s magnesium is concentrated inside our cells, where it regulates more than 300 different enzyme processes that are important for things like energy turnover, the nervous system, muscle function, protein synthesis, and carbohydrate metabolism. Magnesium also regulates cellular uptake of calcium, and that is a highly important function. Nearly all our calcium must be embedded into our bone cells, whereas cells in soft tissues such as muscle and nerve cells hardly contain any calcium at all. If you lack magnesium and these cells are flooded by calcium, they become overstimulated and stressed, increasing the risk of disturbances in the nervous system, chronic inflammation, and cellular damage.

Ageing and widespread magnesium deficiency

Ageing is caused by cellular damage, which in turn has a negative effect on our different organs and tissues. Genes, diet, and lifestyle also play a major role, and as the number of seniors is gradually increasing, science is more and more focused on this. Ageing appears to be a process that can be halted, provided you influence the mechanisms involved in the ageing process. This is the case with chronic magnesium deficiency, which is typically a result of unhealthy diets with too much processed food, poor magnesium uptake, or increased urinary excretion of magnesium. In addition, stress and the use of diuretics, antacids, and other drugs typically used by elderly people, can inhibit the body’s uptake or utilization of magnesium. It has also been observed that older people have too little intracellular magnesium, even if the magnesium level in their serum is normal.
The widespread problem with chronic magnesium deficiency among older people is often linked to different chronic diseases and surgical treatments, so it is important that older people focus on getting enough magnesium from their diet or from supplements.

  • Magnesium sources:
    Dark, leafy greens, legumes, wholegrains, quinoa, nuts, and cocoa beans.
  • The bioavailability is increased by:
    Vitamin D and vitamin B6, unprocessed foods, fermented foods, and having enough stomach acid.
  • The bioavailability is reduced by:
    Refined foods, too much calcium, coffee, alcohol, and soft drinks, plus having weak stomach acid. Also, different types of medicine reduce the bioavailability of magnesium.

The link between magnesium and ageing markers

In their review article, the authors describe how magnesium deficiency can cause various changes in levels of different markers, thereby increasing the risk of altered immune response, infections, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and a variety of other ailments. The authors describe the following age-related markers:

• Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress

Cells produce energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) inside the mitochondria. The energy turnover generates free radicals, and the free radical load is increased with age due to a poorer oxygen turnover. The free radical burden is also increased by factors such as smoking, alcohol abuse, overweight, radiation, lack of sleep, and the use of several types of medicine.
Our only defense against free radicals is the presence of various antioxidants. If we lack these, oxidative stress develops, which is a process in which free radicals start chain reactions that attack cells and tissues. Ageing is also characterized by a weak and derailed immune defense that sets the stage for chronic low-grade inflammation and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Chronic inflammation results in free radical damage. In fact, there is a new term called “inflammaging”, which is age-related inflammation that increases the risk of disease and premature death.
The article describes how a sufficient magnesium intake from dietary sources or supplements helps counteract oxidative stress and is also able to reduce levels of various inflammation markers such as CRP (C-reactive protein), IL-1, IL-6, and TNF-α. Several studies and meta-analyses have shown that magnesium supplementation lowers inflammation markers, CRP in particular.

• Genetic instability and impaired cellular communication

This refers to damage to cellular DNA and to mutations. The damage can be caused by oxidative stress and the lack of repair to damaged DNA, our genetic material that regulates countless processes inside our cells. In the article, the authors mention that magnesium is important for cellular DNA replication, which is needed for successful cell division. Also, magnesium supports a number of different enzyme processes that are involved in DNA repair.

• Telomere shortening, muscles, and sleep

We have telomeres at the end of our chromosomes (DNA strands) that serve as protection. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres become slightly shorter. Once the telomere shortening (attrition) has reached a certain stage, the cell stops dividing or executes what is known as apoptosis (programmed self-destruction). Telomeres can also be damaged or shortened as a result of oxidative stress. Telomere attrition is linked to ageing, increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and premature death.
The article describes how magnesium affects the structure and integrity of telomeres. Also, magnesium protects against age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia) and changes to the circadian rhythm with subsequent sleep disturbances, a problem that is common among older people.

• Mitochondrial dysfunction

As mentioned earlier, energy is produced inside the mitochondria of our cells, but the oxygen turnover gradually impairs as we age. Mitochondria also have other functions such as regulating the cellular metabolism, calcium signaling, cellular membrane potential, and apoptosis. More than one third of our intracellular magnesium is found inside the mitochondria. Therefore, a magnesium deficiency can affect the mitochondrial energy turnover and all the other functions that are handled by our mitochondria.

• Disrupted protein synthesis

Cells synthesize protein in a three-step process: transcription, translation, and folding. Changes in the protein synthesis can lead to lack of cellular stability and accumulation of misfolded proteins. Cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, and many other diseases are linked to disturbances in cellular protein synthesis. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is associated with misfolded protein or protein deposits in the brain (amyloid and tau). Magnesium is important for our protein synthesis, and magnesium deficiency has been observed in various neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and migraine. The authors behind the current review describe magnesium’s role in the nervous system and how magnesium can prevent the build-up of potentially harmful proteins.

• Disrupted carbohydrate metabolism

Magnesium is important for our insulin sensitivity and, through this mechanism, for cellular glucose uptake, which must be stable. Lack of dietary magnesium is linked to an increased risk of disturbances in the blood sugar and metabolic syndrome, which is characterized by insulin resistance, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, and enlarged waist circumference. Metabolic syndrome is a precursor of type 2 diabetes. Two meta-analyses have shown an inverse relation between magnesium intake and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

• Poor digestions and dysbiosis

Our enormous gut flora is important for our digestion, vitamin synthesis, enzymes, neurotransmitters and many other things. The gut and brain are also closely related via the so-called gut-brain-axis, and that is why our digestion is vital for our mental health. The essential co-existence with various microorganisms is known as symbiosis. However, if potentially harmful bacteria or fungi suddenly become dominating it may result in dysbiosis, which sets the stage for poor digestion, infections, neurological disorders, and many other diseases.
Ageing can also affect the symbiosis on our skin and in our mucosa. Magnesium supplementation can alleviate constipation and reduce the bacteria that are involved in dysbiosis and inflammatory bowel diseases.

• Exhausted stem cells and other markers

Stem cells are non-specialized cells. Unlike other cell types, they have two properties. They can both divide indefinitely (mitosis) and they also have the ability to develop (differentiate) into various other cells types in different tissues. Ageing causes oxidative stress that can affect stem cells and their ability to divide and differentiate. This especially tends to have a negative effect on the white blood cells of the immune system and result in anincreased risk of COVID-19 and other infections becoming complicated. Also, there is an increased risk of autoimmune diseases, anemia, and leukemia, which begins in the stem cells of the bone marrow.
Magnesium appears to play a vital role in the body’s immune response through the synthesis and activation of different kinds of white blood cells (macrophages, T cells, and B cells), the production of antibodies, and regulation of inflammation.
Magnesium is also important for building bone cells and other cells. Lack of magnesium can affect stem cells, causing them to become exhausted so they lose their ability to differentiate.
Magnesium is also important for cells and their ability to communicate and react to different stress factors. This includes their ability to execute autophagy, which is a controlled process in which a cell breaks down cell parts that are unwanted or have a defect.
Magnesium is also important for our ability to convert vitamin D3 into 25(OH)D, which is the form of vitamin D that is measured in the blood.
Lack of magnesium is a vicious cycle that has a negative effect on several markers, which increases the risk of different age-related diseases and premature death. A good way to obtain healthy ageing is to make sure to get plenty of magnesium through life from good dietary sources or from high-quality supplements with assimilable magnesium.
The reference intake (RI) for magnesium is around 375 mg per day. However, poor absorption and increased magnesium excretion plus various stress factors can increase the need for the nutrient.

Magnesium supplements and absorption

  • Supplements contain different kinds of organic and inorganic magnesium sources
  • It is essential that these magnesium forms upon ingestion become free magnesium ions that the small intestine can absorb
  • Note that inorganic magnesium oxide has poor absorption and primarily works as a laxative agent


Ligia J. Dominguez et al. Magnesium and the Hallmarks of Aging. Nutrients 2024

Carsten Carlberg and Eunike Velleur. Vitamin D and Aging: Central Role of Immunocompetence. Nutrients 2024

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