How a diet high in magnesium could lead to better cognitive function

Mar 24, 2023
Scientists have discovered that consuming more magnesium-rich foods in our daily diet could lead to better brain health as we age. Source: Getty Images.

Scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) Neuroimaging and Brain Lab have discovered that consuming more magnesium-rich foods, such as nuts and spinach, in our daily diet can lead to better brain health as we age.

This increase in magnesium intake may also lower the risk of dementia, which is the second leading cause of death in Australia and the seventh worldwide.

In a study conducted on over 6,000 cognitively healthy participants in the United Kingdom between the ages of 40 and 73, researchers found that individuals who consumed over 550 milligrams of magnesium daily had a brain age that was approximately one year younger by the time they reached 55, compared to those with a normal magnesium intake of around 350 milligrams a day.

To determine the daily magnesium intake of participants, the ANU team had them complete an online questionnaire five times over 16 months. The responses provided were based on 200 different foods with varying portion sizes, with a focus on magnesium-rich foods such as leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains to estimate average magnesium intake from their diets.

Lead author and PhD researcher Khawlah Alateeq, from ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, said the study “shows a 41 per cent increase in magnesium intake could lead to less age-related brain shrinkage, which is associated with better cognitive function and lower risk or delayed onset of dementia in later life”.

“This research highlights the potential benefits of a diet high in magnesium and the role it plays in promoting good brain health,” Alateeq said.

Study co-author Dr Erin Walsh highlighted the need for dietary interventions in preventing the development of dementia given there is no currently no cure for the condition. 

“Since there is no cure for dementia and the development of pharmacological treatments have been unsuccessful for the past 30 years, it’s been suggested that greater attention should be directed towards prevention,” Walsh explained.

“Our research could inform the development of public health interventions aimed at promoting healthy brain ageing through dietary strategies.”

In addition to magnesium’s impact on cognition, recent research identified seven healthy habits and lifestyle factors that may play a role in lowering the risk of developing dementia.

The study’s findings will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 75th Annual Meeting being held in Boston from April 22-27, 2023.

The seven cardiovascular and brain health factors, known as the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7, are:

  • being active
  • eating better
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • not smoking
  • maintaining a healthy blood pressure
  • controlling cholesterol
  • having low blood sugar

“Since we now know that dementia can begin in the brain decades before diagnosis, it’s important that we learn more about how your habits in middle age can affect your risk of dementia in old age,” said Pamela Rist, ScD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

“The good news is that making healthy lifestyle choices in middle age may lead to a decreased risk of dementia later in life.”

The study involved 13,720 female participants with an average age of 54 at the commencement of the study.

Researchers followed up with participants 20 years later, examining Medicare data to identify those who had been diagnosed with dementia. Of the participants, 1,771, or 13 per cent, developed dementia.

After adjusting for factors like age and education, researchers found that for every increase of one point in the score, a participant’s risk of dementia decreased by six per cent.

Each of the seven health factors was assigned a score of zero for poor or intermediate health and one point for ideal health, resulting in a maximum score of seven. At the beginning of the study, the average score was 4.3, and it decreased to 4.2 ten years later.

“It can be empowering for people to know that by taking steps such as exercising for a half an hour a day or keeping their blood pressure under control, they can reduce their risk of dementia,” Rist added.

According to the latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, it’s estimated that there were 401,300 Australians living with dementia in 2022.

According to predictions, the population of Australians with dementia is expected to exceed 849,300 people by 2058, more than twice the current number.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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