Eating more foods containing magnesium can be an additional help to protect our brain from neurodegeneration. And the sooner you start the better, since this protection is not immediate but works for years to come. This very important result emerged from a recent scientific research, published a few weeks ago in the European Journal of Nutrition by a group of scientists from the Australian National University based in Canberra (Alateeq et al, European Journal of Nutrition, 2023).
The fight against dementia passes through prevention
The fight against dementia will be the challenge for the years to come and more and more studies are showing that every fight must start from a robust prevention activity. Therefore, preventing neurodegeneration while waiting for science to finally find a cure, this is the course of action that at the moment seems to be taking shape. In particular, scientists are focusing on what are defined as modifiable risk factors, which are therefore under our control. At present, several factors have been isolated that, however, cover only 40% of cases not attributable to genetics. These factors are hypertension, hearing impairment, poor education, understood as a lack of interest in learning and studying, even in the years after school, smoking, obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, poor social contacts, excessive alcohol consumption, head injuries and pollution. It is also known that following a diet as closely as possible in accordance with the guidelines of the Mediterranean Diet can, due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action, reduce the risk of getting Alzheimer's and dementia. In any case, even if much has been done to understand the risk factors under our control, knowing that certain ones so far cover only 40% of cases shows that much work still needs to be done to shed full light on prevention of neurodegeneration. In the research we are talking about today, scientists delve into the role of magnesium against dementia.
Magnesium and the brain, what we know
Magnesium has been under the magnifying glass of scientists for some years for its alleged ability to reduce the risk of neurodegeneration. Previous studies had been able to show that a high presence of magnesium in the brain helps counteract free radical damage and inflammation, stimulates neuroplasticity and reduces the risk of neurodegeneration. Not only that, other research had revealed that people diagnosed with Alzheimer's also have low levels of circulating magnesium. As far as magnesium taken with food is concerned, to date it is known that a high consumption of foods containing magnesium seems to protect against the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, one of the possible risks for the development of dementia. Therefore, given these findings, magnesium indeed appears to be neuroprotective. Australian researchers have sought to understand the extent to which dietary magnesium can reduce the risk of dementia and how long it takes for magnesium to act on the brain.
Magnesium reduces the risk of neurodegeneration, the study
Scientists were based on data contained in the UK Biobank database of more than 6000 people, aged between 40 and 73 years and followed over the years from recruitment to date. All the volunteers were asked to fill out several times a questionnaire concerning eating habits with the aim of estimating the intake of magnesium through the diet. The results of nuclear magnetic resonance imaging performed over the years and blood pressure values were also provided for all the volunteers. What emerged was that those who consumed higher amounts of magnesium-containing foods had greater brain volume and less damage to white matter, conditions associated with brain aging, but also dementia and depression. In short, those who eat more foods containing magnesium have a younger brain. This beneficial effect has been observed in several brain areas, including the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that participates in memory and is also one of the first areas affected in Alzheimer's disease. Not only that, scientists have also managed to prove two things. The first is that, in order to have a greater protective effect, it would be necessary to consume a quantity of magnesium higher than the levels considered normal, the second is that the action of magnesium is over the years and is not immediate. In fact, greater benefits were observed in individuals who presented at the beginning of the study, and probably also in the years preceding the research, high levels of dietary magnesium, even more than 550 mg per day. Even if these high magnesium levels have decreased over the years, the benefits were still appreciated and were greater than in those who instead had kept their magnesium levels stable around the range considered normal, 350 mg per day. So, to summarize the results, it is better to take higher amounts of magnesium and from a young age, in order to ensure a greater neuroprotective effect. Since dietary magnesium levels were not found to be associated with blood pressure, scientists believe magnesium's beneficial action is through the reduction of neuroinflammation.
Magnesium, dietary sources
Green light therefore to foods containing magnesium, which, over the years, protects the brain and reduces the risk of neurodegeneration. But what are these foods? The foods richest in magnesium are green leafy vegetables such as spinach, but also legumes, such as black beans, seeds, such as flaxseed, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds, nuts, such as almonds and cashews, bananas, dark chocolate and whole grains, such as brown rice and oats.