Recent research suggests that magnesium plays a role in neuroplasticity, and that supplementation with this important mineral could help to prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of age-related dementia.
Outside of bone, the highest tissue concentrations of magnesium (Mg) are in the two organs with the highest electrical activity: the heart and the brain. Both are vulnerable to Mg insufficiency.
Mg is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, but only 1% circulates in blood. The concentration in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is higher than in serum, a difference maintained by active transport. This biological fact underscores the importance of Mg for optimal neurological health: the body works to keep CSF Mg levels stable.
According to a recent systematic review from the University of Padova, people with Alzheimer’s disease have significantly lower CSF Mg levels than healthy controls of similar age.
That’s a scary thought, given the prevalence of Mg deficiency. According to the US Department of Agriculture, only 32% of all American adults meet the RDA for Mg, which is 420 mg per day for males over 30, and 320 mg for females. Many clinicians consider the RDAs to be a minimum, too low for optimal function.
Over the last 100 years, daily dietary intake of Mg has decreased from 500 mg to about 200 mg, largely due to high consumption of nutrient-poor processed foods, and chemically-treated crops grown in depleted soil.
Magnesium affects brain health in many ways. To be sure, there is a vascular aspect. Mg improves cerebral blood flow, and reduces levels of harmful cholesterol and triglycerides, thus attenuating the vascular changes that contribute to cognitive dysfunction. There may also be an anti-inflammatory effect.
But there’s also evidence—at least from animal models—that Mg has direct effects on neuronal structure and function.