Magnesium is essential for a variety of functions in the body, as it plays a role in over 300 chemical reactions. This mineral is required for muscles to contract and fornerves to transmit signals. Magnesium is the second-most and fourth-most prevalent cation(positively charged ion) in human cells and the human body, respectively. Additionally, it helps to maintain a healthy heart rhythm and a strong immune system. Consuming foods like leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, beans, and fish can provide sufficient magnesium for most individuals.
Magnesium is involved in various physiological processes, ranging from regulating blood sugar levels, acting as a stabilising agent for proteins and DNA, maturation of red blood cells, synthesis and proliferation of immunity providing white blood cells, to serving as an essential cofactor for normal functioning of many enzymes. Magnesium deficiency has been found to be related to numerous diseases such as Parkinsons disease, growth retardation in children, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, and epilepsy.1,6 Studies on mice have demonstrated that a low-magnesium diet can increase cancer spread and weaken the immune system's defense against influenza viruses.1,5 Despite these findings, there is currently limited research on the specific mechanisms by which magnesium maintainsa healthy immune system.1
How does magnesium affect the immune system?
A straightforward strategy to improve the immune systemis to optimise levels of magnesium and vitamin D. Magnesium is essential for activating vitamin D in the body, which in turn supports a robust immune system.2 Recent research suggests that increasing magnesium and vitamin D levels may help individuals with COVID-19 fight off the virus successfully.3
Low magnesium levels can also trigger a cytokine storm, leading to inflammation, cell and tissue damage, narrowed blood vessels, and blood clots. Vitamin D insufficiency has been observed in over 80 percent of patients with severe COVID-19 cases.4 Studies conducted in Singapore have shown that COVID-19 patients who received magnesium, vitamin D, and B12 supplements had a significantly lower risk of requiring oxygen therapy or intensive care.5 Additionally, a study onasymptomatic or mildly symptomatic COVID-19 patients found that those who received vitamin D supplements were more likely to test negative for the virus after three weeks than those who took a placebo.4 Therefore, optimising magnesium and vitamin D levels is a safe and cost-effective over-the-counter method to enhance immune function, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.4 Studies suggest that magnesium and vitamin D should be given particular attention as they may play a crucial role in fighting off the virus.4
A recent study published by Hess and colleagues, aimed to understand the impact of extracellular magnesium levels on immune responses, particularly T-cell (cells that help protect the body from infection and cancer) activation.5 The researchers utilised both in vitro and in vivo experiments to investigate this relationship. In the in vitro experiments, they examined T-cell activation in the presence and absence of magnesium.5 In the in vivo experiments, they studied various mouse models of diseases and cancer to observe how T cells functioned in getting rid off infections and cancer cells based on the level of extracellular magnesium.5 The researchers discovered that tumours grow more rapidly and the mice have weaker immunity against flu viruses when having low magnesium intake.5
Research indicates that consuming a diet high in magnesium is associated with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.6 This is because magnesium is important for regulating blood glucose levels and insulin metabolism in the body. Studies have shown that individuals with diabetes tend to have lower levels of magnesium, which suggests that magnesium may play a role in managing this condition.7
Insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes, may worsen with a deficiency in magnesium. Conversely, low levels of magnesium in the body may contribute to insulin resistance. Many studies have observed a connection between low-magnesium diets and diabetes, and a systematic study found that magnesium supplements can improve insulin sensitivity in people with low magnesium levels.8 However, more research is needed before healthcare professionals can confidently recommend magnesium for glycemic control in individuals with diabetes.
Magnesium is necessary for maintaining healthy muscles, including the heart. Studies have demonstrated that magnesium is crucial for heart health. A deficiency in magnesium can increase the risk of cardiovascular problems due to its cellular functions. Researchers have observed that individuals with congestive heart failure commonly have low levels of magnesium, which can worsen their clinical outcomes.9
Administration of magnesium soon after a heart attack can lower the risk of mortality. In some cases, doctors use magnesium during treatment for congestive heart failure to reduce the risk of abnormal heart rhythm. Increasing magnesium intake may also lower the risk of stroke. Researchers have found that for every 100 mg per day increase in magnesium intake, the risk of stroke decreases by 2%.10 Although some studies suggest that magnesium could play a role in hypertension, the Office of Dietary Supplements states that taking magnesium supplements has only a minor impact on reducing blood pressure. The ODS recommends a comprehensive and well-designed investigation to fully understand the relationship between magnesium and heart health, as well as the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
How much magnesium should I take for the immune system?
Magnesium supplements are sometimes marketed as a cure-all, claiming to alleviate various conditions such as muscle tension, low energy, and sleep difficulties, even in individuals with adequate magnesium levels. However, there is insufficient evidence to support these claims.
If you are worried about having low magnesium levels, it is recommended to consult with your doctor and request a blood test. The most effective way to maintain a healthy magnesium level is through consuming magnesium-rich foods, particularly those high in fibre, such as dark green leafy vegetables, unrefined grains, and beans.
For adults, the NHS advises that adult men (between 19 to 64) should consume 300 mg of magnesium daily while adult women (between 19 to 64) should consume 270 mg of magnesium a day.
Side effects and other concerns
It is important you follow the instructions on how to take your magnesium. If you consume an excessive dose of magnesium, specifically more than 400mg for a brief period, it may lead to diarrhoea, nausea, or cramping. However, additional research is required to confirm that long-term consumption of large quantities of magnesium causes diarrhoea..
In addition, consuming excessive amounts of magnesium can lead to several adverse effects, including kidney issues, low blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, urine retention, depression, lethargy, loss of central nervous system control, cardiac arrest, and even death. Individuals with kidney disorders should avoid taking magnesium supplements unless their doctor specifically recommends them.
Magnesium is a vital macronutrient that is crucial for various bodily functions, such as muscle, nerve, bone health, and mood regulation. Studies have linked magnesium deficiencies with various health issues. In cases where an individual is unable to obtain their daily magnesium requirements from their diet, a doctor may recommend taking magnesium supplements.
- Nasulewicz, A., Wietrzyk, J., Wolf, F. I., Dzimira, S., Madej, J., Maier, J. A. M., Rayssiguier, Y., Mazur, A., & Opolski, A. (2004). Magnesium deficiency inhibits primary tumor growth but favors metastasis in mice. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Molecular Basis of Disease, 1739(1), 26–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbadis.2004.08.003
- Uwitonze, A. M., & Razzaque, M. S. (2018). Role of magnesium in vitamin D activation and function. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 118(3), 181. https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2018.037
- DiNicolantonio JJ, O'Keefe JH. Magnesium and Vitamin D Deficiency as a Potential Cause of Immune Dysfunction, Cytokine Storm and Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation in covid-19 patients. Mo Med. 2021 Jan-Feb;118(1):68-73. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7861592/
- Tan, C. W., Ho, L. P., Kalimuddin, S., Cherng, B. P., Teh, Y. E., Thien, S. Y., Wong, H. M., Tern, P. J., Chandran, M., Chay, J. W., Nagarajan, C., Sultana, R., Low, J. G., & Ng, H. J. (2020). Cohort study to evaluate the effect of vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin B12 in combination on progression to severe outcomes in older patients with coronavirus (COVID-19). Nutrition, 79–80, 111017. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2020.111017
- Lötscher, J., Martí i Líndez, A.-A., Kirchhammer, N., Cribioli, E., Giordano Attianese, G. M., Trefny, M. P., Lenz, M., Rothschild, S. I., Strati, P., Künzli, M., Lotter, C., Schenk, S. H., Dehio, P., Löliger, J., Litzler, L., Schreiner, D., Koch, V., Page, N., Lee, D., … Hess, C. (2022). Magnesium sensing via LFA-1 regulates CD8+ T cell effector function. Cell, 185(4). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2021.12.039
- Gröber, U., Schmidt, J., & Kisters, K. (2015). Magnesium in prevention and therapy. Nutrients, 7(9), 8199–8226. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu7095388
- Barbagallo, M. (2015). Magnesium and type 2 diabetes. World Journal of Diabetes, 6(10), 1152. https://doi.org/10.4239/wjd.v6.i10.1152
- Morais, J. B., Severo, J. S., de Alencar, G. R., de Oliveira, A. R., Cruz, K. J., Marreiro, D. do, Freitas, B. de, de Carvalho, C. M., Martins, M. do, & Frota, K. de. (2017). Effect of magnesium supplementation on insulin resistance in humans: A systematic review. Nutrition, 38, 54–60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2017.01.009
- DiNicolantonio, J. J., Liu, J., & O’Keefe, J. H. (2018). Magnesium for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Open Heart, 5(2). https://doi.org/10.1136/openhrt-2018-000775
- Zhao, B., Hu, L., Dong, Y., Xu, J., Wei, Y., Yu, D., Xu, J., & Zhang, W. (2019). The effect of magnesium intake on stroke incidence: A systematic review and meta-analysis with trial sequential analysis. Frontiers in Neurology, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2019.00852