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Immunity

The Science of Magnesium: Benefits, Sources and its Role in Immune System Health

Dr Jane Winter
Written by Dr Jane Winter | Dietitian, Science Communication Manager
nuts legumes and magnesium sources

Many people recognise that magnesium can help with exercise recovery or muscle relaxation. However, the benefits of magnesium go far beyond this. Magnesium plays an important role in supporting overall wellbeing, including the functioning of your immune system. Let's take a deeper dive into what magnesium is, how it helps with immune health and how to make sure you’re getting enough of it.

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is an essential mineral that is involved in many functions in the body. It’s a co-factor in more than 300 enzyme systems in the body, meaning the enzymes need it to function properly[1]. These functions include protein synthesis (helping the cells make protein), muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control and blood pressure regulation.

An adult body naturally contains around 25g of magnesium, with 50% - 60% of it being found in the bones and the rest in the soft tissues[2]. As well as being important for the structural development of bone, it’s involved in many chemical reactions involved in muscle contraction and relaxation, heart rhythm, vascular tone, and brain function[3].

Muscles need magnesium to contract properly and nerves require it to communicate back and forth. Magnesium helps to keep your heartbeat steady and your immune system strong[4]. It’s also important for the generation of energy in the body and is involved in over 80% of our known metabolic functions[5].


What happens when your body is low in magnesium?

As there is so little magnesium in our blood (only about 1%), a blood test does not accurately reflect body magnesium stores[6].

Some of the early signs of low magnesium levels may include loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue and weakness[7]. However, left untreated, it can lead to muscle cramps, irritability, muscular weakness and chronic low-grade inflammation.

How does magnesium help support a healthy immune system response?

Magnesium has been found to play an important role in the immune system health. Like many of the body’s functions, it acts as a co-factor to the enzymes involved in the inflammatory response[8]. Studies show that magnesium is important for the synthesis, release, and activity of cells found in a healthy immune system[9].

What foods are rich in magnesium?

Around one-third of Australians don’t meet their daily requirements for magnesium[10]. Good sources of magnesium include:

  • Nuts such as almonds and cashews
  • Seeds such as pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
  • Leafy green vegetables like spinach and broccoli
  • Legumes such as peanuts and kidney beans
  • Whole grains such as brown rice and oats
  • Some fortified cereals

In order to keep your mind, body and muscles strong and healthy, it’s important to support your body with plenty of magnesium-rich foods.



References:

[1] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/

[2] Volpe SL. Magnesium 2012

[3] Leenders n & Vervloet M. Nutrients 2019;11(2):455

[4] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/what-you-should-know-about-magnesium2

[5] Workinger et al. Nutrients 2018;10:1202

[6] Ismail et al. QJM: An International J Med 2018;111(11):759-763

[7] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#h5

[8] https://www.nature.com/articles/1601689

[9] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1300/J053v02n03_07?needAccess=true

[10] https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.008~2011-12~Main%20Features~Magnesium~406