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Magnesium May Prime the Immune System to Fight Cancer and Infections

A simple mineral could be the active ingredient in a new method of cancer treatment and prevention. In this way, magnesium has gone from being something to help us play sports longer to something that lets us play life longer.

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body. It plays several important roles in the health of your body and brain. However, you may not be getting enough of it, even if you eat a healthy diet.


One of magnesium’s main roles is acting as a cofactor or helper molecule in the biochemical reactions continuously performed by enzymes.


In fact, it’s involved in more than 600 reactions in your body, including:


  • Energy creation: Helps convert food into energy.

  • Protein formation: Helps create new proteins from amino acids.

  • Gene maintenance: Helps create and repair DNA and RNA.

  • Muscle movements: Is part of the contraction and relaxation of muscles.

  • Nervous system regulation: Helps regulate neurotransmitters, which send messages throughout your brain and nervous system.

Unfortunately, studies suggest that about 50% of people in the US and Europe get less than the recommended daily amount of magnesium.


Magnesium also plays a role in exercise performance. During exercise, you may need 10–20% more magnesium than when you’re resting, depending on the activity. Magnesium helps move blood sugar into your muscles and dispose of lactate, which can build up during exercise and cause fatigue. Studies have shown that supplementing with it can boost exercise performance for athletes, the elderly and people with chronic disease.


Magnesium plays a critical role in brain function and mood, and low levels are linked to an increased risk of depression. One analysis in over 8,800 people found that people under the age of 65 with the lowest magnesium intake had a 22% greater risk of depression. Some experts believe the low magnesium content of modern food may cause many cases of depression and mental illness. In a randomized controlled trial in depressed older adults, 450 mg of magnesium daily improved mood as effectively as an antidepressant drug.


Potential Cancer Fighting Ability

Magnesium acts like a bridge between killer T cells, a critical immune system weapon, and cancerous cells by binding to a protein on the T cell’s exterior called LFA-1, which allows them to then hone in on cancer cells which in turn have many ways to disguise themselves ordinarily.


Cell-surface binding and receptor proteins are areas of key interactions in studying physiological effects, and the COVID-19 pandemic taught many people how important these interactions, sometimes called docking, can be to our health. The research came from a recent paper published in Cell, which found that killer T cells were only able to eliminate cancerous or infected cells in rats if their LFA-1 proteins had bound with free available magnesium.


In light of their discoveries, the research team from Switzerland looked at past studies of cancer immunotherapies and found that low-magnesium concentrations were strongly linked to a more rapid progression of disease. In addition, they found that influenza and other viruses spread faster in mice that were fed a magnesium deficient diet.


“In light of our experimental data and the retrospective analyses we performed on two clinical trials, magnesium deficiency is very likely to be responsible for at least a proportion of the insufficient efficacy seen in cancer patients receiving immune therapy,” Dr. Christoph Hess, Ph.D. - University of Basel


Magnesium is absolutely essential for good health. The recommended daily intake is 400–420 mg per day for men and 310–320 mg per day for women.


You can get it from both food and supplements.


Food Sources

The following foods are good to excellent sources of magnesium:


  • Pumpkin seeds: 46% of the RDI in a quarter cup (16 grams)

  • Spinach, boiled: 39% of the RDI in a cup (180 grams)

  • Swiss chard, boiled: 38% of the RDI in a cup (175 grams)

  • Dark chocolate (70–85% cocoa): 33% of the RDI in 3.5 ounces (100 grams)

  • Black beans: 30% of the RDI in a cup (172 grams)

  • Quinoa, cooked: 33% of the RDI the in a cup (185 grams)

  • Halibut: 27% of the RDI in 3.5 ounces (100 grams)

  • Almonds: 25% of the RDI in a quarter cup (24 grams)

  • Cashews: 25% of the RDI in a quarter cup (30 grams)

  • Mackerel: 19% of the RDI in 3.5 ounces (100 grams)

  • Avocado: 15% of the RDI in one medium avocado (200 grams)

  • Salmon: 9% of the RDI in 3.5 ounces (100 grams)

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