Magnesium is a key nutrient in making our body run smoothly throughout our lives. In fact, it’s commonly known as the ‘spark of life’ and responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. As we age, digestion becomes less efficient and the body’s ability to absorb magnesium may reduce, and this coupled with consuming insufficient magnesium from food sources, can impact the overall intake of the nutrient and lead to health issues.
Magnesium – a crucial nutrient
Magnesium is an essential nutrient required for a wide range of roles from muscle function, metabolism, regulating blood pressure, to muscle recovery and energy production to name a few. Specific age-related roles include supporting hormonal change such as during puberty or menopause, sports performance and recovery plus reproductive health. These beneficial age-related roles also extend to older adults, and involve aiding bone and nerve health which is discussed further.
How magnesium levels decline with age
With age, impairments may occur that impact magnesium intake. For example, less acidic gastric fluid that aids digestion is produced which reduces the absorption of nutrients. The ability to chew and swallow may become difficult, and tastes may change.
A further effect is the increased inflammatory and oxidative load especially if health conditions are involved. Oxidative load is the production of free radicals, generally from pollution, toxins and daily living, these are aggressive molecules that require an antioxidant nutrient to calm them.
Long term magnesium deficiency is known to be inflammatory and promotes oxidative damage. Both of which are contributing factors to age-related disorders such as type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome or obesity. During ageing, a magnesium deficiency can slow the immune response and so illnesses may have greater severity.
Magnesium for older adults
Bone and nerve health
Bone health is dependent on a sufficient magnesium intake for the transformation of vitamin D into the active form so that it can be effective in assisting the uptake of calcium into bone. Furthermore, muscle twitches, tremors and muscle cramps may be relieved with additional magnesium to support the nerves in feeding messages to the brain.
Cognitive decline is associated with ageing and may develop into dementia. Dementia is a brain-related disorder that manifests as a decline in memory, problem-solving, and language, for example, temporarily unable to recall a specific word or piece of information. Interestingly, magnesium supports nerve impulses in the brain, and it is thought to exert a protective effect to brain cells. Achieving an adequate magnesium intake may support cognitive function and delay the onset of dementia.
The US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey investigated data on magnesium intake compared to performance in cognitive tests in 2,466 individuals ages over 60 years. A greater magnesium intake was associated with greater cognitive test scores when compared to those who had the lowest magnesium intake.
Similarly, participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities assumed free of dementia showed that those with the lowest magnesium intake had the greater rate incident dementia as compared to those with the greatest magnesium intake. Magnesium supplementation for individuals aged over 65 years to normalise a high calcium to magnesium ratio significantly improved cognitive function by 9.1%.
The calcium-magnesium balance is important to manage respiratory disorders. A calcium dominance can arise when dietary magnesium intake is low. This can cause some constriction in muscles including those that surround the windpipe and the lungs, which may exacerbate the respiratory disorder. Normalising the calcium-magnesium balance can reduce the constrictive effect and allow the dilation of the windpipe and offer relief from the respiratory symptoms.
How much magnesium do older adults need?
To support this wide range of roles, Public Health England recommend that adults should aim to consume 300mg daily.
Surprisingly magnesium is common in food, albeit small amounts. Incorporate magnesium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables especially kale and spinach, nuts and seeds, wholefoods such as oats and barley, legumes, oily fish, bananas and nut butters into your meals and snacks.
Tip: Smoothies with blended fruit and vegetables can be useful when taste and the ability to chew decreases, especially when nut butters, green leaves or chia seeds are added to provide a good magnesium intake.
If you are not getting enough from your diet, it may be beneficial to consider supplements. Ideally choose a supplement which provide 300mg of magnesium per serving. Magnesium supplements are commonly in capsules or powder format, which exclude binders and non-nutritive additives. To achieve a therapeutic intake of the mineral, opt for food supplements which provide magnesium alone or partnered with one or two other nutrients.
Magnesium is contraindicated with some medication, especially those that interact with the cardiovascular system or support osteoporosis. For this reason, it is recommended that you discuss any potential supplementation with your GP when you are prescribed medication.
Magnesium is paramount to our health and over time, our magnesium intake tends to decline with age because of natural changes to the body. In the elderly, the importance of an adequate magnesium intake is reiterated as research shows it may preserve cognitive function. Eating a diet rich in magnesium foods can support the daily recommended intake. Another option to consider is food supplements.
For more information or about your individual needs, please visit your local health food store at: www.findahealthstore.com
Author: Jenny Carson is a Nutritional Practitioner and Technical Services Manager at Viridian Nutrition. She holds a BSc honours degree in Nutritional Science and is a Master of Research (MRes) in Public Health.
The information contained in this article is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.