People who have both high and low levels of magnesium in their blood face a higher risk of developing dementia, suggests a new study from the Netherlands.
“These results need to be confirmed with additional studies, but the results are intriguing,” says first author of the study Brenda C.T. Kieboom, MD, MSc, of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam.
Dr. Kieboom and her team measured serum magnesium levels in 9,569 participants with an average age of 65 who did not have dementia at the study onset (between 1997 and 2008). The participants were followed for 8 years, until 2015.
The researchers divided the participants into 5 groups based on magnesium levels in their blood.
Low serum magnesium levels were defined as 0.79 millimoles or lower per liter, while high levels were defined as equal to or above 0.90 millimoles per liter.
The participants’ sex, age, education, cardiovascular disease risk, kidney function, and other comorbidities were adjusted for.
The participants were followed for an average of eight years. During the follow-up period, 823 participants were diagnosed with dementia. Of those, 662 individuals had Alzheimer’s disease.
The team discovered that participants in both high and low group were markedly more likely to develop dementia than those in the middle group. To be specific, people in both the high and low-magnesium group were found to have a 30% increase in risk of developing dementia compared with those in the middle group.
The number of participants in the low-magnesium group were 1,771. Of these individuals, 160 developed dementia. On the other hand, of the 1,748 people in the high-magnesium group, 179 developed dementia.
The middle group, comprising of 1,387 participants, saw 102 individuals developing dementia.
Dr. Kieboom notes that among all the participants, almost all had magnesium levels in the normal range, and only 108 people had levels below normal and two individuals had levels above normal.
The study also had its drawbacks. The authors say that the research only used a single measurement of serum magnesium. Magnesium levels stay relatively stable over time, but it may change and such alterations may have biased the results.
Secondly, the study did not examine abnormally low or abnormally high magnesium levels, known as hypomagnesemia or hypermagnesemia. Instead, the reserachers only focused on normal levels of magnesium.
Finally, since the study was purely observational, it cannot explain causality. However, the authors note that precautions against this vulnerability were taken.
“Since the current treatment and prevention options for dementia are limited, we urgently need to identify new risk factors for dementia that could potentially be adjusted. If people could reduce their risk for dementia through diet or supplements, that could be very beneficial,” notes Dr. Kieboom.
She also adds that if the results are confirmed, blood tests for magnesium levels could be used to screen for people at risk of dementia.
Foods rich in magnesium include almonds, spinach, cashews, whole grains, bananas, soy and black beans, avocados, and yogurt.
The study was published in the journal Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.