If you’re worried about those little slips of memory that come as you get older, like where you put the keys, a phone number or someone’s name, then there’s new work on the benefits of magnesium that offers some hope.
Neuroscientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Beijing’s Tsinghua University find that upping your intake of magnesium – an essential mineral in dark, leafy veggies and some fruits, beans and nuts – might just help with the memory lapses that happen as we age.
Many experts believe that diet can have quite an impact of our cognitive capacity, and the researchers point to an estimate that only 32% of Americans are getting the recommended daily allowance of magnesium, as a cause for concern and a reason to learn more.
The recommended dietary allowance of magnesium for adults is 400 milligrams/day for men; 310 milligrams/day for women who aren’t pregnant.
Adults over 31 should get 420 milligrams/day for men; 320 milligrams/day for non-pregnant women. “Magnesium is essential for the proper functioning of many tissues in the body, including the brain and, in an earlier study, we demonstrated that magnesium promoted synaptic plasticity in cultured brain cells,” explains Guosong Liu, Director of the Center for Learning and Memory at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “Therefore it was tempting to take our studies a step further and investigate whether an increase in brain magnesium levels enhanced cognitive function in animals.”
Even thought the experiments were conducted on rats, experts believe that the findings have implications for people too.
The study appears in the January 28, 2010 issue of journal Neruon, and demonstrates that increasing brain magnesium using a new compound, magnesium-L-threonate (MgT for short), aids learning, working memory as well as short and long term memory in rats.
The mineral also helped the older rats do better on a series of learning tests conducted by the researchers. It was in 2004 that Guosong Liu and his team at MIT first discovered that magnesium Synapse xt might aid memory and learning, following up by developing a new magnesium compound that’s been shown to be better than conventional supplements at bringing up levels of this mineral in the brain.
The team then examined how MgT stimulates changes in synapses. Synapses are the junctions between neurons that are key to transmitting nerve signals. In both young and old rats, MgT increased strength among synapses, promoting density in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that plays an important role in spatial navigation and long term memory.
“This study not only highlights the importance of a diet with sufficient daily magnesium, but also suggests the usefulness of magnesium-based treatments for aging-associated memory decline,” says study author Susumu Tonegawa, who works at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory.
Recognizing that aging does cause some decline in the ability to recall memories when not all the information is presented, the researchers conducted other experiments as part of the study.
They found that MgT treatment boosted memory recall under partial information conditions in older rats, but had no affect in younger ones.
The study authors point out that the control rats in the study ate a normal diet that had a sufficient amount of magnesium. The effects observed in the studies were due to elevation of magnesium to the levels higher than what you’d get in a normal diet.
Half the population of the industrialized world is believed to have a magnesium deficiency according to researcher Liu. “If MgT is shown to be safe and effective in humans, these results may have a significant impact on public health.” Liu is a cofounder of Magceutics, a company that creates drugs for the prevention and treatment of age related memory decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
A diet that gives you sufficient daily magnesium is a smart, natural move to help retain your mental function, and might have some use if you’re fighting age associated cognitive decline.