A lack of magnesium accelerates aging in human cells, which may explain the link between any long-term deficiency and a higher risk of aging-related diseases, a study released Monday said.
Magnesium is essential for hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body. It helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, and keeps bones strong.
Yet research has shown that, at least in the United States, more than half the population is lacking in magnesium due to deficiencies in their diet, potentially increasing their risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers.
To try to understand why magnesium deficiency predisposes people to disease, Bruce Ames and researchers at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute in California studied the long-term effects of moderate magnesium deficiency on human fibroblasts, cells that provide a structural framework for many tissues in the body.
They cultured the cells for their entire lifespan, a period of three to four months, to mimic the effects of a lack of magnesium in the study which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
They found that while the cells survived and divided normally under moderate magnesium-depleted conditions, they appeared to become older quicker than cells grown in normal magnesium concentrations.
"Magnesium deficiency affects the way the cells age. Accelerated cellular aging affects the way tissue functions," said David Killilea, an associate staff scientist in the Nutrition and Metabolism Center at Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute.
"We are now thinking that cellular consequences of magnesium deficiency may be driving long-term chronic disease."
Ames and Killilea suggested the markers of accelerated cellular aging in magnesium-deficient cells may indicate that the cells were in triage mode, saving resources for indispensable metabolic processes at the expense of long-term function.
As for diagnosing and treating chronic moderate magnesium deficiency, there is no good laboratory marker for this type of condition. It tends to fly under the radar, the scientists said.
"You could be moderately deficient for a long time and not know it," said Killilea.
Food sources rich in the micronutrient include green vegetables such as spinach, beans, nuts, and unrefined grains.