Magnesium and Your Brain

April 24, 2023

Brain care supplements are really having a moment, but are they worth the hype? Many of us think of this as a concern as we age, but brain health should be a real concern, like now, for all of us. What can we do to keep our brains sharp, functioning at their best and serving us well?

A recent study revealed that people eating a diet rich in magnesium showed less age-related brain shrinkage with smaller white matter lesions, which are abnormal areas of myelination, a marker for small vessel disease…and a big sign of brain decline.

Published in the European Journal of Nutrition, 6000 participants were analyzed, ages 40-73. Over sixteen months, the group was monitored and measured, eating a diet of leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains and healthy fats…and dark chocolate (yipppeeeeeee!!!)

The NIH (National Institutes of Health) now recommend that adults consume between 320 and 430 mg of magnesium daily, but also say that those consuming 550 mg or more showed the healthiest aging brains.

Brain health means better quality of life with greater preservation of cognitive abilities and a reduced risk of the onset of dementia later in life. And with 6.7 million people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease with the number growing, it’s best we care for our brains now.

While wellness gurus and celebrities have jumped on the magnesium bandwagon selling expensive potions, supplements and drinks to “keep us sharp,” reduce anxiety and lead to better sleep, studies in support of these products remain inconclusive. TikTok may not be the best place to head for brain health advice, in my opinion.

So what are we to do to keep our brains healthy?

It could be as easy as eating more spinach. Scientists and nutrition experts say the answer to this dilemma is easy. People are better off eating more whole foods with a concentration on leafy greens and nuts than reaching for the pill (which can cause a host of problems resulting from high doses of magnesium in this form, from low blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, lethargy, depression and confusion).

Here are just some of the foods rich in magnesium:

Dark chocolate-65 mg in 1 ounce (70% or higher to minimize added sugar)

Avocados-58 mg in 1 medium

Almonds-260 mg in 2/3 cup

Black beans-170 mg in 1 cup

Tofu-35 mg in 3.5 ounces

Pumpkin seeds-28 g in 1 ounce

Buckewheat-168 mg in 1 cup

Bananas-37 mg in 1 medium

Leafy greens, like spinach-180 g in 1 cup cooked

It’s so easy to get the magnesium we need just from this list, deliciously.

And there’s more to brain health than what’s on your plate. My hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger published the results of a study in his daily fitness newsletter. Here is what he wrote:

 “The 6-Minute Brain Booster

If you want a stronger, smarter, healthier brain, exercise is the key.

​Scientists recently compared behaviors that impact the brain by assessing the benefits of fasting, light exercise, and intense exercise. They measured BDNF, a chemical that supports the health, longevity, size, and strength of your brain.

It might surprise some, but fasting had no impact on BDNF. Doing light exercise led to a small increase in BDNF. But it was hard exercise that made the biggest difference. Just 6 minutes of intense intervals triggered a five-fold increase in BDNF compared to the lower-intensity workout.

This adds to the growing science that exercise is fertilizer for your mind and body. Not only does movement help protect against degenerative disease, but it might also help make your mind sharper and keep your brain young.

The study suggests you don’t need to live in the gym to see results. Remember, the benefits were seen after just 6 minutes of training. But, for the biggest boost, you must focus on intensity. Consider this one more reason getting a pump is one of the best things you can do for your body.”

In addition to eating well and exercising, there are simple day to day things to do to keep you sharp: maintaining a healthy blood pressure, limiting alcohol to 2-3 drinks per week, connecting with people in person or on the phone to stay socially engaged and avoid isolation. Obviously, stop smoking and minimize or eliminate saturated and hydrogenated fats from your diet.

Taking daily walks and getting in some resistance training are key to brain wellness, which will easily lead you to the next tip, which is to maintain a healthy weight.

Our brains are our greatest treasure. We use them to communicate, create, express ourselves, reason through problems and ideas, share our love and emotions. Let’s take every step we can to preserve these precious organs.