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More magnesium in our daily diet leads to better brain health as we age, research shows.

A higher intake of magnesium in our diets from a younger age may safeguard against neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline even by the time we reach our 40s, according to Australian National University (ANU) scientists.

A study of more than 6,000 cognitively healthy participants in the United Kingdom aged 40-73 found people who consumed more than 550 milligrams of magnesium each day had a brain age approximately one year younger by the time they reach 55 compared with someone with a normal magnesium intake of about 350 milligrams a day.

“The study shows higher dietary magnesium intake may contribute to neuroprotection earlier in the ageing process and preventative effects may begin in our 40s or even earlier, said lead author and PhD researcher Khawlah Alateeq, from the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health.

“This means people of all ages should be paying closer attention to their magnesium intake.”

Participants completed an online questionnaire five times over a period of 16 months. The responses provided were used to calculate the daily magnesium intake of participants and were based on 200 different foods with varying portion sizes.

The ANU team focused on magnesium-rich foods such as leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains to provide an average estimation of magnesium intake from the participants’ diets. They say an increased intake of magnesium-rich foods such as spinach and nuts, could also help reduce the risk of dementia.

“Our study shows a 41% increase in magnesium intake could lead to less age-related brain shrinkage, which is associated with better cognitive function and lower risk or delayed onset of dementia in later life,” Ms Alateeq said.

“This research highlights the potential benefits of a diet high in magnesium and the role it plays in promoting good brain health.”

The research could inform the development of public health interventions aimed at promoting healthy brain ageing through dietary strategies, said study co-author Dr Erin Walsh, Research Fellow at ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health.

“Since there is no cure for dementia and the development of pharmacological treatments have been unsuccessful for the past 30 years, it’s been suggested that greater attention should be directed towards prevention,” she said.

“We also found the neuroprotective effects of more dietary magnesium appears to benefit women more than men and more so in post-menopausal than pre-menopausal women, although this may be due to the anti-inflammatory effect of magnesium,” Ms Walsh said.

The research is published in the European Journal of Nutrition.