Blood Levels of Magnesium May Predict Dementia Risk

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The levels of magnesium in your blood may be linked to your risk of developing dementia later in life, a new study from the Netherlands finds.

Compared with people in the study who had high or low levels of the mineral in their blood, those with levels in the middle range were less likely to develop dementia, according to the study, which was published online today (Sept. 20) in the journal Neurology.

Lead study author Dr. Brenda Kieboom, an epidemiologist at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said in a statement that "the results are intriguing." [6 Big Mysteries of Alzheimer's Disease]

The study did not prove that high or low levels of magnesium in the blood cause dementia, Kieboom said; rather, it showed only an association between blood magnesium levels and dementia risk. The findings "need to be confirmed with additional studies," but if they hold up, it's possible that blood tests to measure magnesium levels could one day be used to help determine who is at risk of developing dementia, Kieboom said.

Previous research suggested two possible ways that magnesium could play a role in the development of dementia, according to the study. Magnesium regulates a receptor in the brain that plays an important role in memory and learning. In addition, low levels of magnesium have been linked to inflammation, which could increase dementia risk.

The study involved nearly 10,000 older adults living in the city of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. At the beginning of the study, when the average age of the participants was 65, the people were screened for dementia, and their blood magnesium levels were measured. The participants were then followed for an average of eight years.

The researchers divided the people into five groups based on their blood levels of magnesium, and found that the people in the highest and the lowest blood magnesium groups were each about 30 percent more likely to develop dementia during the study period than those in the middle group.

Nearly all of the people in the study had magnesium levels that fell within what doctors consider a normal range, according to the study. Normal blood magnesium levels range from 0.85 millimoles per liter (mmol/L) to 1.10 mmol/L, according to the National Library of Medicine. The lowest group in the study had magnesium levels of 0.79 mmol/L or lower, and those in the highest group had levels of 0.9 mmol/L or above.

The researchers noted that the study had limitations. For example, magnesium levels were measured only once, at the beginning of the study, and could have changed over the study period. In addition, it's possible that blood magnesium levels don't fully represent the total amount of the mineral in a person's body, the researchers said.

Earlier studies have linked blood magnesium levels to other neurological conditions, including migraines and epilepsy.

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.