Remember magnesium if you want to remember

Feb 22, 2010

Those who live in industrialized countries have easy access to healthy food and nutritional supplements, but magnesium deficiencies are still common. That's a problem because new research from Tel Aviv University suggests that magnesium, a key nutrient for the functioning of memory, may be even more critical than previously thought for the neurons of children and healthy brain cells in adults.

Begun at MIT, the research started as a part of a post-doctoral project by Dr. Inna Slutsky of TAU's Sackler School of Medicine and evolved to become a multi-center experiment focused on a new magnesium supplement, magnesium-L-theronate (MgT), that effectively crosses the blood-brain barrier to inhibit calcium flux in brain neurons.

Published recently in the scientific journal Neuron, the new study found that the synthetic magnesium compound works on both young and aging animals to enhance memory or prevent its impairment. The research was carried out over a five-year period and has significant implications for the use of over-the-counter magnesium supplements.

In the study, two groups of rats ate normal diets containing a healthy amount of magnesium from natural sources. The first group was given a supplement of MgT, while the control group had only its regular diet. Behavioral tests showed that improved in the rats in the first group and also demonstrated an increase of synapses in the brain -- connective nerve endings that carry memories in the form of electrical impulses from one part of the brain to the other.

Bad news for today's magnesium supplements

"We are really pleased with the positive results of our studies," says Dr. Slutsky. "But on the negative side, we've also been able to show that today's over-the-counter magnesium supplements don't really work. They do not get into the brain.

"We've developed a promising new compound which has now taken the first important step towards clinical trials by Prof. Guosong Liu, Director of the Center for Learning and Memory at Tsinghua University and cofounder of Magceutics company," she says.

While the effects were not immediate, the researchers in the study -- from Tel Aviv University, MIT, the University of Toronto, and Tsighua University in Beijing -- were able to assess that the new compound shows improved permeability of the blood-brain barrier. After two weeks of oral administration of the compound in mice, magnesium levels in the cerebral-spinal fluid increased.

Toward a more "plastic" brain

"It seems counterintuitive to use magnesium for memory improvement because magnesium is a natural blocker of the NMDA receptor, a molecule critical for memory function. But our compound blocks the receptor only during background neuronal activity. As a result, it enhances the brain's 'plasticity' and increases the number of brain synapses that can be switched on," says Dr. Slutsky.

"Our results suggest that commercially available magnesium supplements are not effective in boosting magnesium in cerebro-spinal fluid," she says. "Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, but today half of all people in industrialized countries are living with magnesium deficiencies that may generally impair human health, including cognitive functioning."

Before the new compound becomes commercially available, Dr. Slutsky advises people to get their the old-fashioned way -- by eating lots of green leaves, broccoli, almonds, cashews and fruit. The effects on memory won't appear overnight, she cautions, but with this persistent change in diet, should improve, and the effects of dementia and other cognitive impairment diseases related to aging may be considerably delayed.

Explore further: Know the brain, and its axons, by the clothes they wear

Related Stories

Magnesium supplement helps boost brainpower

Jan 27, 2010

Neuroscientists at MIT and Tsinghua University in Beijing show that increasing brain magnesium with a new compound enhanced learning abilities, working memory, and short- and long-term memory in rats. The ...

Preterm birth: Magnesium sulphate cuts cerebral palsy risk

Jan 21, 2009

Magnesium sulphate protects very premature babies from cerebral palsy, a new study shows. The findings of this Cochrane Review could help reduce incidence of the disabling condition, which currently affects around one in ...

Innovative magnesium sheet production process licensed

Jun 06, 2005

CSIRO has signed an exclusive option to license its magnesium sheet production process with Magnesium International Limited's subsidiary Magnesium International (No 1) Pty Ltd. The CSIRO technology is one of only a few tec ...

Recommended for you

Know the brain, and its axons, by the clothes they wear

Apr 18, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—It is widely know that the grey matter of the brain is grey because it is dense with cell bodies and capillaries. The white matter is almost entirely composed of lipid-based myelin, but ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Apr 17, 2014

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Rapid whole-brain imaging with single cell resolution

Apr 17, 2014

A major challenge of systems biology is understanding how phenomena at the cellular scale correlate with activity at the organism level. A concerted effort has been made especially in the brain, as scientists are aiming to ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Graeme
5 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2010
would that be L-threonate instead? of L-theronate
TJ_alberta
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2010
probably, I find threonine in the Merck Index [9316] but no theronine (sic)
KB6
5 / 5 (1) Feb 23, 2010

More news stories

Cancer stem cells linked to drug resistance

Most drugs used to treat lung, breast and pancreatic cancers also promote drug-resistance and ultimately spur tumor growth. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have discovered ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.