According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 51,000 people died from colorectal cancer in 2014 alone – while breast cancer claimed over 41,000 lives that same year. Now, recent research has shown that a common, inexpensive mineral supplement – magnesium – can play a role in suppressing cellular changes that can precede the development of these types of cancer. This news ought to inject a note of hope into the ongoing search for natural cancer prevention and treatment strategies. Let’s take a closer look at why this information is so valuable to human health.
Researchers say: Magnesium mimics the life-prolonging effects of calorie restriction
Researchers have long known of the beneficial effects of calorie restriction – the technique of dramatically limiting caloric intake (but not to the point of causing malnutrition or deficiencies). In fact, extensive animal studies have shown that calorie restriction does slow down biological aging, prevents disease and extends life. However, the severe dietary restrictions make this protocol impractical – if not nearly impossible – for most people to follow. In addition, researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes the benefits of calorie restriction, but some theorize they are a result of associated metabolic and cellular changes – such as reduced body core temperature, lower metabolic rates, decreased production of free radicals and reduced DNA damage. And, finally, calorie restriction does offer yet another boon to the body – and one which magnesium can achieve as well: the suppression of cancer-causing R-loops.
Magnesium suppresses dangerous changes in DNA
Also called RNA-DNA hybrids, R- loops are created when strands of DNA and RNA interfere with each other – with the result that a single strand of DNA can become distorted, forming a loop independent of the main strand. These looped strands of DNA, which create an unstable genome, are highly susceptible to damage and mutation. R-loops can cause one of two scenarios to occur – premature cell death, causing tissue damage and loss of function, or out-of-control cell replication leading to cancer. R-loops have been implicated in breast, ovary and colon cancer, along with neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Clearly, techniques for discouraging the formation of R-loops can play a major role in disease prevention. The researchers knew that caloric restriction represses the formation of R-loops – which it does it by increasing amounts of magnesium in the cell. The question the study sought to answer – could the same result be achieved by simply raising magnesium intake?
As it turns out: YES, it can!
In a study published in 2016 in Nucleic Acids Research, researchers found that magnesium supplementation reduced R-loop accumulation by an astonishing 47 to 68 percent. The team concluded that magnesium duplicates the effect of calorie restriction in suppressing R-loops, and expressed their hope that magnesium could be used to prevent disease.
The stunning implications of the study may help researchers assemble the final pieces of the puzzle behind many serious diseases. For example, cells from patients with ALS have mutations that impair their ability to pull in magnesium – leading researchers to theorize that ALS could be due to an inability to suppress R-loops, arising out of a magnesium-dependent mechanism. And, magnesium’s ability to prevent R-loops could be key in breast cancer prevention. An important protein called BRCA2 naturally suppresses R-loops – but, mutations to BRCA2 can disable this beneficial process. Magnesium could prevent R-loops in cancer-vulnerable cells that are deficient in BRCA2 – thereby helping to “level the playing field.”
Magnesium, indispensable for survival and health, is being stripped from soil and plants
Even before the game-changing study, scientists were well aware of magnesium’s importance to the human body. This essential mineral not only regulates levels of calcium, potassium and sodium, but is a vital player in over 300 different biochemical functions. Magnesium is crucial for the production of glutathione, the ‘master antioxidant,’ and essential for detoxification and neurotransmitter function. Magnesium helps maintain normal heart rhythm and blood pressure, and is sometimes given intravenously to prevent atrial fibrillation and cardiac arrhythmia. One study showed that magnesium improved survival rates in people with congestive heart failure.
And, studies have shown that diets high in magnesium-rich foods help to lower risk of stroke, diabetes and colon cancer. It’s clear that having sufficient magnesium status is vital to health. However, the past 50 years have seen a drastic and measurable decline in magnesium levels in food – due to soil depletion, GMOs and synthetic pesticides. So it’s possible to eat a well-balanced, organic, whole food diet and still be deficient.
In fact, some holistic practitioners and natural health experts maintain that up to 80 percent of the population suffers from some degree of magnesium shortage. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include leg cramps, “restless legs,” insomnia, muscle pain, anxiety, depression, migraines and high blood pressure. Keep in mind, magnesium is available in supplementary form, with some integrative doctors advising doses of 400 to 1,000 mg a day. But, remember, (at higher doses) magnesium can cause diarrhea. So, it’s best to consult with a knowledgeable healthcare provider to see what dosage is best for you. Magnesium is available in a variety of formulations. Both the magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate forms are highly absorbable by the body. As far as research on magnesium? It’s still developing and, it’s clear that scientists are just be scratching the surface of magnesium’s life-prolonging and disease-preventing effects. In the meantime, ensuring optimal magnesium status is undoubtedly a smart choice.
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