New research - conducted by scientists from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio - suggests that low levels of magnesium may increase the risk of bone fractures and that, conversely, high levels may ward off this cause of disability.
The findings were published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, and the team was led by Dr. Setor Kunutsor, a Research Fellow at the University of Bristol's Musculoskeletal Research Unit.
Bone fractures are one of the most preventable causes of disability among the elderly. It is estimated that each year in the United States, approximately 6 million people will break a bone, and almost 75 percent of all hip, spine, and forearm fractures occur in people aged 65 and above.
Calcium and vitamin D have both been shown to play key roles in maintaining healthy bones. Additionally, some previous studies have suggested that magnesium may also improve bone health, as magnesium deficiency has been associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis. Magnesium is an essential mineral, and abnormally low magnesium levels can inhibit vitamin D and calcium homeostasis in bones.
The new research investigates the effect of magnesium on bone fractures, specifically.
Studying the association between magnesium and bone fractures
The study was based on a large population sample of 2,245 middle-aged men, who were clinically followed for 20 years.
During this time, the researchers found that participants with low levels of serum magnesium had a significantly higher risk of bone fractures. The association was stronger for hip fractures.
Men with higher levels of magnesium were 44 percent less likely to have bone fractures. Additionally, over the 20-year follow-up period, none of the 22 men who had very high levels of magnesium had a bone fracture.
High blood magnesium levels were defined as more than 2.3 milligrams per deciliter.
The same study investigated the link between dietary magnesium and bone fractures, and found no association. According to the researchers, this is consistent with previous studies.
Magnesium supplementation may prevent fractures
"The findings do suggest that avoiding low serum concentrations of magnesium may be a promising though unproven strategy for risk prevention of fractures," says Dr. Kunutsor.
Increasing the intake of magnesium from food and water may not automatically increase the levels of magnesium in the blood, the authors explain, particularly in elderly people who are taking certain medications or who have gastrointestinal disorders. The authors suggest that instead, treating these conditions first and taking supplements may be an effective way of increasing blood levels of magnesium.
Principal investigator Prof. Jari Laukkanen, from the University of Eastern Finland, explains the findings and comments on the potential therapeutic role of magnesium supplementation:
"The overall evidence suggests that increasing serum magnesium concentrations may protect against the future risk of fractures; however, well-designed magnesium supplementation trials are needed to investigate these potential therapeutic implications."
The researchers underscore the impact of their findings on public health and note that most seniors and middle-aged people who are at a higher risk of bone fractures also have low levels of magnesium in their blood. This lack of magnesium is difficult to identify as it does not cause any symptoms and medical professionals do not test for magnesium deficiency as a matter of routine.
However, these findings will hopefully prompt public health initiatives to include magnesium in routine blood tests, particularly for seniors.