Magnesium is a commonly found mineral in foods that is essential for your body’s well-being — it keeps your heart beating, bones strong, and brain cells firing. However, can magnesium also help fight lung cancer?
Magnesium plays an important role in helping more than 300 enzymes — proteins that perform important roles in your body — keep you healthy. In terms of helping protect against lung cancer, magnesium prevents genetic mutations, lowers inflammation, and keeps your lungs strong. However, for people who have lung cancer, high levels of magnesium may be harmful.
This article discusses several points about how magnesium levels may affect lung cancer, including the mineral’s role in overall health, effects within the body, and impact on existing cancer. We’ll also suggest how to increase your magnesium intake through foods.
Some dietary supplements may help manage lung cancer symptoms, but research is unclear on whether taking additional magnesium can help prevent lung cancer itself. One 2019 systematic review looked at five studies to see how the amount of magnesium participants consumed changed their lung cancer risk. The researchers found that getting less than 300 milligrams of magnesium a day through foods helps protect against lung cancer. Interestingly, higher amounts had no effect on lung cancer risk.
Certain types of magnesium supplements, such as glycinate and taurine, have been reported to successfully treat some medical conditions, like depression. Since people living with lung cancer or other chronic health issues are more likely to develop mental health conditions, getting enough magnesium — alongside other medications and treatments for depression, if necessary — may be helpful.
When one MyLungCancerTeam member shared that their child struggled to get out of bed each morning, another member recommended trying magnesium supplements: “It helps so much.”
Healthy cells can become cancerous through genetic changes or mutations (also known as genetic variants) that cause otherwise normal cells to grow and divide rapidly. Typically, it takes multiple mutations for a cell to become cancerous. Decreasing the likelihood that cells gain mutations can help prevent cancer — and magnesium is known to prevent mutations, or maintain genetic stability.
For example, magnesium is an important factor in helping DNA maintain its correct shape. Also, mutations typically occur either by mistake during normal DNA replication (the process of DNA making a copy of itself as it divides) or due to DNA damage during another process or a cancer-causing substance. Your body tries to correct these mistakes through different cellular processes that fix or correct DNA, and magnesium often has an essential part.
Your immune system plays an important role in finding and destroying cancerous cells. In fact, immunotherapies — drugs that activate the immune system to find and destroy cancer cells — are a common treatment for lung cancer. Low dietary magnesium appears to hold back immune function, and in animal studies, lack of magnesium led to a higher spread of cancer.
Increased levels of magnesium, meanwhile, promote a more active immune system. The mineral stimulates T cells, an important type of immune cell, and helps them attack invaders more effectively. Magnesium can also prevent inflammation, which can be a sign of an overly active immune system.
The ratio of magnesium to calcium is also known to affect lung function. Excess levels of calcium can cause inflammation and lung contraction, causing the airways to tighten, which may make it harder to breathe. High concentrations of magnesium can block calcium and allow lungs to perform better. One study with more than 2,600 adults in the United Kingdom found that individuals with higher dietary magnesium experienced less asthma and wheezing.
Although magnesium may help prevent tumors from forming, it may actually increase the growth of an existing tumor. Specifically, higher concentrations of magnesium could lead to higher cell proliferation, or the growth of more cells. Additionally, tumor cells often have different requirements for magnesium than regular cells do, leading tumors to benefit from more magnesium.
Overall, the exact relationship between magnesium and cancer is complicated. More studies need to be done to help researchers understand how magnesium may affect normal and cancerous cells.
If you’re interested in increasing your magnesium intake to potentially helpful levels, you can get more of the mineral through either food or supplements. Generally, men should get 400 to 420 milligrams of magnesium a day, and women should aim for 310 to 320 milligrams daily, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. You might need slightly more magnesium if you’re pregnant.
Foods high in magnesium often also contain other important vitamins and minerals to help improve overall health or prevent disease. Magnesium-rich foods include:
Increasing your dietary magnesium intake by eating more of these foods is typically the best way to get more of the mineral. However, if you have very low magnesium levels, your health care provider may prescribe a supplement, such as magnesium citrate or chloride. A blood test can detect magnesium deficiency. Symptoms include fatigue, vomiting, seizures, and cramps.
Talk to your doctor before taking magnesium on your own. Like any supplement or medication, magnesium supplements can have possible side effects. For example, high doses can act as a laxative, causing loose styles or diarrhea.
While changing your diet or taking supplements to increase magnesium levels may boost your overall health, the current research about magnesium’s effects on cancer focuses on cancer prevention, not on fighting lung cancer once you have it. The best way to manage your condition is to work closely with your health care team and talk with your doctor about approved lung cancer treatments.
On MyLungCancerTeam, the social network for people with lung cancer and their loved ones, more than 10,000 people from around the world come together to ask questions, offer support and advice, and connect with others who understand life with lung cancer.
Have you changed your diet to eat more magnesium-rich foods? Have you ever taken magnesium supplements? Share your story and tips in the comments below or by posting on your Activities page.