Magnesium, Stress, and Your Immune System
Magnesium is an essential mineral that your body doesn’t make on its own. So, if the body doesn’t produce magnesium, we need to regularly include in our diet the whole foods that are rich with this nutrient. They include nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grain cereals, and many fruits and vegetables.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant cation (a positively charged molecule) in the body, yet approximately half of Americans aren’t getting enough magnesium in their diets. This can lead to health issues, especially for older adults who are particularly vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies because of issues with nutrient absorption.
Additional factors that may impact our magnesium levels include the prevalence of highly processed foods in the diet and low magnesium levels in the soil. So even for someone who eats an ample number of magnesium-rich foods on a regular basis, they still may struggle keeping their magnesium status at a healthy level. Fortunately, whole food-based magnesium supplements can support a healthy diet and optimize magnesium levels.
Magnesium and Stress
Magnesium deficiency doesn’t lead to one, specific health condition. Rather, magnesium deficiency may be an underlying, contributing factor in a variety of health conditions. This connection is based on the role of magnesium in managing the body’s ability to tolerate occasional stress. Stress has been shown to be associated with increased plasma magnesium levels and increased urinary magnesium excretion.
Watch as Dr. Jennifer Stagg, ND, Medical Director of Whole Health Wellness Center, discusses the role that magnesium plays in stress response:
Extended periods of stress may result in progressive magnesium deficits and detrimental effects for health. When the body experiences both stress and magnesium deficiency, the body may be unable to respond efficiently to stress. When this response falls short, the body may experience persistently elevated cortisol levels, neuron degradation, and reduced sleep quality.
Stress and the Immune System
Through its link to stress, magnesium deficiency may have a negative impact on immune function. Stress, whether physical or psychological, triggers a physiological response that can negatively impact the immune system if not addressed and managed. The stress response indicates potential danger to the body, thereby activating the innate immune system with pro-inflammatory hormones. Cortisol is also produced: an anti-inflammatory stress hormone that combats its pro-inflammatory counterparts.
How stress affects immune health depends on the duration and intensity of the stress response. An increase in immune activity in response to occasional stress is healthy and necessary, but stress quickly becomes a burden on the immune system if the stress response is continuously draining the immune system’s resources, leaving it vulnerable.
Improving Magnesium Status to Support Immune Health
Similar to individual variations in magnesium status, the stress response and its effect on the body varies from person to person. Some people may absorb magnesium at a higher rate in the gastrointestinal tract, and others may be more resilient to stress or engage more effectively in coping mechanisms for stress management. All of this can have an effect on the immune system. Magnesium supports immune health through several mechanisms including regulating immune cells, serving as a cofactor in the synthesis of antibodies, and playing a key role in antigen binding in some types of immune cells. Magnesium deficiency can result in decreased numbers of immune cells as well as decreased activity of those cells and increased inflammation and cytokines, a key part of the immune response. Learning to optimize magnesium levels through the diet and nutritional supplementation, as well as managing occasional stress in a healthy way, can support the immune system.
 Gombart, A.F., Pierre, A., Maggini, S. (2020). A Review of Micronutrients and the Immune System-Working in Harmony to Reduce the Risk of Infection. Nutrients, 12(1):236