Life Extension Magazine®

Nuts and seeds rich in magnesium linked to degenerative diseases

Will Magnesium Become the Next Vitamin D?

Pancreatic cancer kills 40,000 Americans each year. In a landmark study, increased magnesium intake was associated with a significant reduction in pancreatic cancer incidence. Magnesium is rapidly becoming “the new vitamin D.” We say this because magnesium protects against a host of degenerative diseases, costs very little, and is increasingly recognized as a nutrient that all aging individuals should include in their supplement program.

Scientifically reviewed by Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, in August 2023. Written by: William Faloon.

William Faloon
William Faloon

Vitamin D has emerged as a nutrient with astonishing value in disease prevention. Its low cost enables virtually everyone to supplement with enough potency to obtain broad-spectrum benefits.

Magnesium has similar attributes since it provides robust health effects, costs very little, and most Americans don’t get enough.

The best way to summarize vitamin D is that people who are deficient suffer more degenerative illness and premature death. The same holds true for magnesium.

Scientists recognize magnesium mostly as it relates to protection against cardiovascular disorders. Higher magnesium intake is associated with reduced risks of sudden cardiac death,1-3 stroke,4-6 type II diabetes,7-9 asthma,10 metabolic syndrome,11,12 heart disease,13,14 hypertension,15-19 and osteoporosis.20,21

What few publications discuss are findings showing cancer risk reductions in those who ingest higher amounts of magnesium.22-24

The challenge when assessing dietary magnesium intake is the inconsistency of the amount of magnesium contained in food.

Magnesium is not manufactured inside plants like disease-fighting polyphenols. This means the quantity of dietary magnesium is largely dictated by the amount of magnesium in the soil the food is grown in, or the mineral content of the water one drinks, both of which are highly variable.

In a landmark human study, there were marked reductions in pancreatic cancer risk in those who ingested higher amounts of magnesium primarily in dietary supplements. Other studies show colon cancer risk reductions in response to higher magnesium intake.

The totality of evidence supporting magnesium’s systemic benefits may soon transform this mineral into the next vitamin D as far as widespread public use is concerned.


This is great news for Americans, who face a phalanx of degenerative disorders that magnesium has been shown to protect against. It’s regrettable that it has taken so long for this realization to manifest.

Before the sun sets today, about 145 Americans will learn they have pancreatic cancer.25 It will likely be the worst day of their lives.

There are no “good” treatment options. The newly diagnosed cancer patient faces a litany of “bad” choices that are unlikely to be curative, but will inflict horrific side effects.

In recognition of lack of curative therapies, Life Extension Foundation® is funding clinical studies aimed at identifying better treatments for this malignancy that kills more than 40,000 Americans every year.25

Until a treatment breakthrough emerges, the best way to avoid becoming a casualty of pancreatic cancer is to not develop it in the first place.

Diabetics at Higher Risk for Pancreatic Cancer

A high percentage of pancreatic cancer patients also have type II diabetes.26-28 Research has shown that about 80% of pancreatic cancer patients had diabetes or glucose intolerance upon their cancer diagnosis.29,30

These findings support current research showing elevated cancer risks in people with higher blood glucose levels.31 In response to excess glucose, more insulin is secreted, which in turn fuels growth of malignant cells.32

An interesting finding we reported several years ago showed that type II diabetics that used the drug metformin had a 62% lower pancreatic cancer risk compared to those who had not taken the drug.33 One of metformin’s properties is to improve insulin sensitivity by activating a cell-energy enzyme, AMPK.34

The risk of contracting type II diabetes is lower in those with higher intakes of magnesium. A meta-analysis of human studies found that for every 100 mg increase in magnesium intake, risk of developing type II diabetes decreased by 15%.7

This understanding has led researchers to investigate whether people who consume more magnesium have lower pancreatic cancer incidence.

Higher Magnesium Intake Lowers Pancreatic Cancer Risk

Cancer Risk  

A landmark study meticulously evaluated data from a large group of adults and found that a modest increase in assessed magnesium intake from a combination of diet and supplements resulted in profound reductions in pancreatic cancer risk.35

What struck us about this study’s findings is that it did not require a large amount of additional magnesium to produce a meaningful reduction in pancreatic cancer risk.

Researchers found that pancreatic cancer risk increased by 24% for every 100 mg decrease in magnesium intake below the recommended daily allowance (RDA). For example, an individual with a daily magnesium intake of 200 mg has a 24% increased risk of pancreatic cancer compared to a person who ingests 300 mg a day. Both of these intakes (200 mg and 300 mg a day) of magnesium are considered deficient even by government standards.

This study, published in late 2015, evaluated data from the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) trial involving more than 66,000 men and women aged 50-76 years who were followed for an eight-year period. The subjects were divided into the following three groups based upon their magnesium intake:

  1. Optimal Intake - Defined as ingesting greater or equal to 100% of the government RDA for magnesium (420 mg a day for males and 320 mg a day for females)
  2. Sub-optimal Intake - Daily intake of 75% to 99% of the government RDA for magnesium
  3. Deficient Intake - Less than 75% of the government RDA for magnesium (less than 315 mg a day for males and less than 240 mg a day for females)

Those who ingested 75%-99% of the government’s RDA for magnesium (sub-optimal intake) had a 42% greater risk of pancreatic cancer incidence compared with those ingesting greater than or equal to 100% of the magnesium RDA.

Those who ingested less than 75% of the government’s RDA for magnesium (deficient intake) had a striking 76% greater risk of pancreatic cancer incidence compared to those whose intake of magnesium was equal to or greater than the government’s (optimal intake) RDA.

When analyzing those who met or exceeded the government’s RDA for total magnesium intake, only those who took dietary supplements containing magnesium were able to consistently achieve the benefits.

This led the authors to state that to gain the benefit of magnesium at least at the recommended daily allowance (RDA) level, that “dietary magnesium intake alone may not be sufficient.”35

What’s striking about these findings is that the amount of added magnesium needed to meet the government’s RDA was exceedingly small. For most people, taking one magnesium capsule a day, or obtaining it in a scientifically formulated multinutrient formula is all that is needed to produce this robust preventive effect against pancreatic cancer.

This and other studies you’re about to learn about are why we think that magnesium supplementation is destined to become as prevalent as vitamin D is today.

Urgent Need for Widespread Magnesium Supplementation
Magnesium Supplementation

In the recent analysis, the researchers found that the beneficial relationship between magnesium intake and the incidence of pancreatic cancer disappeared in study volunteers not using supplements.

The researchers hypothesized that this lack of association was likely due to both a reduced magnesium dose and narrower range of achieved dietary magnesium intake, to which the researchers reasoned: “…to gain the benefit of magnesium intake… dietary magnesium intake alone may not be sufficient.”35

Most striking was the calculation that only a few hundred extra milligrams of magnesium taken each day markedly reduced pancreatic cancer risk. This small amount is readily available with low-cost supplements.

Prior Studies on Magnesium and Pancreatic Cancer

Studies on Magnesium  

Previous studies sought to establish a link between magnesium ingestion and pancreatic cancer. Ascertaining the precise amount of magnesium ingested was challenging due to variability of magnesium content of food/water.

Two initial case-control studies showed an association between higher magnesium intake and lower pancreatic cancer rates,36,37 whereas a similar case-control study found no association.38

Other studies found a reduced rate of pancreatic cancer only in heavier men, which is significant because obesity is a pancreatic cancer risk factor.39 One of these studies published in 2010 showed a reduction in pancreatic cancer in men with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 kg/m2 or more who consumed higher amounts of magnesium.40

This study showed a 33% reduced pancreatic cancer risk in overweight men whose average daily magnesium intake was 423 mg compared to 281 mg.40 Another study showed that for each 100 mg increase in magnesium intake amongst overweight men, there was a 21% decreased risk.39

Once again, a relatively small amount of magnesium supplementation would have placed all these men into the higher protective category.

Since the majority of aging men are overweight, this finding has significant public health implications.41

These findings corroborate the 2015 report showing only a small increase in ingested magnesium significantly reduces pancreatic cancer risk.

Lethal Nature of Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related mortality in the United States.42

Pancreatic cancer is rapidly fatal with little long term effective treatment and a 5-year survival rate of 7%.43

Factors associated with pancreatic cancer risk include cigarette smoking,44-46 diabetes,47,48 obesity,49,50 unhealthy dietary practices,51-53 and low intake of specific nutrients such as vitamins E, C, B6, B12, carotenoids, folate, lycopene, and selenium.54-56

Until a cure is discovered, identification of modifiable risk factors is crucial to reduce pancreatic cancer mortality.

In observational studies, type II diabetes has been consistently associated with an elevated risk of pancreatic cancer.26-28,57-60 Current findings support a role for glucose intolerance,61-63 insulin resistance,63,64 and excess blood insulin (hyperinsulinemia) in the development of pancreatic cancer.65,66

Studies with long follow-up periods have consistently found an association between elevated after-meal or fasting glucose levels and higher pancreatic cancer risk.67,68

Given that, the totality of studies on pancreatic cancer risk, dietary factors (such as magnesium) and drugs (such as metformin) that improve insulin sensitivity may exert a major impact on pancreatic cancer risk reduction.33,35,69-71

Magnesium and Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is expected to be diagnosed in almost 135,000 Americans and to cause about 50,000 deaths this year.72 It is less feared than pancreatic cancer because treatments are less mutilating and cure rates far higher.

A large study evaluating Japanese men found that those with the highest dietary intake of magnesium were over 50% less likely to contract colon cancer.22

A study emanating from the Netherlands showed that for each extra 100 mg increase in magnesium intake, there was a 19% reduction in colorectal adenomas (precursors to colon tumors).24 The second part of this study found that for each additional 100 mg of magnesium, there was a 12% reduction in colorectal cancer risk. Again, we’re seeing a relatively modest increase in magnesium ingestion inducing meaningful cancer risk reductions.

Magnesium plays essential roles in regulating genome stability,73,74 cell signaling,75,76 insulin sensitivity,77 systemic inflammation,78-81 and DNA maintenance and repair.73,74 It is therefore not surprising that low intake of magnesium is associated with increased risk of certain cancers.

Food Sources of Magnesium Are Not Reliable

Food Sources of Magnesium  

A website for medical professionals lists magnesium-rich foods as “Leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fruits and fish.”82

While these fit into the “healthy food” category, one cannot reliably expect to obtain consistent and sufficient amounts of magnesium by ingesting them.

Magnesium content in vegetables has seen huge declines since pre-1950 levels.83-87 Typical grain refining processes for bread and pasta remove 80%-95% of total magnesium.83

There needs to be sufficient soil concentration of magnesium for plants to absorb it in the first place. In some instances, soils have too much potassium which competes for absorption of magnesium into the plant.

There are certain bottled waters that naturally contain high amounts of magnesium, but these are rare on the commercial marketplace.88

Urgent Need for Magnesium Supplementation

Magnesium Supplementation  

Life Extension first advocated for higher-dose magnesium supplementation in 1981. Back in those days, calcium supplements were very popular, but few of them contained enough magnesium. Overlooked was the vital role that magnesium played in overall health including maintaining bone density.20,21,89

Most people today associate magnesium as a mineral that reduces cardiovascular risk. A wealth of published scientific data supports this.

With accumulating data showing that magnesium can slash risks of common cancers, we think the use of magnesium supplements will soon rise to the level of “must have” nutrients like vitamin D.

Similar to vitamin D, magnesium costs so little that it is readily affordable by almost everyone, which has huge implications in improving public health.

This month’s issue contains an article that pays tribute to an early pioneer who advocated for higher magnesium ingestion. We also provide an update of the latest findings demonstrating the vital importance of obtaining sufficient magnesium to diminish risk of degenerative illness.

For longer life,

For Longer Life

William Faloon


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