If you’ve heard about the health benefits of magnesium and you have or want to prevent COVID-19, you might wonder if this nutrient can help. Early research shows that lower magnesium levels in your body are associated with increased risk and severity of a COVID-19 infection. But links between two factors don’t mean that one causes the other.
Magnesium plays an intricate role in the body’s health, so researchers are looking into its complex relationship with COVID-19. We’ll break down what we know so far about this connection.
Magnesium is a mineral that’s naturally found in your body and many plant and animal products. This nutrient helps you stay healthy by playing an important role in several of your body’s processes, such as:
Your body absorbs magnesium from certain foods and drinks. Most adults should get between 310 and 420 milligrams per day. Magnesium-rich foods include:
If you don’t get enough magnesium in your diet, you may have low blood levels of magnesium — also known as hypomagnesemia or a magnesium deficiency. Some people have an increased risk of low magnesium, including people with digestion problems, type 2 diabetes, or alcohol use disorder, as well as older adults.
The amount of magnesium you should get each day is based on your weight — the more you weigh, the more you may need. Low magnesium levels might be associated with a higher risk of getting COVID-19, but having a higher body weight also is associated with decreased immune function and more severe COVID-19.
If you have too much magnesium in your body, you may have hypermagnesemia. This can happen from getting too much magnesium from supplements or medication, usually not from foods or drinks.
Although low magnesium is more common, severe COVID-19 symptoms are also associated with high magnesium levels.
There are few studies on magnesium and COVID-19, but the little research that does exist suggests that low magnesium might increase the risk of COVID-19. Researchers have reported that among people hospitalized for COVID-19, between 44 percent and 48 percent had low magnesium levels and about 13 percent had severely low magnesium.
A lack of magnesium may play a role in the likelihood of catching COVID-19 because the mineral helps regulate your immune system. Magnesium deficiency is linked to decreased activity of immune cells and increased inflammation. If you have too little magnesium, your immune system may not properly protect you against infections from viruses like SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.
Having low magnesium might not only raise your risk of getting COVID-19 but also lead to more severe symptoms. Researchers weren’t surprised by this finding, since many consequences of magnesium deficiency mimic the risk factors for COVID-19.
People with low magnesium are more likely to be of older age or have the following medical conditions — which are also risk factors for more severe COVID-19:
Clinical trials have also linked low magnesium levels in people with COVID-19 to an increased risk of:
Compared with other types of research, studies in which participants report what they eat are less trusted because they’re more likely to be inaccurate. A few nutritional studies suggest that people who eat more foods with magnesium have a lower risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms.
Magnesium is important for regulating your immune system and inflammation. If you have a magnesium deficiency, your immune cells may release more inflammatory proteins called cytokines. This may raise your risk of a serious COVID-19 complication called cytokine release syndrome, also known as a cytokine storm. Cytokine resistance syndrome can lead to serious complications, including organ damage and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
When the symptoms of low magnesium overlap with those of COVID-19, they may become worse. Low magnesium may be linked to several COVID-19 symptoms, such as:
Some of these connections have barely been studied, so researchers don’t yet know if magnesium really plays a critical role in these symptoms.
Both inhaling magnesium and receiving it intravenously (directly into a vein) have been used to improve asthma symptoms. Researchers are investigating whether magnesium could also improve the respiratory symptoms caused by COVID-19.
Magnesium can be inhaled directly into the lungs in the form of magnesium sulfate, using a nebulizer to make a fine mist. Inhaling magnesium may help reduce inflammation of the lung tissue and prevent constriction (narrowing) of the airways by relaxing the surrounding muscles.
Although inhaled magnesium can sometimes be used to ease asthma symptoms, it’s currently unknown how well it might help people with COVID-19. Results from clinical trials are being evaluated to help reveal how useful this treatment might be.
Intravenous (IV) magnesium (given as magnesium sulfate) has also been used to treat severe asthma symptoms. Due to its positive effects in people with asthma, researchers have suggested that it may also make breathing easier for people with COVID-19. However, studies need to be conducted and show a benefit before IV magnesium can be recommended for more people.
Magnesium supplements, which come as tablets and liquid, may be taken by people with a magnesium deficiency. A small observational study found that older adults hospitalized for COVID-19 who received a combination of magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 supplements were less likely to need oxygen therapy or intensive care. However, the researchers emphasized the need for a bigger study to better understand the benefit of supplementation.
While magnesium supplements may be helpful for people with low magnesium, their usefulness for people with normal levels remains unclear. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, possible side effects from taking magnesium include diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea. Additionally, getting too much of the mineral may be harmful. More research is needed to show how increased magnesium levels can affect people with COVID-19.
Because magnesium is involved in so many processes in the body, it can have an effect on medications used to treat COVID-19.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved or authorized several antiviral drugs that target the virus that causes COVID-19:
Researchers need to investigate how these and other COVID-19 treatments interact with magnesium, including whether magnesium either improves or hinders how well a medication works, as well as whether the mineral can reduce the severity of the drug’s side effects.
Talk to your health care provider about all the prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and supplements you take before you start a treatment for COVID-19.
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