Skip to main content

Six minerals lower your risk of brain cancer

Six minerals lower your risk of brain cancerBrain cancer is associated with physical and cognitive disruptions, and many patients die within a few years. Compared with other cancers, the development of brain cancer is more complex and there has been focus on underlying causes such as head traumas, allergies, and electromagnetic radiation from cell phones, transmission towers, etc. Scientists have also looked at vitamins and brain health, whereas minerals have been ignored. Now, a team of Chinese scientists have conducted a large population study and found that higher intake of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper is linked to a reduced risk of different types of brain cancer (gliomas). Apparently, selenium also has a protective effect.

Gliomas are various brain tumors that originate in the glial cells that surround and support neurons in the brain. Gliomas account for more than half of all brain tumors and are divided into five different categories or grades depending on how aggressive they are. Most gliomas are malignant and result in death within one to five years. Depending on where the glioma is located and how it has spread, other symptoms may occur such as headache, nausea, vision disturbances, tiredness, cramps, seizures, speech difficulty, hormonal changes, and personality changes. Because of this, the patient’s next of kin are also affected. The number of patients with gliomas has increased in many countries and there is every reason to focus on prevention.
The aim of the new study, which is published in Frontiers in Nutrition, was to look closer at the relation between five dietary minerals and the risk of developing various types of gliomas. A total of 506 adults with gliomas participated in the study. A group of 506 healthy people matched by age and gender served as controls.
Of the patients with gliomas, 237 had glioblastoma, 104 had astrocytoma, 67 had oligodendroglioma, and 98 had other types of gliomas.
The participants’ intake of different foods over the past year was assessed with help from special food questionnaires that allowed the researchers to calculate dietary intake of calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and copper. They also collected data about education, occupation, income level, weight, physical activity level, smoking and drinking habits, allergies, and exposure to head traumas. In addition, the scientists asked if the participants had lived close to transmission towers within the last 10 years or been affected by other electromagnetic fields.
After adjusting for confounding factors, the researchers were able to link a higher intake of calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and copper to a significantly lower risk of developing gliomas. When focusing on the different development stages of gliomas, they found similar results:


Calcium is mainly found in dairy products, green vegetables, almonds, nuts, kernels, and eggs. So-called “hard” water is also rich in calcium. Ninety-nine percent of the body’s calcium is stored in hard tissues like bones and teeth, whereas the remaining one percent supports different functions that are important for nerve cells, heart, muscles, and blood coagulation. Calcium also helps reduce the release of parathyroid hormone from the parathyroid gland, which is believed to have a role in the development of different cancers. In connection with gliomas, proteins related to parathyroid hormone have been seen to play a role in the development of the disease.
Calcium also helps regulate acid levels. Nerve cells need calcium ions (Ca2+) in order to release neurotransmitters. It is essential to have the right balance between calcium and magnesium to prevent overstimulation of the nerve cells. We also need vitamin D to support the body’s uptake and utilization of calcium.


Magnesium is mainly found in coarse greens. Around 50 percent of our magnesium is stored in bone tissue, while the rest is used to fuel more than 300 different enzyme processes that are important for energy turnover, digestion, immune defense, blood sugar levels, muscles, protein synthesis, fluid balance, and vitamin D activation. Magnesium also regulates cellular uptake of calcium, which is also a vital function.
In their study, the authors mention a meta-analysis that linked higher magnesium intake to a lower risk of cancer. Increased magnesium intake can also lower the risk of gliomas, and its anti-inflammatory effect is crucial because chronic inflammation can result in oxidative stress that contributes to tumor invasion, angiogenesis (blood vessel formation), and metastases.

  • Oxidative stress is an overrepresentation of free radicals that can harm cells and cellular DNA
  • The free radical load is increased by lack of protective antioxidants, smoking, stimulant abuse, poisoning, radiation, ageing, chronic inflammation, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases


Zinc is a trace element that is primarily found in shellfish (especially oysters), meat, liver, eggs, dairy products, nuts, wholegrains, legumes, etc.
Zinc is involved in more than 200 enzyme processes that support growth, fertility, immune defense, appetite, mental balance, and skin, hair, and nails. Studies have shown that zinc protects against different kinds of cancer, especially in the digestive tract. In the current study, the scientists observed that daily intake of zinc in the range between 7.46 – 12.55 mg lowered the risk of gliomas.
The study authors explain that zinc is an important element of the powerful SOD antioxidant (superoxide dismutase) that protects cells and their DNA against oxidative stress caused by free radicals. Zinc also appears to introduce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in glioma cells, and the scientists assume that zinc can regulate cellular DNA folding and control the activation of relevant enzymes.


Good iron sources are meat (red meat in particular), offal, red beets, whole grain, and legumes. The body absorbs heme iron from meat a lot better than non-heme iron from plant sources. Iron is involved in a number of metabolic processes in the body such as oxygen transport, cellular energy metabolism, and DNA synthesis. Iron is also involved in fundamental brain processes, including the synthesis of neurotransmitters and myelin. Iron’s role in the prevention of gliomas is rather complex. It is believed that iron is involved in apoptosis or programmed self-destruction of cells. It is vital not to get too much iron because iron in excess amounts works as a pro-oxidant. Only take an iron supplement if a deficiency has been detected.


Copper and iron are normally found in the same foods, especially meat, whole grain, nuts, and beans. Copper is important for pigmentation, immune defense, blood formation, and the nervous system. Only few studies have looked at copper and cancer, but the recent study found that higher copper intake lowered the risk of gliomas, especially high-grade gliomas (III-IV).
Copper also appears to introduce apoptosis in glioma cells. It is important not to get too much copper because this may disrupt the body’s zinc utilization and that may be harmful.

Make sure to get your minerals in the right amounts

According to the new meta-analysis, increased intake of calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and copper from the diet is linked to a lower risk of developing gliomas. Make sure to get the minerals in the right quantities from healthy foods and supplements. Excessive mineral intake can be bad for you.


The Chinese scientists only studied the five minerals and how they affect the development of gliomas. However, an earlier study looks at selenium’s therapeutic role in connection with glioblastoma, a very aggressive type of brain tumor. This study, which is also published in Frontiers in Nutrition, found that several selenium-containing enzymes (selenoproteins) are important for the energy turnover and a number of metabolic processes. Selenium counteracts chronic inflammation, and selenium-containing antioxidants protect against damage to cells and their DNA caused by oxidative stress. Selenium appears to have a key role in the prevention of gliomas, as well, for example by controlling interactions between tumor cells and immune cells and by preventing the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) and preventing cancer from spreading. Furthermore, it has been observed that patients with gliomas are more likely to lack selenium.
Selenium is primarily found in fish, shellfish, offal, meat, and Brazil nuts. The agricultural soil in Europe and many other places is low in selenium, which affects the selenium content in crops and contributes to the widespread problems with selenium deficiency.


Weichunbai Zhang et al. Association between dietary minerals and glioma: A case-controlled study based on Chinese population. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2023

Eduard Yakubov et al. Therapeutic Potential of Selenium in Glioblastoma. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2021

Aparna Shreenath. Selenium Deficiency. StatPearls. 2019

TIP! See also the related articles


  • Created on .