Increased intake of magnesium from dietary sources or from supplements is associated with significantly healthier knees, including improvements like thicker cartilage. But many people lack magnesium and that most likely helps explain the widespread problems with knee osteoarthritis, according to a study that is published in the journal Nutrients. If you already have osteoarthritis, taking pharmaceutical-grade glucosamine may help.
We all want to stay physically active and full of vitality for as long as possible here in life, but the ageing process takes its toll, and osteoarthritis is one of the most commonly occurring disabilities among older people. Osteoarthritis has many causes, and overweight, gender, and chronic inflammation play a key role in the development of the disease. On a global scale, an estimated 10 percent of men and 20 percent of women from 60 years and older are believed to be affected by osteoarthritis. It is therefore essential to learn more about any mechanisms that can prevent or delay the onset of this disabling condition.
Magnesium deficiencies – a widespread and overlooked problem
A number of different minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, selenium, zinc, and copper regulate cartilage function. However, according to the scientists behind the new study, lack of magnesium is an overlooked problem, especially when it comes to knee osteoarthritis.
An estimated 25% of the American population gets less dietary magnesium than expected, which is most likely a result of poor eating habits and too many processed foods.
Magnesium deficiency and inflammation cause may chronic diseases
Several epidemiological studies suggest a link between magnesium deficiency and various diseases such as atherosclerosis, elevated blood pressure, osteoporosis, diabetes, and cancer of the breast and colon. Magnesium deficiency is believed to cause chronic inflammation that plays a key role in all of these conditions. Moreover, science believes that there is an inverse relation between magnesium intake and knee osteoarthritis, but more studies are needed before making conclusions.
Magnesium helps prevent knee osteoarthritis
The new study included 783 participants, 60 percent of which were women. The average age is 62.3 years. All study participants had been diagnosed with knee osteoarthritis. Dietary magnesium intake was assessed by means of food questionnaires. Magnesium’s impact on the knee osteoarthritis was determined by increasing the participants’ intake of magnesium by 100 mg daily, either through dietary intervention or the use of supplements. In the course of the study, the researchers studied MRI (magnesium resonance imaging) scans of the participants’ knee joints, as this method provides a more detailed picture of the structures of the different tissues, including the cartilage, the meniscus, the ligaments, the joint capsules, and fluid retentions. That way, the scientists could see that increased magnesium intake contributed to a significant increase in average cartilage thickness and cartilage volume in the different parts of the knee cartilage. This was even the case after adjusting for confounding factors such as age, BMI, physical activity level, and smoking, all of which are likely to affect the result.
The scientists therefore concluded that increased intake of magnesium from dietary sources or from supplements can help prevent and also improve knee osteoarthritis.
How magnesium prevents and helps osteoarthritis
The scientists behind the study describe the following mechanisms of action:
- Magnesium helps counteract low-grade inflammation, which plays a key role in the development of osteoarthritis and pain associated with the condition
- Magnesium counteracts oxidative stress and cellular damage caused by free radicals (reactive oxygen species or ROS) that are produced by the white blood cells (phagocytes)
- Magnesium is required for the activation and utilization of vitamin D, which is important for bones and has anti-inflammatory properties
- Magnesium sources, official recommendations, and increased need for the nutrient
- Magnesium is mainly found in whole grain, almonds, nuts, seeds, beans and other vegetables. The majority of people in Western countries get less magnesium than the officially recommended intake level. This is primarily a result of nutrient-depleted soil, food refinement, and poor eating habits. Stress, stimulants, medicine, and the ageing process also increase your need for magnesium.
Important: Magnesium must be in the proper balance with calcium
Magnesium possesses a ”doorman” function in cell membranes by controlling the calcium flow. It makes sure to channel the major part of calcium into the cells in bones and teeth at the same time as limiting the calcium concentration inside cells of soft tissues like muscles. It is therefor vital to ingest magnesium and calcium in the proper balance. If we consume too much calcium from dairy products or supplements or become deficient in magnesium, there is a risk that the cells in our soft tissues absorb too much calcium (in the absence of magnesium to control the flow into the cells), causing stress and inflammation inside the cells.
Magnesium supplements, quality, and absorption
There are many different magnesium supplements on the market, and it is always a good idea to study the label and check the quality of the product before making your purchase. Some supplements contain a blend of organic and inorganic magnesium sources that give better utilization of the nutrient. Still, some magnesium supplements have better absorption than others. A simple yet rather convenient way of testing your magnesium supplement is by dropping a tablet in a glass of water to see how fast it dissolves. The faster it dissolves, the more certain you can be that its magnesium content is effectively absorbed in the small intestine. If you suffer from osteoarthritis, you may want to combine your magnesium with glucosamine sulphate to improve the effect.
Glucosamine sulphate as first line therapy for osteoarthritis
Glucosamine consists of an amino acid and glucose. Glucosamine sulphate is glucosamine where sulphate (sulfur) has been added. Glucosamine sulphate is a building block in larger sugar molecules such as hyalurone, chondroitin sulfate, and keratan sulfate, all of which are important molecules in articular cartilage. The body’s cells are normally able to produce glucosamine, but increased age combined with a lack of key nutrients may impair this ability and speed up the progression of osteoarthritis.
According to a report issued by ESCEO (European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoarthritis), a financially independent group of experts, glucosamine sulfate should be first line therapy for osteoarthritis. Traditionally used painkillers and NSAID drugs to not stimulate cartilage synthesis and are also associated with serious side effects and even mortality. The scientists have also observed that glucosamine sulfate inhibits interleukin-1, which causes inflammation and joint damage. It is essential always to use pharmaceutical-grade glucosamine sulfate and not illegal supplements that are typically sold from web shops without documentation for their safety and effect.
Nicola Veronese et al. The association between Dietary Magnesium Intake and Magnetic Resonance Parameters for Knee Osteoarthritis. Nutrients 2019
Gerry K. Schwalfenberg and Stephen J. Genuis. The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare. Scientifica (Carro) 2017
Nelson AE et al.: A systematic review of recommendations and guidelines for the management of osteoarthritis: The Chronic Osteoarthritis Management Initiative of the U.S Bone and Joint initiative. PubMed 2014
Keld Østergaard. Glukosaminsulfat – den nye slidgigtmedicin. Medi-Com, 2003
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