Food and Behaviour Research

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15 April 2016 - Nutraingredients - Magnesium right on time as role in body rhythms is recognised

Will Chu


Sleep problems have become increasingly common - and while lifestyle factors are commonly acknowledged as an important contributory factor, far less attention has been paid to the potential role of nutrition and diet in supporting healthy sleep patterns.

This new study shows that magnesium plays a key role in regulating the many cellular 'clocks' that help to keep our brain and body systems 'in sync' with our environment.  

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The amount of magnesium in the diet plays a central role in helping to adapt to the rhythms of night and day, researchers have discovered.

The revelation may also point towards magnesium as a gatekeeper of cellular energy balance and expenditure over the daily cycle.

The study pinpointed the nutrient magnesium as a determinant of how cells keep to a schedule helping them adjust to the natural environmental cycle of day and night , also known as circadian rhythms.

With this discovery, a new direction of research involving circadian rhythms hormone release, body temperature and other important bodily functions in people is possible.

What scientists don’t know is how the relevant genes initiate biochemical mechanisms that enable the circadian regulation of cell biology.

Human cells, algae & fungi

That was the objective for researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology in Cambridge.

The team began with experiments with human cells, algae, and fungi. In all test subjects, the levels of magnesium increased and decreased in line with the day’s daily cycle.

Magnesium levels were also linked with the rate of metabolism in cells. The researchers predicted that the cells ability to convert nutrients into energy would be low when magnesium levels were low as protein synthesis is one of the most energetically expensive processes that cells undertake.

"Although the clinical relevance of magnesium in various tissues is beginning to garner more attention, how magnesium regulates our body's internal clock and metabolism has simply not been considered before,” said senior author, Dr John O'Neill of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.

The new discovery could lead to a whole range of benefits spanning human health to agricultural productivity."

Mechanisms of action

In trying to explain their observations, the team believed that the data supported a model where the cells specifically controlled the magnesium transporters in the plasma membrane that corresponded to the rhythmic magnesium changes.