Immune attack damaged by low magnesium levels

Immune attack damaged by low magnesium levels

New research from the University of Basel and University Hospital Basel has reported that attacker T-cells in the Innate Immune system need good levels of magnesium in order to operate effectively; levels are lowered by drugs, alcohol, stress and dairy consumption.

This is of huge importance to people with cancer, or others with chronic illnesses, or those trying to prevent or fight off Covid-19. Researchers found that the level of magnesium in the blood is crucial in the immune system's ability to tackle pathogens, infection or cancer cells (1). 

However, cancer drugs, particularly old-fashioned chemotherapy drugs, are notorious for decreasing blood levels of magnesium.  But magnesium is known to be a mineral essential in over 300 cellular reactions in the body. It is also crucial to a healthy liver. In this research, cancer tumours were shown to grow faster in mice when fed a low magnesium diet. And low magnesium can reduce immune defences essential in the fight against sepsis, flu viruses or other pathogens.

This was however almost the first study on how magnesium worked.

Professor Christoph Hess, from the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the Department of Medicine at Cambridge University showed that T-cells can eliminate abnormal or infected cells efficiently only in a magnesium-rich environment. They further found that magnesium is important for the function of a T-cell surface protein, LFA-1 which acts as a ‘docking site’. 

Without enough magnesium the docking site is folded and cannot bind to rogue cells. Christoph Hess explained that this is how magnesium works.  "If magnesium is present in sufficient quantities in the vicinity of the T cells, it binds to LFA-1 and ensures that it remains in an extended -- and therefore active -- position."

Magnesium crucial for fighting cancer

Magnesium is reduced by drugs, alcohol, stress and dairy consumption. But clearly it is one of the first minerals that needs to be checked for levels in infection, Covid-19 and cancer. Chris Woollams, a founder of CANCERactive and a former Oxford University Biochemist said, “I am really surprised by this research. I thought we understood that magnesium was essential to the immune system already. We certainly know that 40% of women in the UK are deficient. Estimates in the USA suggest 60% of all adults are deficient. And we know cancer drugs like Taxol and Cisplatin destroplasma levvels of magnesium. I suggest every one of my PP patients takes 350 mg a day, especially if they are taking drugs. After the drugs are over we reduce this to three times per week. I thought we knew it was essential to a strong immune system, strong bones, vitamin D assimilation and heart and nerve function”.

Previous research from the Tennessee Colorectal Polyp Cancer study and, also, from the Women’s Health Initiative 13-year study both showed that a good magnesium plasma levels significantly reduced the risk of colorectal cancer. A 2012 study from Imperial College London concluded that increasing intake by 100 mg per day decreased CRC risk by 12 per cent. 

The Vitamins and Lifestyle Cohort in the USA concluded that a reduction of 100mg a day in plasma magnesium levels was linked to a 75 per cent increase in pancreatic cancer. The European EPIC study suggested a reduced risk of 21 per cent (2) on supplement with 100 mg per day.

Go to: How cancer drugs damage magnesium levels



  1. Jonas Lötscher, Adrià-Arnau Martí i Líndez, Nicole Kirchhammer, Elisabetta Cribioli, Greta Giordano, Marcel P. Trefny, Markus Lenz, Sacha I. Rothschild, Paolo Strati, Marco Künzli, Claudia Lotter, Susanne H. Schenk, Philippe Dehio, Jordan Löliger, Ludivine Litzler, David Schreiner, Victoria Koch, Nicolas Page, Dahye Lee, Jasmin Grählert, Dmitry Kuzmin, Anne-Valérie Burgener, Doron Merkler, Miklos Pless, Maria L. Balmer, Walter Reith, Jörg Huwyler, Melita Irving, Carolyn G. King, Alfred Zippelius, Christoph Hess. Magnesium sensing via LFA-1 regulates CD8 T cell effector function. Cell, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.12.039

  2. Magnesium and cancer risk -



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