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Magnesium makes protein supplements less dangerous, study suggests

According to epidemiological studies, dairy proteins actually the calcium attached to the proteins increase the risk of developing prostate cancer. This happens at an intake above 50 g dairy protein per day. One epidemiological study, however, suggests that a diet that is rich in magnesium reduces the risks of a high calcium intake.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University published the results of their study in April 2011 in PLoS One. They compared blood levels of several hundred men with prostate cancer with those of men who did not have prostate cancer. The researchers examined the concentration of calcium and magnesium in the blood.

Studies have shown that a high calcium intake increases the risk of hormone-related forms of cancer, such as prostate cancer. According to a popular theory, put forward by Edward Giovannucci, calcium reduces the concentration of vitamin D, which inhibits the development of cancer. These researchers, however, are more interested in a different theory, which suggests that a high level of calcium boosts the growth rate of some types of cancer cells. [Subcell Biochem. 2007; 45:405-27.] Calcium has a signalling function in cells. One of this mineral's functions is to pass on signals that encourage a cancer cell to grow and develop. The more calcium a cancer cell gets, the faster it grows and develops.

Magnesium makes protein supplements less dangerous, study suggests

If this theory holds water, it should be possible to inhibit this process with magnesium supplements or a magnesium-rich diet. Magnesium replaces calcium in cells so it does so in cancer cells too. In this way magnesium could reduce the growth of cancer cells and give the body more opportunity to eliminate the cancer cells. A diet that is high in magnesium would work in the same way, so a low-grade prostate cancer might not develop into the more dangerous high-grade prostate cancer.

The researchers' findings confirm their theory. The tables below show that the chance of both low-grade and high-grade prostate cancer was lower the more magnesium the men had in their blood. Notice also that the risk of both forms of prostate cancer dropped, the lower the ratio between the concentration of calcium and that of magnesium.

Magnesium makes protein supplements less dangerous, study suggests

Magnesium makes protein supplements less dangerous, study suggests

Whether you have high or low levels of calcium in your blood, a high magnesium concentration halves the chance of high-grade prostate cancer developing.

About 80 percent of the American population ingests less magnesium than is healthy. Elsewhere in the developed world the situation is slightly better, but the majority of western Europeans also consume too little magnesium. Whole grains and leafy vegetables contain magnesium and we are eating less and less of these. A portion of spinach contains about 180 mg magnesium. You need about half a gram of magnesium daily.

The study suggests that avid dairy-protein supplements users may be able to reduce their prostate cancer risk by taking extra magnesium. Note though that 'suggest' is not the same as 'prove'.

PLoS One. 2011 Apr 25;6(4):e18237.

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