Throughout the day, our bodies are exposed to millions of germs based on how we interact with the environment. The objects we touch, the foods we eat, and the air we inhale all can contain potential pathogens – microorganisms that can cause disease. However, many people are able to live their lives without constantly being sick, and this is due to their immune systems.
Well, did you know that magnesium and vitamin D are good for your immune system?
In previous blogs, we have discussed the various benefits that magnesium and vitamin D provide for the body. Magnesium can help boost your mood, improve sleep quality, and facilitate energy production, among other positive effects. Similarly, vitamin D can enhance your mood, support your bone health, and offers various other benefits.
Another major benefit of both nutrients is that they can enhance your immune response, lending support to how your body responds to germs and infections. Essentially, they help you protect yourself and support your efforts to be healthy. So, let’s take a closer look into the interplay among magnesium, vitamin D, and the immune system.
Various studies have shown that magnesium influences the way that the two main branches of the immune system (innate immunity and adaptive immunity) function in our bodies.
The innate immune response is the front line of defense that the body uses against foreign substances. Once the body first notices a pathogen, it immediately activates the innate response and springs into action. During the first critical hours and days of exposure to a new pathogen, the innate system creates a general, non-specific response to destroy the foreign invader.
In relation to this activity, researchers hypothesize that magnesium acts as a co-factor (a substance that helps chemical reactions occur) for a variety of immune system reactions. It functions as a co-factor for immunoglobulin synthesis, antibody-dependent cytolysis, macrophage response, and various other reactions. All of that is to say that magnesium influences how cells respond to potentially harmful substances and helps mobilize white blood cells to get rid of the substances (1).
Specifically looking at inflammation, studies have shown that magnesium deficiency correlates with higher levels of inflammation in the body. Several researchers found that people lacking in magnesium had higher rates of pathological conditions in which their bodies experienced chronic inflammation. In magnesium-deficient bodies, the white blood cells activated and released inflammatory chemical signals to the site of infection. This increased chemical activity would lead to the characteristic signs of inflammation: redness, swelling, sometimes pain (2).
Magnesium supplementation may be able to reduce inflammation in the body.
Various studies found that magnesium supplementation could significantly decrease the levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood. CRP is a protein made by the liver that serves as a marker of inflammation. When people get blood tests, the CRP level is one of the measures that is checked. If CRP levels are high, that means there is inflammation present, signifying a foreign attack or some other problem in the body.
A group of researchers did a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies up until December 2016 looking to see what effect magnesium supplementation had on CRP. Across the studies, the supplementation plans ranged from 8 hours to 6.5 months, and the magnesium dosages ranged from 320 mg/day to 1500 mg/day. Overall, supplementation significantly lowered the CRP present in the subjects’ blood, again pointing to the regulatory role that magnesium plays (3).
Vitamin D goes through a series of reactions in order to become an active substance in the body; it picks up oxygen, changes its structure, and travels to different parts of the body. As it moves through the process, it receives help from a number of different biological molecules, including magnesium.
Magnesium acts as a co-factor in the vitamin D activation reactions that take place in the liver and kidneys. It appears that all of the enzymes needed to metabolize vitamin D require magnesium to do so.
And it seems that the assistance goes both ways. Some studies have seen that vitamin D may stimulate the intestinal absorption of magnesium, helping the magnesium to take effect in the body. Therefore, magnesium derives some of its immune system benefits partly from its influence on vitamin D activity (4).
Vitamin D binds to receptors involved in the innate immune response, influencing how the body responds to infection. The vitamin affects how cells multiply and mature into active cells. This allows vitamin D to strengthen the immune system against invaders and promote tolerance.
Numerous studies also found an association between lower vitamin D levels and increased rates of infection.
Vitamin D can cause more T cells (a central player in the immune system) to go to the site of an infection, lowering the production of inflammatory proteins called cytokines and increasing the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines.
In addition, immune cells from various autoimmune diseases appear to respond to the regulatory immune effects of vitamin D.
In a U.S. study of almost 19,000 subjects, participants with lower vitamin D levels were more likely than their counterparts to self-report having an upper respiratory tract infection within the past few days. This was observable even adjusting for age, gender, and other variables. Therefore, the individuals who maintained a sufficient level of vitamin D appeared to be more protected against influenza and the common cold. Even with season variations, the association between low vitamin D levels and higher rates of infection held (5).
Another group of researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials observing how vitamin D supplementation affected participants. The search focused on 25 studies with a total of 11,321 subjects. They found that study participants who already had a healthy baseline of vitamin D levels and took vitamin D supplements were able to reduce their risk of catching an acute respiratory infection by 10%. Participants who were vitamin-D-deficient reduced their risk by an astounding 50% due to vitamin D supplementation. As a result, the researchers hypothesized that 25-hydroxyvitamin D supported the induction of antimicrobial substances to fight the infection. Vitamin D supplementation was safe and gave protection against the acute infection overall (6).
It is important to make sure that you are getting enough nutrients through your diet. You don’t necessarily have to check your vitamin levels every day, but it would be helpful to incorporate substances into your diet that help maintain sufficient levels in your body. Vitamin D and magnesium may enhance a variety of your body’s systems, helping preserve balance within.
Health is important to all of us, all of the time. We especially become aware of our health and bodies during times of crisis. That is why it is important to practice behaviors that keep your body healthy and protected against illness. In order to focus on your health, you can try getting proper sleep each day, taking supplements to strengthen your immune system, and regularly engaging in exercise.
Figure out what works best for your lifestyle. By investing time and effort into your body, you can help maintain your body’s defenses and build up its strength. A healthy immune system keeps you protected.
1. Tam, M., Gómez, S., González-Gross, M., Marcos, A. (2003). Possible roles of magnesium on the immune system. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 57, 1193-1197. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601689
2. Nielsen, F. H. (2018). Magnesium deficiency and increased inflammation: current perspectives. Journal of inflammation research, 11, 25–34. https://doi.org/10.2147/JIR.S136742
3. Mazidi, M., Rezaie, P., & Banach, M. (2018). Effect of magnesium supplements on serum C-reactive protein: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Archives of medical science: AMS, 14(4), 707–716. https://doi.org/10.5114/aoms.2018.75719
4. Uwitonze, A. M., & Razzaque, M. S. (2018). Role of magnesium in vitamin D activation and function. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 118, 181-189. doi:https://doi.org/10.7556/jaoa.2018.037
5. Aranow, C. (2011). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of investigative medicine: the official publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research, 59(6), 881–886. https://doi.org/10.2310/JIM.0b013e31821b8755
6. Martineau, A. R., Jolliffe, D. A., Hooper, R. L., Greenberg, L., et al. (2017). Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. BMJ, 356. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i6583