Taking magnesium supplements in middle age could help protect bones breaking in old age, a study suggests. The pills may hold the key to reducing rates of the most preventable cause of this disability in later life, UK scientists believe.

Researchers discovered middle-aged men who had high levels of magnesium in their blood nearly halved their chances of breaking a bone over the following twenty-five years. Lead researcher, Dr Setor Kunutsor, of Bristol University, said: ‘The findings are quite clear – there is a substantial reduction in risk of fractures. Although magnesium is known to be important for bone health, it is thought this is the first study to show how it could prevent breaks.’

The scientists believe the same effects apply to women, although the study included only men. In the UK, around half of women and a fifth of men over 50 will break a bone. Around 3 million Britons, the majority women, suffer from osteoporosis – a disease which weakens bones and can cause breaks from relatively minor falls. Fractures can be debilitating and lead to other complications which can ultimately be fatal for some elderly people.

Most people get the magnesium they need from their diet, as it’s found in many foods. But supplements can help those with a poor or restricted diet to get the recommended daily allowance of 300mg for men and 270mg for women.

Dr Kunutsor recommended doctors considered screening patients to check their magnesium levels and treat any problems before their bones weaken. He added: ‘As people get older, it becomes harder to absorb magnesium. But they don’t show any symptoms until they break a bone. Screening for magnesium levels may be one way to go into the future. Then, perhaps, they could be prescribed magnesium pills to increase levels if they have gone too low. Previous research has suggested hip fractures could be prevented by adding magnesium to tap water, and the mineral has also been linked to a reduction in the risk of heart disease, strokes and diabetes. But taking too much can be harmful especially for people with kidney problems.’

The lesson to be learned is to ensure you follow a healthy diet, eating leafy greens such as spinach and kale, brown rice, nuts and whole grain bread, fish and meat – nothing to excess and leave the rest to destiny.

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