Calorie restriction is one of the most effective interventions that reliably slows aging and extends lifespans in numerous species. The problem is that it requires severe reductions in food intake that are nearly impossible for most people to follow. Fortunately, it may be possible to achieve many of the benefits of calorie restriction without limiting your food intake!
A cell study in late 2016 revealed that magnesium supplementation mimic a key underlying mechanism of calorie restriction. That study showed that magnesium reduces or eliminates structures called R-Loops. These structures are extremly harmful because they contribute to an unstable genome. Since unstable genomes lead to cell death and raise cancer risk, stabilizing the cellular genome by eliminating R-Loops can powerfully prevent disease and promote longevity.
This latest study on magnesium represents a remarkable advance in the ability to replicate the benefits of calorie restriction on health and longevity without limiting caloric intake.
What are R-loops?
To understand the new study on magnesium, it’s necessary to understand the concept of R-loops and why preventing their formation is essential to preventing disease and extending lifespan. R-loops are structures that form when strands on DNA and RNA interfere with each other, causing one strand of DNA to bulge away form the main strand forming a loop. That lone DNA strand is highly vulnerable to damage and mutation. Compounding the problem, bulging R-loops interfere with the repair of damaged DNA.
The result of these disruptions is an unstable genome, meaning one likely to undergo dangerous mutations. The end result is premature cell death (and consequently loss of tissue function) or out-of-control cell replication (and consequently cancer formation).
R-loop accumulation has been linked to numerous diseases, such as cancers of the breast, ovary, and colon, as well as neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Add to this the known harmful effects of genomic instability on longevity in general, and it’s easy to see the tremendous importance of finding ways to suppress the formation of R-loops in human cells. That’s what makes this new magnesium study so exciting.
The magnesium connection
Scientists have know for years that calorie restriction promotes genomic stability by decreasing the accumulation of R-loops. What they didn’t know was how. The answer is that calorie restriction increases the amount of magnesium in the cells. The resarchers first saw this when calorie-restricted yeast cells began accumulating magnesium ions. This occured as a result of boosted production of specialized magnesium transporter complexes which pull magnesium into cells.
Next they found that having a higher concentration of magnesium in the cells powerfully repressed the formation of R-loops. This suggested that magnesium is the link between calorie restriction and R-loop suppression.
Then they showed that disrupting the magnesium transporters – or taking magnesium out of the cells’ growth medium – prevented the calorie restriction benefit of suppressing R-loops formation.
Together, these findings confirmed that magnesium is indeed the connection between calorie restriction and R-loop suppression.
So the important question is: If raising intracellular magnesium is the mechanism by which calorie restriction represses R-loops, is it possible to accomplish this by magnesium supplementation alone? The study shows that the answer is yes.