How well your brain works depends on how well your synapses work. The synapses are the places where the brain’s neurons communicate with each other. As research shows, the reliability and efficiency of these communications depend on abundant levels of a certain mineral. And it just so happens that about half of us are dangerously low in that mineral.

If you change your diet to make sure you get more of this mineral, there’s good evidence that your increased intake will improve the function of your synapses and protect your mental abilities against the hazards of aging.

The mineral in question is magnesium. And researchers are becoming convinced that when you run short of it your brain’s neurons and cognitive abilities can short out like a malfunctioning electric circuit.

Enhances brain power in young and old alike

A range of experiments during the past decade have shown that magnesium is a brain booster. For example, in tests on laboratory animals, researchers at MIT have demonstrated that magnesium can increase learning abilities and memory.

Using specialized magnesium supplements, Guosong Liu, who is now at the Center for Learning and Memory at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, has shown that magnesium may enhance brain power in both the young and oldi.

“We found that elevation of brain magnesium led to significant enhancement of spatial and associative memory in both young and aged (animals),” says researcher Liu.

Liu and his fellow researchers examined how magnesium altered the functional and structural properties of synapses. They found that at any age, magnesium increased the adaptability of synapses while boosting the density of synapses in the hippocampus, the vital area that takes part in learning and memory.

“Half the population of the industrialized countries has a magnesium deficit, which increases with aging. If normal or even higher levels of magnesium can be maintained, we may be able to significantly slow age-related loss of cognitive function and perhaps prevent or treat diseases that affect cognitive function,” Liu says.

Aided brain development in animal trials

Research at Tel Aviv University in Israel supports the importance of magnesiumii.

In these tests, scientists compared the cognitive skills of two groups of animals. One was fed a normal diet while the other consumed magnesium supplements with their meals.

Behavioral tests found that cognitive functioning improved in the animals given supplements. These animals also grew extra synapses in their brains. Consequently, their brains were able to more effectively retain memories.

Although the supplements used in all of these research projects is not yet available to consumers, the researchers believe that all of us should be making an effort to eat more magnesium-rich foods. The supplements currently on the market are not believed to deliver magnesium very efficiently to the brain.

According to researcher Inna Slutsky of Tel Aviv University, eating meals that contain more magnesium won’t help your memory overnight, but if you eat those foods day after day you should experience a gradual improvement. She also believes your magnesium intake can fight the development of dementia and other signs of aging in your brain.

Rich sources of magnesium include dark, leafy vegetables like spinach as well as broccoli, cashews, almonds, and a variety of fruit. If you take in less than 400 milligrams a day, aside from the risk of potential cognitive difficulties, you increase your danger of heart problems, allergies and asthma.