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Association of magnesium intake and vitamin D status with cognitive function in older adults: an analysis of US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2011 to 2014



Reduced cognitive function associated with aging has gained increasing attention as the US population ages. Magnesium plays a critical role in vitamin D biosynthesis and metabolism; and deficiencies in magnesium and vitamin D show associations with poor cognition. However, no study has examined their interaction. This study aimed to evaluate the associations of magnesium intake and serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) concentrations, indicating vitamin D status, with cognition, and interaction between these nutrients in older adults.


Based on the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) 2011–2014, the study included 2466 participants aged ≥ 60 years who completed the Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST) and had data available on serum 25(OH)D and magnesium intake. Cognitive impairment was defined as a DSST score lower than the lowest quartile. Serum 25(OH)D concentrations were measured by HPLC-tandem mass spectrometry.


Higher total magnesium intake was independently associated with higher DSST scores (highest quartile vs lowest: β = 4.34, 95% CI 1.14–7.54). The association of total magnesium intake with high DSST score was primarily observed among women, non-Hispanic whites, physically active participants and those with sufficient vitamin D status, although the interactions were not significant. The odds of cognitive impairment was reduced with increasing intake of total magnesium (p trend < 0.01) and higher level of serum 25(OH)D (p trend = 0.05).


Findings suggest that high magnesium intake alone may improve cognitive function in older adults, and the association may be stronger among subjects with sufficient vitamin D status. Further studies are needed to confirm these findings.

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We thank the investigators, the staff and the participants of NHANES for their valuable contribution.


Dr. Tao’s effort was partially supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institute of Health under Award U54MD006882.

Author information




NCP conducted the statistical analyses and wrote the paper; KE and WC contributed to data interpretation, and the critical review of the manuscript; MHT designed the study, supervise the study process and wrote the paper; and all authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Meng-Hua Tao.

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Peeri, N.C., Egan, K.M., Chai, W. et al. Association of magnesium intake and vitamin D status with cognitive function in older adults: an analysis of US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2011 to 2014. Eur J Nutr 60, 465–474 (2021).

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  • Magnesium intake
  • Vitamin D status
  • Cognitive function
  • Older adults