Magnesium is an important micronutrient that can help your immune system to tackle pathogens and even cancer cells.

Now, a new study from the University of Basel and University Hospital Basel has reported that T-cells, which are the important white blood cells (WBCs) of the immune system, need a sufficient amount of magnesium to operate efficiently, according to Science Daily.

The study findings, published in the journal Cell, may have important implications for patients with cancer.

Research has found that a lack of magnesium is associated with various diseases, such as infections and cancer. In animal studies, it has been shown that a low-magnesium diet causes cancerous growths to spread faster. Also, their defense against flu viruses was also impaired.

Lead author Dr. Christoph Hess and his team have discovered that T-cells can eliminate abnormal or infected cells efficiently only in a magnesium-rich environment. They said magnesium, in particular, is important for the function of a T-cell surface protein called LFA-1.

Acts as a docking site, LFA-1 plays a key role in the activation of T-cells.

“However, in the inactive state this docking site is in a bent conformation and thus cannot efficiently bind to infected or abnormal cells,” Dr. Hess explained. “This is where magnesium comes into play. If magnesium is present in sufficient quantities in the vicinity of the T cells, it binds to LFA-1 and ensures that it remains in an extended — and therefore active — position.”

Magnesium is essential for the proper functioning of T-cells, suggesting the development of modern cancer immunotherapies.

These therapies mobilize the immune system to fight cancer cells. In animal models, the researchers have shown that the immune response of T-cells against cancer cells was strengthened by an increase in the local magnesium concentration in tumors, according to Science Daily.

Dr. Hess said, “In order to verify this observation clinically, we’re now looking for ways to increase the concentration of magnesium in tumors in a targeted manner.”

Another lead author Dr. Jonas Lötscher said, “Whether a regular intake of magnesium impacts the risk for developing cancer is a question that cannot be answered based on the existing data. As a next step, we’re planning prospective studies to test the clinical effect of magnesium as a catalyst for the immune system.”