Five US studies using the Mg tolerance test, the gold standard test of Mg status, indicated that >50% participants had Mg deficiency. In our ongoing US trial, we have found a similar result. In growing recognition of the importance of Mg in human health, very recently, Mg was selected by the US Federal Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) Committee to update the DRI. In US and other populations at high risk of Mg deficiency, high Mg intake has been linked to reduced risk of colorectal neoplasia, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). Conversely, in populations not at high risk of Mg deficiency, high Mg intake has been related to increased risk of total mortality (e.g. total cancer, colorectal cancer, and CVD), particularly when calcium intak is low. These observations suggest that the associations between high Mg intake and disease risks may completely differ by the underlying Mg status. Due to major limitations, the Mg tolerance test is not used in conventional clinical practice and rarely used in research. Instead, serum Mg is used for clinical diagnosis. However, serum Mg performs very poorly at identifying those with Mg deficiency. There is a great need to develop implementable, sensitive, and specific biomarkers which can be easily used for identifying people with Mg deficiency. Without such a marker, it is impossible to develop effective strategies that minimize adverse effects by targeting those who, as a result of Mg deficiency, are at risk of common diseases. It is known that DNA methylation changes are inducible by environmental exposures, including nutrients, and reversible when the exposure disappears. There are two major types of cytosine modifications in DNA, 5-hydroxymethylcytosine (5-hmC) and 5-methylcytosine (5-mC). 5-mC is often associated with suppressed gene expression. 5-hmC, generated by the oxidation of 5-mC, is specifically enriched in expressed genes and plays a critical role in activating and/or maintaining gene expression. However, current epigenomic profiling platforms cannot distinguish 5-hmC from 5-mC. Just recently, our collaborator, Dr. Chuan He (HHMI Investigator), established a novel and state of the art technique, TAB-Seq & TAB-Array protocol, which can separate 5-hmC from 5-mC in the genome. Our pilot studies indicate that Mg intake or treatment significantly affects methylation capacity, 5-mC and 5-hmC biomarkers. Our findings suggest blood leukocyte 5-hmC/5-mC biomarkers may serve as more sensitive biomarkers to identify Mg deficiency than serum Mg. Thus, a comprehensive epigenome-wide association study (EWAS) may help to identify the most sensitive 5-hmC/ 5- mC biomarkers for Mg deficiency. We propose to identify 5-hmC/5-mC biomarkers for Mg deficiency by a 4- phase EWAS study in the Personalized Prevention of Colorectal Cancer Trial [PPCCT, R01CA149633; PI, Dai & Yu] with a total of 240 participants. Mg tolerance test will be used as the gold standard. Finally, using newly identified biomarkers, we will evaluate if 12-week Mg treatment reduces TRPM7 expression, essential in Mg homeostasis and colorectal carcinogenesis, in rectal tissues only among those with Mg deficiency.

Public Health Relevance

The impact of the study is multi-fold because a large proportion of the US population has magnesium deficiency while low magnesium status is linked in the US population to an increased risk of many common diseases (e.g. colorectal cancer and cardiometabolic disease). However, the associations between magnesium intake and risks of diseases may completely differ by the underlying magnesium status so there is a great need to develop implementable, sensitive, and specific biomarkers of Mg deficiency which can be used for identifying people with Mg deficiency in clinics, general populations, clinical trials and epidemiologic studies. We propose to use a novel methylomic profiling approach to derive an accurate composite index for identifying individuals with Mg deficiency with which it is possible to develop effective strategies that minimize adverse effects by targeting those with Mg deficiency at risk of common diseases.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-EMNR-V (55)R)
Program Officer
Emenaker, Nancy J
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Independent Hospitals
United States
Zip Code
Sun, Pin; Zhu, Xiangzhu; Shrubsole, Martha J et al. (2017) Genetic variation in SLC7A2 interacts with calcium and magnesium intakes in modulating the risk of colorectal polyps. J Nutr Biochem 47:35-40