Magnesium is the second most abundant mineral in our body. Considering we have so much, it’s obviously needed for a ton of stuff. It’s a vital nutrient that drives close to 300 different biochemical reactions in the body. One of these critical functions is ensuring that our blood sugar remains within the right range. The connection between having adequate magnesium and diabetes prevention is deep. Magnesium can help prevent diabetes if you don’t have it yet. If you are diabetic, it can help you control blood sugar better.
We’re meant to get magnesium from a variety of foods, including dairy. And yet an astounding 80% of Americans are deficient in this mineral. Is it any wonder then that heart diseases, hypertension, and diabetes are on such a sharp rise in the United States?
The relationship between magnesium and diabetes mellitus is crucial. Here’s why:
- Magnesium helps muscle cells relax, so insulin resistance goes down. Cells allow more sugar in. Blood sugar goes down.
- The heart is a muscle. Magnesium helps the heart relax and lowers risk of cardiac issues in diabetics.
- When magnesium is sufficient, it prevents calcium deposition in the inner walls of blood vessels. This helps prevent hardening of arteries.
- Magnesium is important for the production of energy. Diabetics often feel tired because proper energy production is an issue.
- Magnesium helps convert excess of glucose in the blood into glycogen. This gets stored in the liver. Excess sugar is removed from the blood.
- Magnesium helps antioxidants like Glutathione do their job in our body. Antioxidants help slow down aging. Diabetics face more oxidative stress than non-diabetics. This causes diabetic complications across the whole body.
- Diabetics often complain of feeling pins and needles or numbness in their hands and feet. If you have enough magnesium, it can help prevent damage to nerves, a condition called diabetic neuropathy.
- Magnesium helps diabetic men fight erectile dysfunction. This problem is likely to affect diabetics 10 years sooner than it could affect others.
Magnesium and Diabetes Prevention: The Research
Studies have strongly indicated that low levels of magnesium are associated with a high risk of type 2 diabetes. Conversely, people who consumed magnesium rich diets have a much reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
In a study conducted by the Harvard Department of Nutrition in 2003, close to 128,000 individuals were followed for 18 years. The aim was to study the connection between between magnesium consumption and diabetes risk. The authors of the study found that people who consumed more magnesium had a lesser risk of developing diabetes. They concluded that inadequate magnesium intake was one of the major causes of diabetes. Those who consumed the highest amounts of magnesium reduced their risk of blood sugar and metabolic problems by a whopping 71%!
A study was carried out in 2013, by researchers from Tufts University, Harvard Medical School and Framingham Heart Study. They found that higher magnesium intake slowed the progression of prediabetes into full-blown diabetes. At last count the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that 80 million Americans had prediabetes. Imagine how many folks could benefit by just getting enough magnesium!
A meta analysis of numerous studies established the connection between low magnesium and insulin resistance. This meta analysis looked at all research between 1966 and 2007, that correlated magnesium and diabetes. It found that high intake of magnesium improved the sensitivity of insulin and reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes And Magnesium Deficiency
Diabetics have trouble keeping magnesium where it should be – inside the body. Because they have high levels of sugar in their blood, the body tries to clear this out through excess urination. The magnesium gets washed off along with the excess sugar in the urine. This leads to lower levels of magnesium which can lead to a whole lot of other complications. So, it is important for diabetics to get more magnesium than a normal person needs.
Magnesium is found in a whole bunch of foods. So you can either get it from food or have it as a supplement, depending upon how much of it you need. If you’ve been diabetic for long and have blood sugar control problems, you likely need a magnesium supplement.
Magnesium deficiency can occur due to:
- A broken digestive system, which messes up the body’s ability to absorb magnesium; e.g. Crohn`s disease, among others
- Damaged kidneys, which could cause excessive loss of magnesium in the urine
- Poorly controlled diabetes leading to loss of too much magnesium in the urine
- Alcoholism, which also causes low magnesium levels in the body
- Certain medications, such as diuretics (drugs used to increase production of urine), antibiotics and medications used to treat cancer. All of these could result in the deficiency of magnesium.
- Old age, leading to lower stomach acid production. This in turn could lead to lesser magnesium absorbed from food.
Magnesium Rich Foods
You can get magnesium from both animal and plant foods. Foods that are rich in fiber are often also rich in magnesium, like:
- Dark leafy greens, like spinach and kale
- Nuts and seeds: sesame, almonds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
- Fish, especially mackerel
- Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa
- Organic pulses and lentils like white beans, soy and black eyed beans
- Fresh fruits like avocado, bananas
- Dairy products like yoghurt and cheese
- Dry fruits like figs, prunes and apricots
Just take care to eat these foods as fresh as you can. Processing often strips them of their magnesium content.
If you are diabetic, you need more magnesium than other folks. With your restricted diet, it becomes difficult to get all the magnesium you need from the food you eat. You may want to consider magnesium supplements.
Magnesium supplements are available as oral supplements and as transdermal (applied on skin) products. Oral supplements can be of various types. Most contain multiple forms of magnesium. Here are a few important points about magnesium supplements:
- Magnesium oxide is cheap, but is poorly absorbed. This is why it is prescribed for constipation, since it literally ‘leaves the body in a hurry’ and takes feces with it.
- Experts recommend magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate or magnesium taurate. These are costlier forms but are easily absorbed in the body and show better effects.
- Magnesium threonate is considered by some as the best form of magnesium supplement. It is able to penetrate cell membranes, including mitochondria (the little “powerhouses” of cells). This leads to higher and much efficient energy production.
- Transdermal, or “topical” magnesium products are of four types – magnesium oil, magnesium gel, magnesium bath flakes and magnesium lotion. These products are for those people who cannot tolerate oral magnesium and suffer from side effects like diarrhea.
As the second most abundant mineral in the body, we are meant to have a lot of magnesium. However, to be safe when using magnesium for diabetes, keep these points in mind:
- Magnesium and metformin, when taken together, can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). This is because both work to lower blood sugar and the combined effect could lead to dizziness, palpitations, feeling sweaty, etc. It is best to involve your doctor before taking magnesium, if you are already taking metformin. Certain other diabetic drugs could also combine with magnesium to lower blood sugar, so use with care.
- Magnesium oxide is not well absorbed in the body and could cause loose motions. In fact, this is why it is often used to treat constipation.
- Magnesium citrate is considered very safe and doctors are known to prescribe it in the right dose even to pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.
Magnesium Supplements: The Correct Dose
As a dietary supplement, the RDA or Recommended Daily Allowance is between 100-750 milligrams per day. However, when treating diabetes, doctors prefer at least 500-700 milligrams per day, usually divided into equal doses. It would be good to involve your medical practitioner to select the right dose for you.
Keep in mind that magnesium performs an elaborate dance with “partners” like calcium, vitamin K2 and vitamin D3. When you are eating real foods and a varied diet, you get all the nutrients in the right amounts. But when take a single nutrient as a dietary supplement, you need to understand how it interacts with other “co-nutrients.” Each nutrient in excess can do more harm than good if it isn’t properly balanced with the other nutrient. So when you are taking a magnesium supplement, you also need proportionate parts of calcium, vitamins K2 and D3. Some doctors, like M.D. Carolyn Dean, often referred to as the “Magnesium Doctor,” prefer to dose magnesium to calcium in a 2:1 ratio.
Special Precautions When Taking Magnesium
Do not take a magnesium supplement if you are allergic to any of its ingredients. You need to avoid a magnesium supplement if you are on a low sodium, or sodium-restricted, diet. Consult your doctor before taking a magnesium supplement if you have had or have any of the complications below:
- Major Problems of the Kidney
- Too high or too low levels of potassium, chloride, sodium or phosphate
- Colon or stomach blockages
- Problems of the heart such as weak or damaged heart muscles or a blockage of the heart, and
Side Effects of Magnesium
If you take magnesium in the right form and at the right dose, you should not experience any side effects. However, if you use an oxide form or dose too high you could experience side effects like:
- Gastric issues
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramping
High levels of magnesium in the bloodstream could cause imbalances of electrolytes or in levels of associated minerals and compounds like calcium, sodium, chloride, potassium and phosphate.
Magnesium And Diabetes: The Verdict
Magnesium deficiency may alter the functioning of many cells and organs of our body, especially the cells in your pancreas. So even if you just want to prevent diabetes, magnesium is a no-brainer. Since magnesium is abundant in naturally-occurring food items, preventing or correcting a deficiency is easy.
It is amazing how strong the connection between magnesium and diabetes prevention is. The impact on improving insulin sensitivity can be significant when we ensure we have adequate levels of this wonder mineral.
If you are already a diabetic, consider using magnesium to keep your blood sugar levels in check. You can also reduce the burden of prescription medications like metformin by combining it with magnesium. Discuss this with your doctor and make magnesium part of your dietary supplement routine today.