Could magnesium prevent diabetes?


Diabetes and insulin resistance are two conditions that are not only particularly difficult to treat, but also change the lives of sufferers dramatically.

Efforts to prevent development of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and subsequent type 2 diabetes are important.

International researchers have, therefore, been concentrating on trying to identify lifestyle changes that can do just this. One subject that is currently under investigation is the study of the role played by magnesium in preventing these conditions.

Research studies

a) Observational studies

Three large studies carried out at Harvard University last year, with nearly 17 000 subjects of both sexes, observed that individuals with high blood magnesium levels were much less likely to develop insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes than those with low serum magnesium levels.

Another study conducted in Mexico showed that patients suffering form metabolic syndrome (which is associated with insulin resistance that usually develops into type 2 diabetes over time), had significantly lower magnesium levels than subjects without metabolic syndrome.

This research evidence indicates that people who have low magnesium levels due to inadequate dietary intake or increased loss of magnesium through the kidneys are more likely to develop insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Previous studies had already indicated that diabetics have much lower magnesium levels than people without diabetes.

b) Clinical studies

Another Mexican study used magnesium supplements to see if they could improve glucose control in diabetics. The results were encouraging: subjects who took magnesium supplements improved their fasting glucose levels and other symptoms of diabetes.

Effects of magnesium deficiency

Anyone with a magnesium deficiency, but particularly diabetics, are exposed to the following risks:

  • As magnesium is essential for normal carbohydrate metabolism and energy production, a magnesium deficiency will aggravate insulin resistance.
  • Magnesium deficiency is also linked to high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats (when such irregular heart beats are serious in nature they are called cardiac arrhythmias) and other manifestations of heart disease.
  • Magnesium deficiency may also worsen retinopathy (deterioration of the eyes), which is common in diabetes.

The problem with such a magnesium deficiency is that diabetes will aggravate the deficiency, which will in turn aggravate the diabetic condition, thus creating a vicious cycle.

Diabetics also lose more magnesium via the kidneys when they excrete glucose in the urine and because insulin promotes such urinary losses.

The Harvard studies mentioned above also showed that magnesium deficiency might be present for many years before the individual actually develops diabetes.

The solution to all these problems is to increase your daily intake of magnesium so that you can be protected against potential diabetes.

Food sources of magnesium

Although most foods contain some magnesium and individuals eating a balanced, varied diet should in theory not easily develop a deficiency, data from America indicate that most adult Americans, especially older people, tend to have a so-called 'subclinical' magnesium deficiency.

If you take calcium or vitamin D supplements, or eat a lot of protein and drink a lot of alcohol, this will increase your requirement for magnesium. It is thus quite possible that many South Africans who have a high protein intake and drink alcohol regularly will also suffer from magnesium deficiency.

You can boost your magnesium intake by eating more of the following foods:

  • seeds and nuts
  • legumes (dry, cooked beans, peas, lentils and soya)
  • unrefined cereals and grains (wholewheat and brown or seed bread, crushed wheat, unsifted maize meal, sorghum, Maltabella and brown rice)
  • dark green vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, spinach and dark green lettuce leaves)

Diets that contain a high percentage of highly refined foods, meat and dairy products are usually lower in magnesium than diets rich in vegetables and unsifted grains.

Magnesium supplements

If you suspect that your diet may be deficient in magnesium or if you suffer from metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, or diabetes, then it may be an idea to use a magnesium supplement.

Ask your chemist about magnesium supplements. You will find that there are quite a number of different magnesium supplements on the market. Two examples are Slow-Mag and Magnesit, which can be used to supplement your intake.

Recently Merck launched a product called 'Diabion' – a special vitamin and mineral supplement for diabetics. This product, which also contains antioxidants, can help to prevent metabolic disorders that are common in diabetic patients. Diabion contains vitamins A, B1, B6, B12, and C, as well as folic acid, chromium, magnesium, selenium and zinc, all of which play important roles in controlling diabetic symptoms. Diabion is also available at pharmacies.

Some individuals may find that taking a magnesium supplement causes loose stools. If you experience diarrhoea when taking magnesium supplements, it may help to take the supplement every second day or to reduce the dose. Remember to take magnesium if you are taking calcium and vitamin D supplements for conditions such as osteoporosis.

Magnesium can make an important difference to anyone who is already suffering from diabetes, insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome, and it can prevent you from developing these conditions. Make sure that you are getting adequate supplies of this mineral from your diet and/or supplements. – (Dr Ingrid van Heerden, DietDoc, March 2005)

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