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Magnesium and diabetes

Diabetes is a disease resulting in insufficient production and/or inefficient use of insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. Insulin helps convert sugar and starches in food into energy to sustain life. There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is most often diagnosed in children and adolescents, and results from the body’s inability to make insulin. Type 2 diabetes, which is sometimes referred to as adult-onset diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes. It is usually seen in adults and is most often associated with an inability to use the insulin made by the pancreas. Obesity is a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. In recent years, rates of type 2 diabetes have increased along with the rising rates of obesity.

Magnesium plays an important role in carbohydrate metabolism. It may influence the release and activity of insulin, the hormone that helps control blood glucose (sugar) levels [13]. Low blood levels of magnesium (hypomagnesemia) are frequently seen in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Hypomagnesemia may worsen insulin resistance, a condition that often precedes diabetes, or may be a consequence of insulin resistance. Individuals with insulin resistance do not use insulin efficiently and require greater amounts of insulin to maintain blood sugar within normal levels. The kidneys possibly lose their ability to retain magnesium during periods of severe hyperglycemia (significantly elevated blood glucose). The increased loss of magnesium in urine may then result in lower blood levels of magnesium [4]. In older adults, correcting magnesium depletion may improve insulin response and action [42].

The Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study (HFS) follow more than 170,000 health professionals through questionnaires the participants complete every 2 years. Diet was first evaluated in 1980 in the NHS and in 1986 in the HFS, and dietary assessments have been completed every 2 to 4 years since. Information on the use of dietary supplements, including multivitamins, is also collected. As part of these studies, over 127,000 participants (85,060 women and 42,872 men) with no history of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer at baseline were followed to examine risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. Women were followed for 18 years; men were followed for 12 years. Over time, the risk for developing type 2 diabetes was greater in men and women with a lower magnesium intake. This study supports the dietary recommendation to increase consumption of major food sources of magnesium, such as whole grains, nuts, and green leafy vegetables [43].

The Iowa Women’s Health Study has followed a group of older women since 1986. Researchers from this study examined the association between women’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes and intake of carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and dietary magnesium. Dietary intake was estimated by a food frequency questionnaire, and incidence of diabetes throughout 6 years of follow-up was determined by asking participants if they had been diagnosed by a doctor as having diabetes. Based on baseline dietary intake assessment only, researchers’ findings suggested that a greater intake of whole grains, dietary fiber, and magnesium decreased the risk of developing diabetes in older women [44].

The Women’s Health Study was originally designed to evaluate the benefits versus risks of low-dose aspirin and vitamin E supplementation in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer in women 45 years of age and older. In an examination of almost 40,000 women participating in this study, researchers also examined the association between magnesium intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes over an average of 6 years. Among women who were overweight, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes was significantly greater among those with lower magnesium intake [45]. This study also supports the dietary recommendation to increase consumption of major food sources of magnesium, such as whole grains, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.

On the other hand, the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study did not find any association between dietary magnesium intake and the risk for type 2 diabetes. During 6 years of follow-up, ARIC researchers examined the risk for type 2 diabetes in over 12,000 middle-aged adults without diabetes at baseline examination. In this study, there was no association between dietary magnesium intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes in either black or white participants [46]. It can be confusing to read about studies that examine the same issue but have different results. Before reaching a conclusion on a health issue, scientists conduct and evaluate many studies. Over time, they determine when results are consistent enough to suggest a conclusion. They want to be sure they are providing correct recommendations to the public.

Several clinical studies have examined the potential benefit of supplemental magnesium on control of type 2 diabetes. In one such study, 63 subjects with below normal serum magnesium levels received either 2.5 grams of oral magnesium chloride daily “in liquid form” (providing 300 mg elemental magnesium per day) or a placebo. At the end of the 16-week study period, those who received the magnesium supplement had higher blood levels of magnesium and improved control of diabetes, as suggested by lower hemoglobin A1C levels, than those who received a placebo [47]. Hemoglobin A1C is a test that measures overall control of blood glucose over the previous 2 to 3 months, and is considered by many doctors to be the single most important blood test for diabetics.

In another study, 128 patients with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes were randomized to receive a placebo or a supplement with either 500 mg or 1000 mg of magnesium oxide (MgO) for 30 days. All patients were also treated with diet or diet plus oral medication to control blood glucose levels. Magnesium levels increased in the group receiving 1000 mg magnesium oxide per day (equal to 600 mg elemental magnesium per day) but did not significantly change in the placebo group or the group receiving 500 mg of magnesium oxide per day (equal to 300 mg elemental magnesium per day). However, neither level of magnesium supplementation significantly improved blood glucose control [48].

These studies provide intriguing results but also suggest that additional research is needed to better explain the association between blood magnesium levels, dietary magnesium intake, and type 2 diabetes. In 1999, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) issued nutrition recommendations for diabetics stating that “routine evaluation of blood magnesium level is recommended only in patients at high risk for magnesium deficiency. Levels of magnesium should be [replaced] only if hypomagnesemia can be demonstrated” [21].

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