By Dr. Mercola
Magnesium is often thought of primarily as a mineral for your heart and bones, but this is misleading. Researchers have now detected 3,751 magnesium-binding sites on human proteins, indicating that its role in human health and disease may have been vastly underestimated.1
Magnesium is also found in more than 300 different enzymes in your body, including some of those that help regulate blood sugar. This is one mechanism by which magnesium may keep diabetes at bay – a finding that’s been gaining increasing scientific support.
Magnesium May Lower Your Risk of Diabetes
There have been several significant studies about magnesium’s role in keeping your metabolism running efficiently—specifically in terms of insulin sensitivity, glucose regulation, and protection from type 2 diabetes.
Higher magnesium intake reduces risk of impaired glucose and insulin metabolism and slows progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes in middle-aged Americans.2 Researchers stated, “Magnesium intake may be particularly beneficial in offsetting your risk of developing diabetes, if you are high risk.”
In addition, a meta-analysis of seven studies showed that for each 100 milligrams (mg) of magnesium consumed in a day, the risk of diabetes is decreased by 15 percent.3 Those researchers concluded, “Magnesium intake was inversely associated with incidence of type 2 diabetes.”
A meta-analysis of 13 studies conducted in 2011 similarly found “further evidence supporting that magnesium intake is significantly inversely associated with risk of type 2 diabetes in a dose-response manner.”4
Magnesium Has a Beneficial Effect on Insulin Resistance
Part of the benefit appears to be due to magnesium’s effect on insulin resistance. For one study, overweight participants with insulin resistance received either 365 mg of magnesium daily or a placebo. After six months, those taking the magnesium had lower fasting blood sugar levels and less insulin resistance than the control group.5
Insulin resistance occurs when your body cannot use insulin properly, allowing your blood sugar levels to get too high. Insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes, as well as a risk factor in many other chronic diseases.
The mechanism by which magnesium controls glucose and insulin homeostasis appears to involve two genes responsible for magnesium homeostasis.6 Magnesium is also required to activate tyrosine kinase, an enzyme that functions as an “on” or “off” switch in many cellular functions and is required for the proper function of your insulin receptors.
It is well known that people with insulin resistance also experience increased excretion of magnesium in their urine, which further contributes to diminished magnesium levels. This magnesium loss appears to be secondary to increased urinary glucose, which increases urinary output.7
Therefore, inadequate magnesium intake seems to prompt a vicious cycle of low magnesium levels, elevated insulin and glucose levels, and excess magnesium excretion. In other words, the less magnesium your body has, the less it appears to be able to “hang onto it.”8
The Magnesium-Diabetes Link
The evidence is pouring in that if you want to prevent type 2 diabetes, proper intake of magnesium is crucial. Unfortunately, by some estimates up to 80 percent of Americans are not getting enough magnesium and may be deficient.
Other research shows only about 25 percent of US adults are getting the recommended daily amount of 310 to 320 milligrams (mg) for women and 400 to 420 for men.9
Consuming even this amount is “just enough to ward off outright deficiency,” according to Dr. Carolyn Dean, a medical and naturopathic doctor. If you’re deficient, you could be at risk of type 2 diabetes. Here’s a snapshot of some recent research:
- One 2013 study involving pre-diabetics found that most had inadequate magnesium intake. Those with the highest magnesium intake reduced their risk for blood sugar and metabolic problems by a whopping 71 percent.10
- In a large Japanese study (the Hisayama Study) published in Diabetic Medicine in 2013, researchers found magnesium intake was a significant protective factor against type 2 diabetes in the general Japanese population, especially among those “with insulin resistance, low-grade inflammation, and a drinking habit.”11
- In the Framingham Offspring Cohort (2006), higher magnesium intake improved insulin sensitivity and reduced type 2 diabetes risk.12
Magnesium Isn’t Only Important for Diabetes Prevention…
Magnesium is a mineral used by every organ in your body, especially your heart, muscles, and kidneys.13 If you suffer from unexplained fatigue or weakness, abnormal heart rhythms, or even muscle spasms and eye twitches, low levels of magnesium could be to blame. In addition, magnesium is necessary for:
- Activating muscles and nerves
- Creating energy in your body by activating adenosine triphosphate (ATP)
- Helping digest proteins, carbohydrates, and fats
- Serving as a building block for RNA and DNA synthesis
- Acting as a precursor for neurotransmitters like serotonin
Dr. Dean has studied and written about magnesium for more than 15 years. The latest addition of her book, The Magnesium Miracle, came out in 2014 and in it you can learn about 22 medical areas that magnesium deficiency triggers or causes, all of which have all been scientifically proven. This includes:14
Anxiety and panic attacks Asthma Blood clots Bowel diseases Cystitis Depression Detoxification Diabetes Fatigue Heart disease Hypertension Hypoglycemia Insomnia Kidney disease Liver disease Migraine Musculoskeletal conditions (fibromyalgia, cramps, chronic back pain, etc.) Nerve problems Obstetrics and gynecology (PMS, infertility, preeclampsia) Osteoporosis Raynaud’s syndrome Tooth decay
5 Factors Associated with Low Magnesium Levels
Certain foods can actually influence your body’s absorption of magnesium. If you drink alcohol in excess, for instance, it may interfere with your body’s absorption of vitamin D, which in turn is helpful for magnesium absorption.
If you eat a lot of sugar, this can also cause your body to excrete magnesium through your kidneys, “resulting in a net loss,” according to Dr. Danine Fruge, associate medical director at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Florida.15 The following factors are also associated with lower magnesium levels:16
- Excessive intake of soda or caffeine
- Older age (older adults are more likely to be magnesium deficient because absorption decreases with age and the elderly are more likely to take medications that can interfere with absorption)
- Certain medications, including diuretics, certain antibiotics (such as gentamicin and tobramycin), corticosteroids (prednisone or Deltasone), antacids, and insulin
- An unhealthy digestive system, which impairs your body’s ability to absorb magnesium (Crohn’s disease, leaky gut, etc.)
Is It Possible to Get Enough Magnesium from Diet Alone?
Seaweed and green leafy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard can be excellent sources of magnesium, as are some beans, nuts, and seeds, like pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds. Avocados also contain magnesium. Juicing your vegetables is an excellent option to ensure you’re getting enough of them in your diet. However, most foods grown today are deficient in magnesium and other minerals, so getting enough isn’t simply a matter of eating magnesium-rich foods (although this is important too). According to Dr. Dean:
“Magnesium is farmed out of the soil much more than calcium… A hundred years ago, we would get maybe 500 milligrams of magnesium in an ordinary diet. Now, we’re lucky to get 200 milligrams.”
Herbicides, like glyphosate also act as chelators, effectively blocking the uptake and utilization of minerals in so many foods grown today. As a result, it can be quite difficult to find truly magnesium-rich foods. Cooking and processing further depletes magnesium. If you opt for a supplement, be aware that there are a wide variety of magnesium supplements on the market, because magnesium must be bound to another substance. There’s simply no such thing as a 100 percent magnesium supplement.
The substance used in any given compound can affect the absorption and bioavailability of the magnesium, and may provide slightly different, or targeted, health benefits. The table that follows summarizes some of the differences between the various forms. Magnesium threonate is one of the best sources, as it seems to penetrate cell membranes, including your mitochondria, which results in higher energy levels. Additionally, it also penetrates your blood-brain barrier and seems to do wonders to treat and prevent dementia and improve memory.
Besides taking a supplement, another way to improve your magnesium status is to take regular Epsom salt baths or foot baths. Epsom salt is a magnesium sulfate that can absorb into your body through your skin. Magnesium oil can also be used for topical application and absorption. Whatever supplement you choose, be sure to avoid any containing magnesium stearate, a common but potentially hazardous additive.
Magnesium glycinate is a chelated form of magnesium that tends to provide the highest levels of absorption and bioavailability, and is typically considered ideal for those who are trying to correct a deficiency
Magnesium oxide is a non-chelated type of magnesium, bound to an organic acid or a fatty acid. Contains 60 percent magnesium, and has stool softening properties
Magnesium chloride / Magnesium lactate contain only 12 percent magnesium, but has better absorption than others, such as magnesium oxide, which contains five times more magnesium
Magnesium sulfate / Magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia) are typically used as laxatives. Be aware that it’s easy to overdose on these, so ONLY take as directed
Magnesium carbonate, which has antacid properties, contains 45 percent magnesium
Magnesium taurate contains a combination of magnesium and taurine, an amino acid. Together, they tend to provide a calming effect on your body and mind
Magnesium citrate is magnesium with citric acid, which has laxative properties and is one of the better ones out there.
Magnesium threonate is a newer, emerging type of magnesium supplement that appears promising, primarily due to its superior ability to penetrate the mitochondrial membrane, and may be the best magnesium supplement on the market
Magnesium Must Be Properly Balanced for Optimal Health
Anytime you’re taking magnesium, you need to take calcium, vitamin D3, and vitamin K2 into consideration as well, since these all work synergistically with one another. Excessive amounts of calcium without the counterbalance of magnesium can lead to a heart attack and sudden death, for instance. If you have too much calcium and not enough magnesium, your muscles will tend to go into spasm, and this has consequences for your heart in particular.
“What happens is, the muscle and nerve function that magnesium is responsible for is diminished. If you don’t have enough magnesium, your muscles go into spasm. Calcium causes muscle to contract. If you had a balance, the muscles would do their thing. They’d relax, contract, and create their activity,” Dr. Dean explains.
When balancing calcium and magnesium, also keep in mind that these must be balanced with vitamins K2 and D. These four nutrients perform an intricate dance together, with one supporting the other. Lack of balance between these nutrients is why calcium supplements have become associated with increased risk of heart attacks and stroke, and why some people experience vitamin D toxicity. Part of the explanation for these adverse side effects is that vitamin K2 keeps calcium in its appropriate place.
If you’re K2 deficient, added calcium can cause more problems than it solves, by accumulating in the wrong places, like soft tissue. Similarly, if you opt for oral vitamin D, you need to also consume it in your food or take supplemental vitamin K2 and more magnesium. Taking mega doses of vitamin D supplements without sufficient amounts of K2 and magnesium can lead to vitamin D toxicity and magnesium deficiency symptoms, which include inappropriate calcification that may damage your heart. Also, some are unable to achieve therapeutic levels of vitamin D with supplementation and this might be related to a magnesium deficiency.
Additional Steps for Lowering Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
In the United States, nearly 80 million people, or one in four has some form of diabetes or pre-diabetes. What’s worse, type 2 diabetes among children and teens has also skyrocketed. The good news is that not only is type 2 diabetes preventable, it’s also curable, and in the vast majority of cases does not require any form of medication for treatment. The following nutrition and lifestyle modifications should be the foundation of your diabetes prevention and treatment plan.
Also, make sure to monitor your FASTING insulin level. This is every bit as important as monitoring your fasting blood sugar. You’ll want your fasting insulin level to be between 2 and 4. The higher your level, the greater your insulin resistance and the more aggressive you need to be in your treatment plan, especially when it comes to altering your diet.
- Swap out processed foods, all forms of sugar—particularly fructose—as well as all grains, for whole, fresh food. A primary reason for the failure of conventional diabetes treatment over the last 50 years has to do with seriously flawed dietary recommendations. Fructose, grains, and other sugar forming starchy carbohydrates are largely responsible for your body’s adverse insulin reactions, and all sugars and grains—even “healthy” grains such as whole, organic ones—need to be drastically reduced.
If you’re insulin/leptin resistant, have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or are overweight, you’d be wise to limit your total fructose intake to 15 grams per day until your insulin/leptin resistance has resolved. This includes about 80 percent of Americans. For all others, I recommend limiting your daily fructose consumption to 25 grams or less, to maintain optimal health. The easiest way to accomplish this is by swapping processed foods for whole, ideally organic foods. This means cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients.
Processed foods are the main source of all the primary culprits, including high fructose corn syrup and other sugars, processed grains, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and other synthetic additives that may aggravate metabolic dysfunction. Besides fructose, trans fat (NOT saturated fat) increases your risk for diabetes by interfering with your insulin receptors. Healthy saturated fats do not do this. Since you’re cutting out a lot of energy (carbs) from your diet when you reduce sugars and grains, you need to replace them with something. The ideal replacement is a combination of:
- Low-to-moderate amount of high-quality protein. Substantial amounts of protein can be found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and nuts. When selecting animal-based protein, be sure to opt for organically raised, grass-fed or pastured meats, eggs, and dairy, to avoid potential health complications caused by genetically engineered animal feed and pesticides. Most Americans eat far too much protein, so be mindful of the amount. I believe it is the rare person who really needs more than one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.
Those that are aggressively exercising or competing and pregnant women should have about 25 percent more, but most people rarely need more than 40-70 grams of protein a day.
To determine your lean body mass, find out your percent body fat and subtract from 100. This means that if you have 20 percent body fat, you have 80 percent lean body mass. Just multiply that by your current weight to get your lean body mass in pounds or kilos. The chart below shows some common foods and their protein content:
Red meat, pork, poultry, and seafood average 6-9 grams of protein per ounce.
An ideal amount for most people would be a 3-ounce serving of meat or seafood (not 9- or 12-ounce steaks!), which will provide about 18-27 grams of protein
Eggs contain about 6-8 grams of protein per egg. So an omelet made from two eggs would give you about 12-16 grams of protein.
If you add cheese, you need to calculate that protein in as well (check the label of your cheese)
Seeds and nuts contain on average 4-8 grams of protein per quarter cup Cooked beans average about 7-8 grams per half cup Cooked grains average 5-7 grams per cup Most vegetables contain about 1-2 grams of protein per ounce
- As much high-quality healthy fat as you want (saturated and monounsaturated). For optimal health, most people need upwards of 50-85 percent of their daily calories in the form of healthy fats. Good sources include coconut and coconut oil, avocados, butter, nuts, and animal fats. (Remember, fat is high in calories while being small in terms of volume. So when you look at your plate, the largest portion would be vegetables).
- As many non-starchy vegetables as you want
- Exercise regularly and intensely. Studies have shown that exercise, even without weight loss, increases insulin sensitivity.17 High-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is a central component of my Peak Fitness program, has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity by as much as 24 percent in just four weeks.
- Improve your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Today’s Western diet has far too many processed and damaged omega-6 fats, and has far too little omega-3 fats. The main sources of omega-6 fats are corn, soy, canola, safflower, peanut, and sunflower oil (the first two of which are typically genetically engineered as well, which further complicates matters). The optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 1:1. However, our ratio has deteriorated to between 20:1 and 50:1 in favor of omega-6. This lopsided ratio has seriously adverse health consequences.
To remedy this, reduce your consumption of vegetable oils (this means not cooking with them and avoiding processed foods), and increase your intake of animal-based omega-3, such as krill oil. Vegetable-based omega-3 is also found in flaxseed oil and walnut oil, and it’s good to include these in your diet as well. Just know they cannot take the place of animal-based omega-3s.
- Maintain optimal vitamin D levels year-round. Evidence strongly supports the notion that vitamin D is highly beneficial for diabetes. The ideal way to optimize your vitamin D level is by getting regular sun exposure, or by using a high-quality tanning bed. As a last resort, consider oral supplementation with regular vitamin D monitoring to confirm that you are taking enough vitamin D to get your blood levels into the therapeutic range of 50-70 ng/ml. Also, please note that if you take supplemental vitamin D, you create an increased demand for vitamin K2.
- Get adequate high-quality sleep every night. Insufficient sleep appears to raise stress and blood sugar, encouraging insulin and leptin resistance, and weight gain.
In one 10-year-long study of 70,000 diabetes-free women, researchers found that women who slept less than five hours or more than nine hours each night were 34 percent more likely to develop diabetes symptoms than women who slept seven to eight hours each night.18 If you are having problems with your sleep, try the suggestions in my article “33 Secrets to a Good Night’s Sleep.”
- Maintain a healthy body weight. If you incorporate the diet and lifestyle changes suggested above, you will greatly improve your insulin and leptin sensitivity, and a healthy body weight will follow in time. Determining your ideal body weight depends on a variety of factors, including frame size, age, general activity level, and genetics. As a general guideline, you might find a hip-to-waist size index chart helpful. This is far better than BMI for evaluating whether or not you may have a weight problem, as BMI fails to factor in both how muscular you are, and your intra-abdominal fat mass (the dangerous visceral fat that accumulates around your inner organs), which is a potent indicator of leptin sensitivity and associated health problems.
- Incorporate intermittent fasting. If you have carefully followed the diet and exercise guidelines and still aren’t making sufficient progress with your weight or overall health, I strongly recommend incorporating intermittent fasting. This effectively mimics the eating habits of our ancestors, who did not have access to grocery stores or food around the clock. They would cycle through periods of feast and famine, and modern research shows this cycling produces a number of biochemical benefits, including improved insulin/leptin sensitivity, lowered triglycerides, and other biomarkers for health, and weight loss.
Intermittent fasting is by far the most effective way I know of to shed unwanted fat and eliminate your sugar cravings. Keep up your intermittent fasting schedule until your insulin/leptin resistance improves (or your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol ratios, or diabetes normalizes). After that, you only need to do it “as needed” to maintain your healthy state.
- Optimize your gut health. Your gut is a living ecosystem, full of both good bacteria and bad. Multiple studies have shown that obese people have different intestinal bacteria than lean people. The more good bacteria you have, the stronger your immune system will be and the better your body will function overall. Fortunately, optimizing your gut flora is relatively easy. You can reseed your body with good bacteria by regularly eating fermented foods (like natto, raw organic cheese, miso, and cultured vegetables).