Magnesium Supplements Benefits | Reduce Diabetes Risk?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Food and Health, Supplements and Health

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

reduce diabetes riskI came across an article the other day suggesting that one of the magnesium supplements benefits might be  improved blood sugar control in pre-diabetics with low blood levels of magnesium (Guerrero-Romero et al, Diabetes & Metabolism, 41: 202-207, 2015). Considering that…

  • A 2014 CDC report stated that 1/3 of adult Americans are pre-diabetic, and…
  • Most people with pre-diabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes in 10 years or less, and…
  • Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in this country, and…
  • 60% of Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diets…

…this could be a really big deal! Because of this I scrutinized the paper very carefully and reviewed the literature on magnesium intake and the incidence of type 2 diabetes.

 

Do Magnesium Supplements Improve Blood Sugar Control?

This was a relatively small study (116 adults, age 30-65), but it was well designed. All of the subjects had mild impairments in blood sugar control (i.e. were pre-diabetic), and all of them had low blood magnesium levels (≤1.8 mg/dL). This is a significant improvement over most previous studies of magnesium supplementation and blood sugar control because blood magnesium levels were not determined in many of those studies.

magnesium supplements benefitsThe study was double-blind, placebo controlled.Subjects received either 382 mg of magnesium or a placebo each day for 16 weeks, at which time blood sugar control and blood magnesium levels were re-measured. All subjects were put on a weight maintenance diet consisting of 55% healthy carbohydrates, 25% healthy fats, and 20% healthy proteins and told to exercise for at least 30 minutes three times per week.

Adherence to the diet and exercise regimen was 91% in both the supplement and placebo groups. Adherence to magnesium supplementation was 85% as measured by an increase in blood magnesium levels.

At the end of 16 weeks:

  • Improvement in blood sugar control was observed in 50% of the people in the magnesium group compared to 7% in the placebo group. This was significantly different.
  • Triglyceride levels were significantly decreased while HDL and blood magnesium levels were significantly increased in the magnesium group compared to the placebo group.
  • Side effects of magnesium supplementation were mild abdominal pain (7.6%) and diarrhea (6.0%).

The authors concluded:

  • “Our present results demonstrate the efficacy and safety of magnesium supplementation in the reduction of plasma glucose levels and in the improvement of glycemic status [blood sugar control] of pre-diabetic individuals who have low serum magnesium levels.”
  • “Our results support the hypothesis that, as a complement to lifestyle intervention programs, people with pre-diabetes and low blood levels of magnesium also should take magnesium supplements to decrease plasma glucose levels and potentially decrease the transition rate from pre-diabetes to diabetes.”

Magnesium and Blood Sugar Control

reduce blood sugarWhile the results of the recent study were impressive, it was a single, relatively small study, so I did a thorough review of the literature to put this study in perspective. This is what I found:

  • A major study that followed 2,582 participants enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study for 7 years (Hruby et al., Diabetes Care, 37: 419-427, 2014) concluded that those who consumed the most magnesium (400 mg/day) had a 50% reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who consumed the least (240 mg/day).

Several other studies comparing magnesium intake to diabetes risk have come to similar conclusions.

  • A meta-analysis of 13 studies with 536,318 people (Dong et al, Diabetes Care, 34: 2116-2122, 2011) concluded that the risk of diabetes was decreased by 14% for every 100 mg of magnesium consumed.
  • Most, but not all, intervention studies like the one described above have shown that magnesium supplementation reduced blood glucose levels and improved blood sugar control.

However, most of these studies did not measure blood magnesium levels. This is a significant drawback because if the majority of subjects in a particular study had adequate blood magnesium levels at the beginning of the study, one would not expect additional magnesium to improve blood sugar control.

  • A study of 4257 participants in the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (Ford &Mokdad, Journal of Nutrition, 133: 2879-2882, 2003) concluded that around 60% of the adult US population was getting sub-optimal levels of magnesium from their diet.

The RDAs for magnesium range from 310-420 mg/day depending on age and gender, while intakes of magnesium ranged from 144-326 mg/day depending on age, gender and ethnicity. Those taking supplements had significantly greater magnesium intake than non-supplement users.

However, dietary recall studies almost always overestimate the percentage of the population that is deficient in any particular nutrient. Blood nutrient levels are usually considered a better indicator of nutrient deficiency, and some experts estimate that 20-30% of the US population may have blood levels of magnesium that are less than optimal.

Unfortunately, in the case of magnesium it is unclear whether even blood levels are an adequate indicator of nutrient status. That’s because only 1% of your body’s magnesium is found in the blood. The rest is locked up in your tissues where it is much more difficult to determine whether your magnesium status is adequate or not.

 

The Bottom Line

  • A recent study showed that magnesium supplementation improves blood sugar control in pre-diabetics with low blood magnesium levels. The authors concluded that magnesium supplementation along with lifestyle change may be effective in slowing the progression from pre-diabetes to type 2 diabetes.
  • This study is consistent with a number of previous studies suggesting that increased magnesium intake is associated with decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • This study is also consistent with the principle that supplementation works best in situations where there is a demonstrated need for a particular nutrient, in this case magnesium (the study participants were selected in part on the basis of low blood levels of magnesium).
  • Other studies have shown that around 60% of the population is getting inadequate magnesium from their diet.Dietary recall studies probably overestimate the percentage of the population that is magnesium deficient, but most experts agree that a significant percentage of the US population likely have less than optimal magnesium status.
  • You probably don’t need mega-doses of magnesium to support good blood sugar control. The clinical study described above used 382 mg/day of magnesium, but most dietary recall studies suggest that dietary intake of magnesium in this country is only 100-200 mg/day below RDA recommendations.
  • Assuring an adequate intake of magnesium is only one component of a holistic approach for reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Other important components are weight control, exercise, and a healthy diet that restricts sugars and starches.
  • Good dietary sources of magnesium include leafy green vegetables (5-6 servings = RDA), nuts (5-6 servings = RDA), orwhole wheat bread or brown rice (8-9 servings = RDA).
  • Supplementation with ≥300 mg of magnesium can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea in sensitive individuals. If you are supplementing with magnesium, I recommend a sustained release supplement.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (4)

  • MJ Lucas

    |

    Great info to share Dr. Cheney.

    MJ

    Reply

  • Bill Dunstan

    |

    The results of the study do not indicate the bio absorption of the supplementation that was given the participants over the eight year period. And did they compare different companies prior to the initiation of the study for the best bio absorbency of their supplements?

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Bill,

      Magnesium salts are very soluble in water, so their bioavailability is generally high and relatively independent of the type of magnesium salt used in the supplement. Your question would be much more pertinent to calcium supplements.

      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

  • Carol Pontius

    |

    Very interesting….. as usual!! Thanks for ALL your good information!

    Reply

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Latest Article

Should You Avoid Sugar Completely?

Posted October 24, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Is It The Sugar, Or Is It The Food?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Should we avoid sugar completely?  Almost every expert agrees that Americans should cut down on the amount of sugar we are consuming. However, for some people this has become a “sugar phobia”. They have sworn that “sugar shall never touch their lips”. Not only do they avoid sugar sweetened sodas and junk food, but they also have become avid label readers. They scour the label of every food they see and reject foods they find any form of sugar listed as an ingredient. Is this degree of sugar avoidance justified?

 

Should We Avoid Sugar to Keep it From Killing Us?

 

Let me add some perspective:

  • If you just take studies about the dangers of sugar at face value, sugar does, indeed, look dangerous. Excess sugar consumption is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. However, when you look a little closer, you find that most of these studies have been done by looking at the correlation of each of these conditions with sugar sweetened beverage consumption (sodas and fruit juices).

A few studies have looked at the correlation of obesity and disease with total “added sugar” consumption. However, 71.6% of added sugar in the American diet comes from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food. None of the studies have looked at the sugar from healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. That’s because there is ample evidence that these foods decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

  • For example, if apples had a nutrition label, it would list 16 grams of sugar in a medium 80 calorie apple, which corresponds to about 80% of the calories in that apple. The sugar in an apple is about the same proportion of fructose and glucose found in high fructose corn syrup. Apples are not unique. The nutrition label would read about the same on most other fruits. Does that mean you should avoid sugar from all fruits? I think not.

Avoid Sugar or Avoid Certain Foods

 

avoid sugar from junk foodsThe obvious question is: “Why are the same sugars, in about the same amounts, unhealthy in sodas and healthy in fruits?” Let’s go back to those studies I just mentioned—the ones that are often used to vilify sugars. They are all association studies, the association of sugar intake with obesity and various diseases.

The weakness of association studies is the association could be with something else that is tightly correlated with the variable (sugar intake) that you are measuring. Could it be the food that is the problem, not the sugar?

If we look at healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) they are chock full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and (sometimes) protein. Fiber and protein slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. As a result, blood sugar levels rise slowly and are sustained at relatively low levels for a substantial period of time.

In sodas there is nothing to slow the absorption of blood sugar. You get rapid rise in blood sugar followed by an equally rapid fall. The same is true of junk foods consisting primarily of sugar, refined flour and/or fat.  Avoid sugar from those types of foods.

Another consideration is something called caloric density. Here is a simple analogy. I used to explain the concept of caloric density to medical students in my teaching days. There are about the same number of calories in a 2-ounce candy bar and a pound of apples (around 278 in the 2-ounce candy bar and 237 in a pound of apples). You can eat a 2-ounce candy bar and still be hungry. If you eat a pound of apples you are done for a while. In this example, the 2-ounce candy bar had a high caloric density (a lot of calories in a small package). Perhaps a more familiar terminology would be the candy bar was just empty calories.

Are Sodas and Junk Foods Killing Us?

avoid sugar from candyPutting all that together, you can start to understand why the foods the sugars are in are more important than the sugars themselves. When you consume sugars in the form of sugar sweetened beverages or sugary junk foods, your appetite increases. We don’t know for sure whether it is the intense sweetness of those foods, the rapid increase and fall in blood sugar, or the high caloric density (lots of calories ina small package) that makes us hungrier. It doesn’t matter. We crave more food, and it isn’t usually fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates we crave. It’s more junk. That sets in motion a predictable sequence of events.

  • We overeat. Those excess calories are stored as fat and we become obese. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you our fat stores come from carbohydrates alone. That is incorrect. All excess calories, whether from protein, fat, or carbohydrate, are stored as fat.]
  • It’s not just the fat you can see (belly fat) that is the problem. Some of that fat builds up in our liver and muscles. This sets up an unfortunate sequence of metabolic events.
  • The fat stores release inflammatory cytokines into our bloodstream. That causes inflammation. Inflammation increases the risk of many diseases including heart disease and cancer.
  • The fat stores also cause our cells to become resistant to insulin. That reduces the ability of our cells to take up glucose, which leads to hyperglycemia and type 2 diabetes. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you carbohydrates cause type 2 diabetes. That is also incorrect. It is our fat stores that cause insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Our fat stores come from all excess calories, not just excess calories from carbohydrates.]
  • Insulin resistance also causes the liver to overproduce cholesterol and triglycerides and pump them into the bloodstream. That increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Sugar sweetened beverages and sugary junk foods also displace healthier foods from our diet. That leads to potential nutrient shortfalls that can increase our risk of many diseases.

However, none of this has to happen. The one thing that every successful diet has in common is the elimination of sodas, junk foods, fast foods and convenience foods. You should avoid sugar from those foods as much as possible. Once you eliminate those from your diet,you significantly enhance your chances of being at a healthy weight and being healthy long term.

 

What About Protein Supplements And Similar Foods?

Of course, the dilemma is what you, as an intrepid label reader, should do about protein supplements, meal replacement bars, or snack bars. They are supposed to be healthy, but the label lists one or more sugars. Even worse, the sugar content is higher than your favorite health guru recommends.  So, should you avoid sugar from supplements and the like?

In this case, a more useful concept is glycemic index, which is a measure of the effect of the food on your blood sugar levels. Healthy foods like apples may have a high sugar content, but they havea low glycemic index.

avoid sugar and consume protein to slow absorbptionThe same is true for the protein supplements and bars you are considering. Rather than looking at the sugar content, you should be looking for the term “low glycemic” on the label. That means there is enough fiber and protein in the food to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and stabilize your blood sugar levels.

What Does This Mean For You?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should work on ways to avoid sugar or reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners. I have warned about the dangers of artificial sweeteners previously.

We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. For example, some Starbucks drinks are mostly sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

So we don’t have to avoid sugar completely, but we should reduce sugar from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food.

 

The Bottom Line

 

We need to keep warnings about the dangers of sugar in perspective:

  • The studies showing that sugar consumption leads to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have all been done with sodas and junk foods.
  • Many fruits have just as much sugar as a soda. They also contain about the same proportion of fructose and glucose as high fructose corn syrup. Yet we know fruits are good for us.
  • Diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains decrease our risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • That is because the sugar in whole foods is generally present along with fiber and protein, which slows the absorption of sugar and prevents the blood sugar spikes we get with sodas and junk foods.
  • In the case of prepared foods like protein supplements, you should look for “low glycemic” on the label rather than sugar content. Low glycemic means that there is enough fiber and protein in the product to slow the absorption of sugar and prevent blood sugar spikes.
  • Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should all work on ways to avoid sugar from junk foods or to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners.
  • We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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