Eat Well to Be Well: Magnesium’s magic works to minimize type 2 diabetes

Magnesium, the fourth most abundant mineral in our body, may not have the nutrient star power like vitamin D, but its humble nature should not be overlooked. Decades of research have demonstrated the power this major mineral plays in keeping us healthy, and the active and mandatory role it has in over 300 biochemical reactions. In addition, magnesium may hold a valuable key to lessen the risk of one of the most common and fastest growing diseases in the United States – type 2 diabetes.

“There’s no doubt we’re continuing to lose the fight against diabetes, especially in America,” said Dr. David Samadi, chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City. “Type 1 diabetes is unavoidable but type 2 diabetes is a man-made disease.”

He went on to explain, “With obesity on the rise, type 2 diabetes will continue to increase as well, because fat is the number one enemy of insulin. Another major concern is the 79 million Americans who have pre-diabetes. Oftentimes, the cardiovascular damage that occurs with type 2 diabetes is already occurring in pre-diabetes. Ask your doctor about your risk factors for type 2 diabetes, lifestyle changes you can implement and even to measure your hemogrobin A1C levels through a simple blood test.”

Magnesium’s multitude of roles

About 50 to 60 percent of magnesium is found in the bones helping to maintain bone strength and structure. The rest is found in soft tissue such as muscles, heart, liver and about 1 percent in body fluids. Magnesium has various functions including:

  • Participating in the activity of more than 300 enzymes.
  • Necessary for the release and use of energy from carbohydrates, fat and protein.
  • Involved in the metabolism of potassium, calcium and vitamin D.
  • Vital for proper heart functioning.
  • A team player along with calcium in the movement of muscles – calcium helps with contraction while magnesium helps muscles to relax.
  • Promotes resistance to tooth decay by holding calcium in tooth enamel.

“Magnesium has many other health benefits including reducing stress, improving quality of sleep and supporting a healthy immune system,” said Dr. Samadi.

Studies on Magnesium and Type 2 Diabetes

In recent years there have been several studies that have linked magnesium to possibly helping to reduce type 2 diabetes.

One was a 2013 Tufts University study involving more than 2,500 people, demonstrating that healthy people with the highest intake of magnesium were 37 percent less likely to develop high blood sugar or glucose which leads to diabetes. People with pre-diabetes were 32 percent less likely to develop diabetes if they consumed adequate magnesium. When comparing the overall risk of developing diabetes, people with a high magnesium intake were 53 percent less likely to develop diabetes than people with a lower intake. For seven years, the study followed 2,582 participants, aged 26 to 81 at baseline, who are enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring study.

The second study, published in the journal Diabetes Care, was a meta-analysis of 13 prospective cohort studies that looked at over 500,000 participants, and showed that increased consumption of magnesium-rich foods may bring considerable benefits in diabetes prevention. This study verifies previous studies that provided a relationship between increased intake of magnesium-rich foods and a reduced risk of diabetes.

The studies did emphasize that eating foods rich in magnesium generally is associated with people who most likely are already consuming healthy foods and following an overall healthy lifestyle. Foods that are high in magnesium tend to also be rich in dietary fiber and phytochemicals that have also been shown to be protective against diabetes.

Why magnesium may protect against type 2 diabetes

The way magnesium may help minimize risk of type 2 diabetes involves its connection and relationship with insulin. Magnesium and insulin work together to control blood glucose levels. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that is necessary for our cells to be able to take glucose out of the bloodstream. In doing so, our blood glucose doesn’t become too high, which can do a lot of internal damage to our bodies. Without sufficient magnesium, insulin isn’t able to function properly. When insulin can’t do its job, our cells become resistant to taking in glucose, allowing blood glucose levels to rise, leading to diabetes.

“The good news is there’s a lot we can do, and the correlation between magnesium minimizing risks for type 2 diabetes is great news,” said Dr. Samadi. “Many studies have shown magnesium helps reduce chronic inflammation which is a major proponent of type 2 diabetes. Talk with your doctor about a simple blood test called a serum magnesium test to measure your levels.”

Food sources of magnesium

Only about half of all Americans consume the recommended daily amount of magnesium through their diet. The recommended dietary allowance for magnesium each day is:

  • For men 19 and older – 400 to 420 milligrams
  • For women 19 and older – 310 to 320 milligrams.

Processed and refined foods are low in magnesium content. For example, when grains are processed, such as white bread, up to 80 percent of magnesium is lost and enrichment doesn’t replace it. If your diet is composed of lots of processed and refined foods and few vegetables, legumes and nuts, you may not be consuming adequate sources of magnesium.

The table below has a list of foods rich in magnesium to include in your daily food choices:

Food Amount Mg of Magnesium
Pumpkin seeds ¼ cup 303
Almonds, dry roasted ¼ cup 98
Cashews, dry roasted ¼ cup 89
Spinach ¼ cup 78
Peanuts, oil roasted ¼ cup 63
Cereal, shredded wheat 2 large biscuits 61
Soymilk, plain or vanilla 1 cup 61
Black beans, cooked ½ cup 60
Edamame ½ cup 50
Peanut butter, smooth 2 tablespoons 49
Bread, whole wheat 2 slices 46
Avocado 1 cup 44
Potato, baked with skin 3.5 ounces 43
Brown rice ½ cup 43
Dark chocolate 1 ounce 43
Yogurt, plain 1 cup 42
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 10 percent of the DV for magnesium Depends on serving size 40
Kidney beans ½ cup 35
Banana 1 medium 32

USDA Nutrient Database

“Foods rich in magnesium are almonds, fish, dark leafy greens, seeds, beans, whole grains, avocados, and dark chocolate,” Dr. Samadi said. “Many people are even infusing their water with magnesium instead of other items like ginger or lemon.”

If your tap water is “hard” water, this can also be a significant source of magnesium, as hard water contains relatively high amounts of both magnesium and calcium.

What about taking a magnesium supplement?

Should a person simply take a magnesium supplement to get in the required daily amount your body needs?

“Your doctor may recommend that magnesium supplements are appropriate, but be sure to consult with your physician before taking anything,” advised Dr. Samadi.

The UL (tolerable upper intake level) for magnesium, established by the Dietary Reference Intakes, recommends that healthy people should take no more than 350 milligrams of magnesium per day as a supplement. Also anyone taking a calcium supplement should be consuming food sources rich in magnesium as a high calcium intake can interfere with magnesium absorption.

Final musings on magnesium

Magnesium’s role in possibly reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes should be highlighted and investigated further. If increasing dietary intake of magnesium could be a piece of the puzzle to shrinking the number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, what a simple, easy way of making this happen. For anyone who is at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, whether due to family history, ethnicity, being overweight or other factors, expanding their dietary intake of magnesium, along with other healthy eating habits and physical exercise, could prove to be very beneficial in avoiding this disease.

Dr. Samadi reiterated, “Prevention is at the heart of this disease and you’re the only one who can change your risk.”

Let magnesium’s magic work for you.

Sources: Insel, P., Ross, D., McMahon, K., Bernstein, M. (2014) Nutrition. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning; Sizer, F., Whitney, E. (2011) Nutrition Concepts & Controversies. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning; Dong, J.Y., Xun, P., He, K., Qin, L.Q. (2011). Magnesium intake and risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, volume 34; Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary supplement fact sheet: Magnesium. Available at http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/magnesium. Accessed June 2015; Hruby, A., Meigs, J.B., O”Donnell, C. J., Jacques, P.F., McKeown, N. M. (2013) Higher magnesium intake reduces risk of impaired glucose and insulin metabolism and progression from prediabetes to diabetes in middle-aged Americans. Diabetes Care; American Diabetes Association.


Cheryl_Mussatto_pictureCheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, Burlingame, where she teaches Basic Nutrition, and at Butler County Community College, Council Grove, where she teaches Therapeutic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and is also a blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi at www.samadimd.com. Contact her at [email protected].

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