Missing This Mineral? It Might Be Seriously Affecting Your Blood Sugar

Doctor of Pharmacy By James DiNicolantonio, PharmD
Doctor of Pharmacy
Dr. James DiNicolantonio is the author of The Salt Fix and a cardiovascular research scientist and doctor of pharmacy at Saint Luke's Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Missouri.

Photo by Suzanne Clements

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To say that diabetes and pre-diabetes have become huge problems in the United States is an understatement. These conditions now affect more than one out of two adults in this country. Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes generally begin with insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps bring glucose into our cells. However, when our cells become resistant to insulin, glucose levels in the blood rise drastically, eventually causing pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

The research about diabetes is wrong.

Research has shown that insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and type 2 diabetes are likely induced by a diet high in sugar. And insulin resistance may explain why diabetics and prediabetics are at a greater risk of hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. It’s been long thought that eating salt is the cause of high blood pressure. In truth, cutting the sugar from your diet may actually fix your insulin resistance and in turn fix your "salt-sensitive" high blood pressure. However, the focus has always been to cut salt intake to lower blood pressure rather than cutting the sugar. And this could be a huge mistake, especially in those with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. In fact, eating more salt may actually improve prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, whereas cutting back on the salt may actually make things worse. In my book, The Salt Fix, I dispel these beliefs and explore why salt has been so unfairly villainized.

A low-salt diet may harm those with pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes because it can make insulin resistance worse. In fact, low-salt diets in healthy people can cause insulin resistance. Low-salt diets may even cause hypertension by inducing vascular insulin resistance, which is a fancy way of saying a reduced vasodilatory response when insulin acts upon our arteries and blood vessels.

High levels of glucose after an oral glucose load as well as high levels of insulin may be some of the earliest ways to diagnose diabetes. And in hypertensive patients with impaired glucose tolerance, salt restriction worsens the glycemic and insulin response to an oral glucose load compared to a high-salt diet. And other studies have confirmed this. What all of this means is that low-salt diets seem to worsen the earliest detectable signs of type 2 diabetes.

Photo: Jill Chen

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This mineral balances blood sugar and can prevent diabetes.

Giving people more salt may actually fix their pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. Indeed, supplementing hypertensive type 2 diabetics with more sodium (increasing their sodium intake from about 3,000 mg to 6,000 mg per day) improved their insulin resistance. The authors concluded, "…an abundant sodium intake may improve glucose tolerance and insulin resistance, especially in diabetic, salt-sensitive, and/or medicated essential hypertensive subjects." And these patients are the very people we assume are harmed by eating more salt. However, the exact opposite appears to be true.

And the harms of low-salt diets on increasing insulin levels are not just a random occurrence. In fact, a meta-analysis of 19 randomized trials in humans has confirmed that low-salt diets increase fasting insulin levels. While more studies should be performed to understand the effect of increased salt intake in pre-diabetics and type 2 diabetics, it’s time to rethink the accepted model and urge caution with sodium restriction.

I recommend Redmond Real Salt, which contains good amounts of iodine (not artificial potassium iodide) and calcium. Hypertensive diabetics who consume about 2½ teaspoons of salt per day have been found to have improved insulin resistance compared to those eating around 1¼ teaspoons of salt per day. Everyone knows exercise is one of the best things that they can do to help with insulin resistance, diabetes, and high blood pressure. However, most people don't know that they lose about ½ a teaspoon of salt per hour of exercise in sweat. More importantly, we lose around 50 to 100 mcg of iodine in sweat per hour of exercise, and we also lose calcium. High-quality, mineral-rich salt is a great way to replace all three minerals (salt, iodine, and calcium) lost in sweat during exercise.

Want to keep your blood sugar stable? This one-day diet is the antidote to insulin spikes and hanger.

And are you ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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