How Magnesium Can Help Manage Blood Sugar: A Research Overview

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Magnesium is a mineral that our cells simply can't do without. For starters, we need it for bone and muscle health. Magnesium also has the power to protect us from stress, keep us calmer, and even aid sleep, according to research in the journal Nutrients. This macromineral is involved in 600 chemical processes in the body, including actions on blood glucose levels and insulin secretion.

Recent research in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences has also highlighted magnesium's role in the management of blood sugar. Supplementation of this key mineral could help individuals with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes and people just looking to keep their blood sugar on a more even keel.* Here's the scoop.

What do we know about the link between magnesium and blood sugar?

Magnesium appears to reduce fasting blood glucose levels and insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes or who are at risk for developing it, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And for anyone with low levels of the mineral, magnesium may offer better blood sugar control.

First, a quick blood sugar review: Our bodies convert the foods we nosh into blood glucose. When glucose floods the bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin. Insulin helps our cells take in that glucose to be used as energy. Insulin also tells the liver to pack some glucose away for later. And once our blood sugar level goes down as a result of our cells and liver taking glucose in, the pancreas releases insulin at a much slower rate.

A lower insulin level tells the liver to send out that stored glucose when we need more energy. So what does all of this have to do with magnesium?

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"Magnesium plays an important role in glucose control and insulin metabolism," says Erin Kenney, M.S., R.D., a registered dietitian. Through a number of mechanisms, magnesium helps the body reduce insulin resistance. People can become insulin resistant because of genetics or from factors related to diet and lifestyle. Insulin resistance happens when our cells stop responding to the hormone's signal to take in blood sugar for energy.

As a result, the pancreas thinks it needs to produce more insulin and it just can't keep up with the demand. Meanwhile, our blood sugar levels stay jacked and our liver stores too much glucose and sends it to fat cells, leading to weight gain (and even fatty liver). If this cycle keeps up, we can become prediabetic or develop type 2 diabetes. 

"Research has linked high magnesium diets with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes," Kenney says. In fact, type 2 diabetes is associated with magnesium deficiency, according to a review published in the World Journal of Diabetes.

Not getting enough magnesium through diet and also losing it through increased urination, a symptom of type 2 diabetes, can contribute to lower levels of the mineral in the body, possibly leading to a worsening cycle of blood sugar issues. "A deficiency in magnesium may worsen insulin resistance," Kenney adds.

If you don't have type 2 diabetes or haven't been diagnosed with prediabetes, you could still benefit from magnesium's help with blood sugar control, especially if you're deficient or have low levels of the mineral. A randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled trial published in Diabetes & Metabolism found that magnesium supplementation improved insulin sensitivity in nondiabetic participants.*

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How to optimize your levels.

A great way to start getting more magnesium is to eat magnesium-rich dishes. "Fill your plate with as many unprocessed foods as possible, including fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables, nuts, whole grains, beans and seeds, ground beef, and yogurt," Kenney recommends.

But keep in mind that we need a lot of magnesium to stay healthy. Changing your diet may not provide enough. About 60% of people in the United States don't consume an adequate amount of magnesium through meals and snacks, according to research published in Physiological Reviews. Part of the problem is that processing and farming practices can deplete the mineral from our foods.

A supplement may boost your intake and help control blood sugar.* If you do opt for adding more magnesium, check with your physician first, especially if you have health issues or take medications or other vitamins and minerals. Although rare, magnesium in high doses can be toxic.

The bottom line.

Magnesium is crucial for every system in the body, including how we use energy for fuel. The mineral's mechanisms on insulin resistance may help people who have type 2 diabetes or have been diagnosed with prediabetes. But anyone looking for better blood sugar control might consider magnesium as an option.

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