Magnesium Nutrition Lowers Diabetes Risk

With so much attention on rising healthcare costs and the ongoing and intensely emotional debate on the need for healthcare reform, an inexpensive solution to a very expensive medical condition could not come at a better time.

More than 23.5 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes, a disease that affects the body’s ability to manage glucose or blood sugar. These figures, according to the 2007 National Diabetes Fact Sheet (the most recent year for which data is available), amount to approximately 7.8% of the entire U.S. population. To make matters worse, an additional 57 million Americans are pre-diabetic.

Staggering Financial Costs
The financial cost of diabetes is an immense burden on people individually and on the country’s healthcare system collectively. According to the 2007 National Diabetes Fact Sheet, the direct medical costs of diabetes for that year were $116 billion, with an additional $58 billion for indirect costs such as disability payments, work loss and premature death.

There were also additional costs for undiagnosed diabetes at $18 billion, pre-diabetes at $25 billion, and $623 million for the 180,000 pregnancies where gestational diabetes was diagnosed. The total cost of diabetes in the United States in 2007 was a staggering $218 billion.

The Benefits of Magnesium Nutrition
Use of the simple, essential mineral magnesium can help this dire situation and save individuals and the healthcare system a great deal of money and heartache in the following ways:

  1. Magnesium plays a pivotal role in the secretion and function of insulin; without it, diabetes is inevitable.
  2. Measurable magnesium deficiency is common in diabetes and in many of its complications, including heart disease, eye damage, high blood pressure and obesity. When the treatment of diabetes includes magnesium, these problems are prevented or minimized.
  3. The connection between stress, obesity and diabetes cannot be overlooked. The stress chemical cortisol signals a metabolic shutdown that makes losing weight almost impossible. Magnesium is known as the anti-stress mineral because it helps to support the adrenal glands and the production of adrenalin.
  4. Obesity, syndrome X and diabetes are part of a continuum of illness that may progress to heart disease if not headed off by good diet, supplements, exercise and stress reduction. The illnesses on this continuum are not really separate diseases, as we may think, and underlying all this misery, we find magnesium deficiency.
  5. Magnesium helps the body digest, absorb and utilize proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
  6. Magnesium is necessary for insulin to open cell membranes for glucose.
  7. Magnesium helps prevent obesity genes from expressing themselves.

Not all forms of magnesium are easily absorbable by the body. One of the most absorbable forms of magnesium is magnesium citrate in powder form that can be mixed with hot or cold water.

Massive Studies Show Magnesium Lowers Diabetes Risk
One study involved about 85,000 women and 42,000 men who completed dietary intake questionnaires every two to four years. A smaller study had a similar design and involved close to 40,000 women, 45 years or older. Both studies were conducted by researchers from Harvard University, and both were published in the January 2004 issue of the journal Diabetes Care.

In the larger study, the female subjects were followed for 18 years and the men for 12 years, during which time roughly 5,400 people developed type 2 diabetes. Even after taking into account diabetes risk factors, such as age, weight, physical activity, smoking and family history, those with the highest dietary levels of magnesium were found to have significantly lower risk for type 2 diabetes compared with those with the lowest magnesium intake.

The risk remained significant even after the researchers adjusted for other dietary variables associated with type 2 diabetes risk, such as fat, fiber, and glycemic load. The risk reduction was similar in the second study.

The Harvard group concluded, “Our (study) suggests that higher magnesium consumption is likely beneficial for all groups, regardless of [weight], physical activity levels, and hypertension status.”

Magnesium: An Inexpensive Solution
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 400-420 mg/day for adult men and 320 mg/day for adult women (and more for women who are pregnant or lactating). The National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, after much deliberation, research and literature review, has concluded that up to 85% of the population of the U.S. is magnesium deficient. Yet the RDA has not been increased.

With a $218 billion healthcare expense looming over our heads every year and a nationwide diabetes epidemic, working to remedy magnesium deficiency is a smart and inexpensive way to get on the track to better health.

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Medical Disclaimer:
The ideas, procedures, and suggestions contained in this article are not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician. All matters regarding your physical health require medical supervision. Neither the author nor the publisher shall be liable or responsible for any loss, injury, or damage allegedly arising from any information or suggestion in this article. The opinions expressed in this article represent the personal views of the author and not the publisher.

Carolyn Dean, MD, ND,  is the author of The Magnesium Miracle and medical director of the Nutritional Magnesium Association.

Published online by WholeFoods Magazine, December, 2009.