You already know that managing type 2 diabetes well means you need to make certain dietary changes, but did you know the disease can also lead to nutrient deficiencies that in turn make it harder to stabilize your blood sugar?
In particular, people with diabetes tend to be deficient in magnesium, which is a mineral that plays a role in nearly 300 biochemical or enzymatic reactions in the body, says Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics based in Torrance, California.
Magnesium is involved in protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, and — key for people who are managing diabetes — blood pressure and glucose control, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Sounds important, right? It is. So it’s easy to see how being deficient can negatively affect the way your body performs.
The Relationship Between Risk of Diabetes and Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium deficiency has been linked to insulin resistance, which is central to the development of type 2 diabetes, research shows. On the flip side, increasing your intake of magnesium has been shown to possibly lower your risk of developing the chronic disease. Research suggests consuming 100 milligrams (mg) of magnesium through eating foods rich in the mineral may decrease the risk of diabetes by 15 percent. Researchers noted more study would be needed before recommending a magnesium supplement to prevent diabetes.
Not as many studies have looked into the relationship between type 2 diabetes and magnesium once you have already been diagnosed, though one study published in August 2015 in the World Journal of Diabetes noted that people with the disease who are deficient in magnesium may be more likely to have complications, such as issues with heart health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with diabetes are about twice as likely to die of heart disease as people without diabetes.
Why Are People with Diabetes More Likely to Be Deficient in Magnesium?
The kidneys are important organs that are charged with maintaining a balance of magnesium, according to a study published in the journal Biological Trace Element Research. But people with diabetes end up losing large amounts of magnesium in their urine. “People with diabetes may tend to be deficient in magnesium, especially if they have uncontrolled and high blood sugars, because their body may be clearing it out along with excess sugars in the urine,” Sheth says.
It’s especially worrisome if you’re on diuretics — more urine equals more chances for magnesium to escape — or elderly, Sheth notes. “As we get older, our stomach acid production decreases, and this can lead to a decreased absorption of magnesium from the food we eat,” Sheth adds.
How to Determine if Your Magnesium Levels Are Too Low
Early signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency include nausea, weakness, and loss of appetite. As the deficiency worsens, the symptoms become more serious and could turn into other issues, including muscle contractions and tremors, cramps, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), and numbness. There are also some potential cognitive side effects, such as confusion and poor memory.
Beyond those symptoms, it can often be difficult to know for sure if you’re deficient or not because the mineral is stored within the bones and the cells of the body. Less than 1 percent of your total magnesium can be found in your blood serum. And yet, looking at serum magnesium concentrations is the most common way to measure your levels. Normal serum magnesium concentrations fall somewhere between 0.75 and 0.95 millimoles per liter (mmol/L). Anything lower is considered hypomagnesemia, or magnesium deficiency.
Worried You’re Not Getting Enough? The Best Foods High in Magnesium
Magnesium is naturally found in the body, but you can also improve your levels by eating diabetes-friendly magnesium-rich foods. The NIH recommends women between the ages of 19 and 30 take in 310 mg of magnesium per day, while men of the same age range should aim for 400 mg. Women ages 31 and older should aim to consume 320 mg, with men in the 30 and older group shooting for 420 mg.
To reach your goal, start by loading up on these top food sources of magnesium. In general, if a food is high in fiber, chances are it’s also high in magnesium. And the good news is many foods that are high in magnesium are also part of a diabetes-friendly diet.
Here are a handful of magnesium-rich foods Sheth recommends incorporating into your diabetes meal plan:
Dark Leafy Greens, Such as Spinach and Kale A ½-cup serving of spinach has 20 percent of your daily goal for magnesium.
Seeds Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseed are all great seeds for people on a diabetes diet.
Sweet Potatoes These orange spuds contain 33 mg of magnesium and have more fiber than regular white potatoes.
Almonds and Cashews One ounce of each has about 20 percent of your daily value. Pay attention to portion size with nuts, though. Sheth notes that nuts — and seeds, too — can be high in calories.
Whole Grains Consider eating two slices of whole-wheat bread (12 percent of your daily value) with peanut butter for breakfast or a snack, or ½ cup of brown rice (11 percent) as a side for your lunch or dinner.
Lentils and beans Again, be mindful of your portion size with these starches, Sheth notes. A ½-cup serving equals about 15 grams of carbs, she says. It’s crucial to count carbs when managing diabetes because they travel straight to the bloodstream, increasing the risk of blood sugar spikes.
Should You Try Magnesium Supplements to Treat the Mineral Deficiency?
Sheth recommends trying to source your magnesium from whole foods first, but there are plenty of responsible supplements out there that you can use to get your fix, too. Just know that the jury’s still out on how effective they are: The August 2015 World Journal of Diabetes study noted that while past research has found magnesium supplements were beneficial in some cases, they were not helpful in all scenarios.
How to Pick a Responsible Magnesium Supplement
There are many kinds of magnesium supplements, and their absorption varies by type. According to the NIH, small studies suggest that magnesium in the form of lactate, citrate, aspartate, or chloride is more absorbable than magnesium sulfate and magnesium oxide.
Keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements, and some may have unintended side effects, especially for people taking oral medication. Also, supplements can be dangerous if not taken correctly. “It’s extremely important that you discuss any over-the-counter medication and supplements with your healthcare team before starting it, to ensure that there is no negative impact,” Sheth says.
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