Magnesium is a mineral. Foods high in magnesium include green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some whole grains. Various supplemental forms of magnesium are marketed as tablets, capsules, or liquids.
Magnesium has many important functions in the body, including in the heart, nerves, muscles, bones, handling glucose, and making proteins. Low levels of magnesium are commonly seen in people with diabetes. Scientists have studied the relationship between magnesium and diabetes for a long time, but it is not yet fully understood.
Summary of the research findings
There have been a handful of studies on magnesium and type 2 diabetes, many of them very small in size and/or short in length and primarily looking at blood glucose control. The results have been mixed, with most finding that magnesium did not affect blood glucose control. Some studies have suggested that low magnesium levels may make glucose control worse in type 2 diabetes (interrupting insulin secretion in the pancreas and increasing insulin resistance) and contribute to diabetes complications. There is evidence that magnesium supplementation may be helpful for insulin resistance. Additional controlled studies are needed to establish firmly whether magnesium supplements have any role or benefit as a CAM therapy for type 2 diabetes.
Side effects and other risks
Magnesium supplements appear to be safe for most adults at low doses. High doses can be unsafe and cause such problems as nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, extremely low blood pressure, irregular heart rate, and confusion. Magnesium can interact with and affect the action of certain drugs, including some antibiotics, drugs to prevent osteoporosis, certain high blood pressure medicines (calcium channel blockers), muscle relaxants, and diuretics ("water pills").
- There is limited scientific evidence on the effectiveness of dietary supplements as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)A group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine, and alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. for type 2 diabetes. The evidence that is available is not sufficiently strong to prove that any of the six supplements discussed in this report have benefits for type 2 diabetes or its complications. A possible exception may be the use of omega-3 fatty acidsEssential nutrients that the body cannot make on its own but can obtain from foods such as fish and flaxseed, or from dietary supplements. to lower triglyceridea levels.
- It is very important not to replace conventional medical therapy for diabetes with an unproven CAM therapy.
- To ensure a safe and coordinated course of care, people should inform their health care providers about any CAM therapy that they are currently using or considering.
- The dietary supplements reviewed in this section appear to be generally safe at low-to-moderate doses. However, each can interact with various prescription medications, affecting the action of the medications. People with type 2 diabetes need to know about these risks and discuss them with their health care provider. Prescribed medicines may need to be adjusted if a person is also using a CAM therapy.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Research Report: Treating Type 2 Diabetes with Dietary Supplements (PDF). (Accessed 5/7/08.)
Reviewed by Susan Weiner, R.D., M.S., C.D.E., C.D.N. 10/08
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