Magnesium: A Mineral that Matters

(contributed by Linda Anegawa, MD, FACP)

You may know magnesium as a mineral that is important for the function of all our muscles:  low magnesium levels may cause painful cramps in our arms and legs, particularly after we’ve done very intense exercise.  Magnesium is also critical for the function of our heart muscle, and when our levels get too low, serious arrhythmias may result. 

Magnesium is also critical for over 300 other metabolic and enzymatic reactions in the body.   In particular, the relationship of magnesium to blood sugar levels is an area of active study.  As a part of glucose metabolism, magnesium drives many of the reactions in the process of breaking down blood sugar.  

Magnesium deficiency is known to aggravate insulin resistance, because without magnesium, more insulin is required to metabolize blood sugar.  The pancreas pumps out more insulin, driving fat storage and increased hunger, leading to increased food intake.   When an individual is insulin resistant to begin with, the presence of low magnesium levels can feed an ongoing vicious cycle of worsening insulin resistance.

Some smaller studies have shown that giving individuals who are insulin resistant magnesium supplements improves insulin sensitivity and improves blood sugar control.  Whether magnesium can outright prevent diabetes or cause weight loss on its own is not completely clear.  While they don’t quite recommend supplements to prevent diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends that people with diabetes consume increased quantities of magnesium-rich foods.  These include vegetables and legumes, for example.

If you eat a lower carb or ketogenic diet, you may experience increased urination which means that you will lose extra water-soluble minerals including Magnesium.  So, remember the importance of this vital mineral.  You’ll be doing your muscles and your heart a favor, and maybe even put a damper on the cycle of metabolic syndrome that previously blocked your weight loss efforts.