| 5.8°C Dublin

Should I take magnesium supplements for diabetes?

Dear Doctor, I have heard that magnesium is linked to diabetes. What does it do and who should take it?

Can you tell me if taking magnesium supplements is good for you? Should everyone take them? I am diabetic and heard that magnesium tablets will help my diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is associated with low levels of magnesium but if your diabetes is well controlled and stable you shouldn't need to take magnesium supplements.

Magnesium supplements may be needed for people who have a specific health problem such as Crohn's disease, Coeliac disease, or people who have severe ongoing diarrhoea or vomiting.

People whose diabetes is poorly controlled, elderly people with poor diets or people who abuse alcohol are also at risk of having low magnesium levels.

Certain medicines, including diuretics (water tablets), Cisplatin (used to treat cancer) and the antibiotics Gentamicin, Cyclosporin and Amphotericin can also cause the kidneys to lose more magnesium than normal in urine.

Why do we need magnesium? How do low levels of it affect your health?

Magnesium is an essential mineral and is used by the body to help maintain normal muscles and nerve function. It keeps bones strong and is needed for protein synthesis and energy production.

Magnesium helps regulate blood sugar levels, and is important for maintaining a normal heart rhythm.

Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and weakness are early signs of magnesium deficiency.

Severe magnesium deficieny can lead to confusion, agitation, irritability, diarrhoea, abnormal heart rhythms, muscle cramps and contractions, numbness and tingling.

Many of these symptoms can result from medical conditions other than magnesium deficiency, so if you suffer from any of the aforementioned it is best to see your doctor.

What is the best way to get extra magnesium?

If you are healthy and have a well-balanced diet, you shouldn't need to take magnesium supplements.

A simple blood test by your doctor can measure your levels of magnesium.

If levels are only mildly low, increasing your dietary sources of magnesium found in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, tofu, almonds, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal and bananas will help restore blood levels to normal.

When blood levels of magnesium are low, magnesium tablets may be needed, but some forms, in particular magnesium salts, can cause diarrhoea.

People with kidney or heart disease should not take magnesium supplements. Magnesium interacts with the absorption of digoxin (a heart medicine), nitrofurantoin (an antibiotic) and certain anti-malarial drugs should not be taken with these medicines.