How Calcium, Magnesium and Chromium Can Benefit Diabetics

| March 28, 2012

If you have been following my Real Diabetes Truth blog posts, you will already know that eating sensibly, in a way that helps to keep your blood sugar levels stable, is a basic lifestyle strategy for managing diabetes, be it type 1 or type 2.

The key factor, as I’ve explained, is controlling your intake of carbohydrates and, above all, those with high glycaemic load (GL) values. But that isn’t the end of the story when it comes to nutritional influences on blood sugar. There are three key mineral nutrients that you also need to know about – they are calcium, magnesium and chromium.


Calcium is best known for keeping bones strong, but it actually has many other roles in the body. A study published in January this year, involving more than 8,000 people, confirmed earlier findings that those people with the most calcium in their diets have the lowest risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

In an earlier, placebo-controlled trial involving 20 non-diabetic patients with high blood pressure, taking a supplement of 1,500 mg of calcium per day for eight weeks was found to improve insulin sensitivity. A narrow range of calcium ion (Ca2+) concentration within the cell is critical for processes that involve the hormone insulin.

The best food sources of calcium are dairy products, tinned fish (with bones), tofu, nuts, seeds, dried beans and leafy greens. It makes sense to eat these foods on a regular basis, but if you are unable to get your calcium this way, I would recommend a supplement of 1,000 mg a day, preferably as calcium citrate, which is more easily absorbed than calcium carbonate.


Magnesium also appears to play a significant role in insulin sensitivity. A review published in Diabetes Carelast year concluded that higher magnesium intake reduces the incidence of type 2 diabetes. The results suggested that this association is much stronger in overweight individuals, who are generally at higher risk of developing the condition.

In a new clinical study published earlier this year, people with type 2 diabetes were found to have significantly lower levels of magnesium than non-diabetic subjects. Forty eight per cent of those with type 2 diabetes had serum magnesium levels below normal, compared to people without diabetes.

This is more likely to reflect the fact that diabetes disrupts magnesium metabolism, causing more to be expelled in the urine, than any difference in magnesium intake. However, it means that if you have type 2 diabetes, you need to get extra magnesium from your diet or take supplements, to make up for the loss.

Nuts, bran, oatmeal, dried beans, spinach, peanut butter, bananas and raisins are all good sources of magnesium. If your diet is low in these foods, you could take a supplement of 300mg to 500mg a day, as magnesium citrate.


I’ve saved the most important mineral until last. Chromium is a trace element that is essential for normal carbohydrate and fat metabolism. In fact, insulin simply cannot work properly without it. Studies show that people with type 2 diabetes have lower blood levels of chromium than those without the disease.

Most of the clinical trials conducted have demonstrated that chromium supplements enhance the metabolic action of insulin. However, some studies have failed to find a beneficial effect and the official line is still that “more research is needed” (despite chromium’s blood sugar lowering effects being known since the 1950s!). The reason for these inconsistent results may be that a clinical response to chromium, in terms of a drop in blood sugar and improved insulin sensitivity, is seen more strongly in patients whose diabetes is less well controlled.

Good food sources of chromium are brewer’s yeast, lean meat, liver, kidney, cheese, chicken, whole grain products, wheat germ, oatmeal, lentils and mushrooms. However, if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or need to control your blood sugar levels better, it is probably worth taking a supplement of 200 micrograms a day, in the form of chromium picolinate.

If you take chromium, magnesium or calcium supplements, you may find that you need to reduce injected insulin or diabetes medications. Always talk to your doctor before starting or altering any supplement regime or making any drastic change to your diet. In my next blog post I shall be looking at another component of the diet that is important for anybody who has diabetes or metabolic syndrome: fats. I shall explain why these can be your enemy or your friend, depending on which type you eat most of.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


1. Kim K, Yang YJ, Kim K, Kim MK. Interactions of single nucleotide polymorphisms with dietary calcium intake on the risk of metabolic syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr 2012; 95(1):231-40.

2. Sanchez M, de la Sierra A, Coca A, Poch E, Giner V, Urbano-Marquez A. Oral calcium supplementation reduces intraplatelet free calcium concentration and insulin resistance in essential hypertensive patients. Hypertension 1997; 29:531–536.

3. Dong J-Y, Xun P, He K, Qin L-Q. Magnesium intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Diabetes Care 2011; 34:2116-2122.

4. Lecube A, Baena-Fustegueras JA, Fort JM, Pelegrí D, Hernández C, Simó R. Diabetes is the main factor accounting for hypomagnesemia in obese subjects. PLoS One 2012; 7(1):e30599.

5. Anon. A scientific review: the role of chromium in insulin resistance. Diabetes Educ. 2004; Suppl:2-14.

6. Wang ZQ, Cefalu WT. Current concepts about chromium supplementation in type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. Curr Diab Rep 2010; 10(2):145-151.

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Category: Vitamins and Nutrients

Comments (3)

Testimonials are based on the personal experience of individuals. Results are not typical and the potential benefits of taking any drug or supplement may vary depending on your individual needs and health requirements. Please consult your GP before making any changes to your medical regimen.

  1. Chrystal says:

    What about zink? Shouldn’t it be taken along with magnesium and calcium, especially if you are male?

  2. Marlon says:

    Can you take any supplement combination of these three minerals or are there any specific brands you recommend?

  3. Benditooo says:

    Coral Calcium is mostly comprised of calcium carbonate. and sense global warming is quite frequent, more reefs are becoming extinct anyway. however I did read something about mercury and lead, etc.. being absorbed by limestone, which is actually fossilized coral and extracted for supplements on (wiki,) a definition site