Magnesium is one of the most abundant ions present in living cells and its plasma concentration is remarkably constant in healthy subjects. Plasma and intracellular magnesium concentrations are tightly regulated by several factors. Among them, insulin seems to be one of the most important. In fact, in vitro and in vivo studies have demonstrated that insulin may modulate the shift of magnesium from extracellular to intracellular space.
Intracellular magnesium concentration has also been shown to be effective on modulating insulin action (mainly oxidative glucose metabolism), offset calcium-related excitation-contraction coupling, and decrease smooth cell responsiveness to depolarizing stimuli, by stimulating Ca2+-dependent K+ channels. A poor intracellular magnesium concentration, as found in non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) and in hypertensive (HP) patients, may result in a defective tyrosine-kinase activity at the insulin receptor level and exaggerated intracellular calcium concentration. Both events are responsible for the impairment in insulin action and a worsening of insulin resistance in non-insulin-dependent diabetic and hypertensive patients.
By contrast, in NIDDM patients daily magnesium administration, restoring a more appropriate intracellular magnesium concentration, contributes to improve insulin-mediated glucose uptake. Similarly, in HP patients magnesium administration may be useful in decreasing arterial blood pressure and improving insulin-mediated glucose uptake. The benefits deriving from daily magnesium supplementation in NIDDM and HP patients are further supported by epidemiological studies showing that high daily magnesium intake to be predictive of a lower incidence of NIDDM and HP.
In conclusion, a growing body of studies suggest that intracellular magnesium may play a key role on modulating insulin-mediated glucose uptake and vascular tone. We further suggest that a reduced intracellular magnesium concentration might be the missing link helping to explain the epidemiological association between NIDDM and hypertension.