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Magnesium for Migraines: What You Need To Know

Posted on March 11, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Amit M. Shelat, D.O.
Article written by
Max Mugambi

Magnesium is an important natural mineral that our bodies need for various cellular functions. It helps maintain stable blood pressure, keeps the heart healthy, and is involved in building bone, DNA, and proteins. Research has shown that increasing the level of magnesium in the blood may help prevent or treat migraines.

Magnesium can be found naturally in many foods and beverages, including certain vegetables, nuts, grains, and spices. Ingesting magnesium naturally through food or beverages has no known adverse effects. Magnesium supplements, in contrast, may cause side effects.

Before making changes to your migraine-care regimen, including boosting your magnesium intake, be sure to talk with your doctor or health care provider.

Does Magnesium Deficiency Play a Role in the Development of Migraines?

Researchers and scientists have long theorized that magnesium deficiency plays a role in the development of migraines. However, reliably measuring magnesium levels in the body can be difficult, which makes proving that hypothesis challenging.

Dr. Alexander Mauskop, a leading researcher in migraines, has helped shed light on the role of magnesium deficiency in the occurrence of migraines. In one of his studies, Mauskop observed that people who did not get relief from a popular and effective migraine medication had low levels of magnesium in the blood. After increasing these levels, the individuals found relief.

In another study, people who were deficient in red blood cell (RBC) magnesium and received magnesium infusions for their migraine attacks also found relief. In comparison, those that experienced migraine attacks but weren’t deficient in RBC magnesium did not find relief.

Other studies have hypothesized the reason for low magnesium levels among people with migraines. Some suggest that stress caused by migraines leads to over-excretion of magnesium. Others propose that general stress causes excessive secretion of magnesium, thereby lowering magnesium levels and causing a migraine.

Ultimately, it is possible that magnesium deficiency plays a role in migraine, but further research needs to be conducted. This involves developing a reliable means of measuring levels of magnesium in the body, which is currently not available.

How Can You Know if You’re Magnesium Deficient?

Measuring magnesium levels in the body is difficult because most of the mineral is stored in cells and bone. Our bodies use just what’s needed and store the rest in these locations.

The best available way of determining a person’s magnesium levels is with a magnesium RBC test, also known as a magnesium blood test. As its name suggests, this test measures the levels of magnesium found in a person’s red blood cells. If you want to know whether you are magnesium-deficient, you can ask your doctor to test your levels.

Can Magnesium Treat Migraines?

Magnesium has been used to treat migraines for a long time. Following are several qualities of the mineral that make it effective in preventing and treating migraine attacks.

Formation and Metabolism of Substances in the Body

The body needs magnesium to form neurotransmitters — chemicals that transmit messages across nerve cells throughout the body. One such chemical is glutamate.

Magnesium helps the body metabolize glutamate, as well as nitric oxide, both of which are thought to potentially play a role in migraine.

Migraine Aura

The aura phase of migraine, which can cause visual and physical phenomena, affects 5 percent of adults with migraines. Migraine auras have been linked with a neurological phenomenon that magnesium is thought to correct.

Blocking Pain Signals

Magnesium is thought to block the transmission of pain signals in the nervous system, helping to reduce the amount of pain a person perceives during a migraine attack.

Muscle Relaxation

Magnesium can help relax the muscles, which may reduce the duration of an attack and restore a person to a calmer state.

How Is Magnesium Used for Migraines?

There are several ways to use magnesium for migraines. Talk to your doctor to determine the best form of magnesium for preventing or treating your migraines.

Magnesium in Food

You can increase your magnesium levels naturally without any side effects by consuming foods and beverages high in the mineral. Foods known to contain significant amounts of magnesium include:

  • Nuts, including almonds and cashews
  • Grains
  • Cereals
  • Legumes, including lentils
  • Cocoa
  • Spices
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Green vegetables
  • Avocado
  • Figs
  • Dark chocolate
  • Low-fat yogurt

Magnesium Supplements

To be properly absorbed by the body, magnesium needs to be bound to something else. Because of this, magnesium supplements often contain other substances, such as amino acids.

There are many compounds of magnesium that people with migraines can take. The body absorbs magnesium at different rates depending on what it is bound to.

Some of the most effective forms of magnesium for treating headaches and migraines include:

  • Magnesium glycinate
  • Magnesium threonate
  • Magnesium citrate
  • Magnesium carbonate
  • Magnesium oxide

Magnesium sulfate may also be administered intravenously to provide relief from migraines with aura.

How Much Magnesium Should You Take for Migraines?

Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends taking 400 milligrams of magnesium twice per day, while the American Migraine Foundation suggests a 400 to 500 milligram daily supplement to prevent migraines. Some researchers, on the other hand, believe magnesium is more effective in preventing migraines when taken in high doses (over 600 milligrams) for at least three to four months.

Ultimately, you’ll need to consult your doctor in order to find the right amount of magnesium for your body.

Are There Any Risks in Using Magnesium for Migraines?

Magnesium may cause negative reactions when taken with antibiotics, as it can interfere with their absorption. Taking magnesium supplements alongside certain antibiotics, such as aminoglycosides, can cause other problems, including muscle weakness.

Taking too many magnesium supplements can also lead to side effects such as cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting. If you experience diarrhea with a magnesium supplement, stop taking it, and stay hydrated to restore any lost fluid.

People with certain medical conditions may experience additional side effects while taking magnesium. These conditions include:

  • Diabetes
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Kidney problems
  • Some gastrointestinal conditions

Excess magnesium in the body can also cause irregular heartbeat, slowed breathing, and coma.

Always consult a health care provider before taking any new supplements, including magnesium.

Find the Support You Need

MyMigraineTeam is the social network for people with migraines and their loved ones. On MyMigraineTeam, more than 65,000 members gather to share and receive advice, lend support, and discuss life with migraines, including how they manage their symptoms.

Have you tried magnesium to help relieve or prevent your migraines? Join MyMigraineTeam today and share your experience in the comments below or start a conversation on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Amit M. Shelat, D.O. is a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology and the American College of Physicians. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Max Mugambi is a copywriter at MyHealthTeam with more than five years of experience writing about a diverse range of subjects. Learn more about him here.

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