Magnesium for migraine?

Migraine headaches are generally severe and typically affect one side of the head, and may be preceded by neurological symptoms including visual disturbance. In some people, they can be common and extremely debilitating. The good news is that certain naturally-oriented strategies can be very effective in reducing the frequency and/or severity of attacks.

One of my standard approaches here will be to consider whether there are any food triggers. The classical triggers I learned at medical school include cheese, chocolate, coffee and red wine. Actually, in practice I find perhaps the most common food trigger of migraines and headaches in general is wheat. Actually, I had a conversation today with someone with coeliac disease (gluten sensitivity) whose predominant symptom (on eating gluten) is headache.

One other natural strategy I use in practice is magnesium. Studies show that, generally speaking, magnesium deficiency is more common in migraine sufferers than non-sufferers. There’s also several ways in which magnesium deficiency may predispose to attacks. For example, magnesium deficiency can make constriction in blood vessels more like (magnesium normalises the function of the ‘smooth’ muscle that lines blood vessels). It is thought that constriction and then dilation of blood vessels around the brain can be at the root of some migraine headaches. By reducing the risk of changes in the blood vessels, magnesium might help with migraines too.

Recently, the Journal of Neural Transmission (to be honest, I’m not a regular reader) published a piece from a couple of doctors with a special interest in headache who make a case for magnesium therapy for all individuals with migraine [1]. They point to the links between magnesium deficiency and migraine, and list a number of risk factors for deficiency which include poor intake and/or poor absorption, excessive excretion by the kidneys and stress (increasing depletion). They also point to a mixed bag of evidence in which magnesium has been given to migraine sufferers.

If the evidence is mixed, why give it to everyone? The authors reasons that one reason for why some studies are positive and some less so may have something to do with the fact that in some studies, magnesium was given to people who were not magnesium deficient and were therefore unlikely to benefit from it. Then why not test? As the authors point out, conventional testing for magnesium in the blood is not particularly accurate. Only a very small amount of magnesium in the body is found in the serum (watery component of the blood). Most is found in the bone and within cells. For this reason, serum levels are not a very good guide to overall magnesium status in the body.

This leads the authors to conclude that a reasonable approach is to treat all migraine sufferers with magnesium, particularly seeing that this mineral is cheap, safe and readily available. It’s an approach that I, largely, endorse. I do think, though, that such an approach is best taken with the support of a health professional.

As to what to take, I tend to use magnesium citrate in practice, and usually aim for a dose of about 300-400 mg of magnesium each day (this equates to about 1750-2350 mg of magnesium citrate each day).

References:

1. Maukop A, et al. Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. J Neural Transm 2012 May;119(5):575-9

25 Responses to Magnesium for migraine?

  1. MAS 7 June 2012 at 11:52 pm #

    Is the magnesium being taken as a preventive measure or is it being used to alleviate symptoms once the migraine starts? Or both?

  2. Emily 8 June 2012 at 12:49 am #

    Mix 1 cup Epsom salt with 1 cup water, boil until dissolved, then cool and put in a spray bottle. Sprayed magnesium doesn’t cause diarrhea (to my knowledge). Also supposed to help with many other things including body odor.

  3. Lori 8 June 2012 at 12:57 am #

    A possible reason for the Mg therapy not working is the use of PPIs. Here’s one article on the subject (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2974811/?tool=pubmed); the FDA issued a warning about this risk last year (http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/DrugSafetyPodcasts/ucm246866.htm?utm_campaign=Google2&utm_source=fdaSearch&utm_medium=website&utm_term=ppi magnesium&utm_content=1). Oversupplementing with calcium may be a problem as well. Further, all those “healthy whole grains” we’re constantly told to eat have nutrient blockers that glom onto Mg (among other minerals) and prevent us from absorbing them.

    The good news: a low carb diet cures GERD and eliminates the need for PPIs.

  4. Danny 8 June 2012 at 2:03 am #

    2 Questions:
    1. Can you flesh out this statement “this equates to about 1750-2350 mg of magnesium citrate each day.” So is this simply including the average intake of Mag. from food? If so, I really didn’t think people obtained 1-2g of Mag. each day from food. That is really high!

    2. Are the risks of taking too much Magnesium very high? To my knowledge its really hard to consume too much because you will likely get diarrhea as a sign of an upper limit.

    Thank You!

  5. Keith 8 June 2012 at 2:12 am #

    I used to get migraines on a regular basis.
    By regular I mean 1:00 pm on monday and lasted until Thursday morning.
    Every freeking week for years.

    I finally found help in the form of vegetable juice. V8 and the like.
    It’s a huge source of potassium and magnesium, the best available.

    you body cannot store Potassium, so you need a constant source.
    also Potassium and Magnesium work together in your nervous system. If one is low, the other can’t help

    I also cut out beer, that helped a lot. (do you see where this is heading?)
    See I would have 1 beer on friday nights, MAYBE 2, and then get my migraine on Monday.
    after I cut beer I got fewer and more sporadic migraines.
    When I added v8, they got fewer still.

    I’ve been low carb for about a year, getting better at it as I get used to it.
    Guess what?
    no more migraines!

    My understanding is that carbs require a lot of minerals and vitamins to process, whereas veggies and meat add too your stores of them.
    So the V8 supplement is not required anymore!

    But if I do have a carby moment, I do feel that twinge of headache, just the tightness, not a real headache.

    (I still drink V8 though, I like it)

  6. jake3_14 8 June 2012 at 2:53 am #

    It’s simple enough in the U.S. to do a test for intracellular mineral status (look up the EXATest), where K and Mg are concentrated. It’s just a swab on the inside of one’s cheek, then send the swab to the lab. The hardest part is persuading one’s doctor to do the test. Doesn’t the UK have something similar?
    Also, ever since the evidence mounted that supplemental calcium was bad for the body, I’m looking askance at all mineral supplementation.

  7. TerryJ 8 June 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    “Most is found within the cells and within cells.” ???

  8. Dr John Briffa 8 June 2012 at 4:03 pm #

    TerryJ

    Ta for spotting this – corrected now to ‘in the bone and within cells’

    J

  9. Ajana 8 June 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    I’ve supplemented with magnesium (without calcium) for a couple of years specifically for my migraines and not had a single one in that time. Just wished it worked its magic as well on my old bladder.

  10. Katie 8 June 2012 at 7:21 pm #

    Magnesium is magnificient! migraines since 8 yrs old, put on Elavil/ made me feel so tired. fast forward 37 years later and after eliminating wheat and all grains from diet and switching to raw grass fed whole dairy and using magnesium oil and lots of nuts I feel wonderful. dehydration was a big factor too. I still notice some pain during full moon or large change in barometric pressure but I just take extra magnesium citrare and works like a charm

  11. Searcher 8 June 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    I have a soak in an Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) bath at least once a week using a generous half cup of Epsom salts. I do this to alleviate muscular cramps and it is very helpful. The body absorbs the amount of magnesium it needs and it has the additional advantage that it also absorbs the sulphur – we can be quite deficient in this element as well.

  12. Jane Muscat 9 June 2012 at 12:11 am #

    I never get headaches or migranes but when i drink fresh orange juice in the morning or eat onions with meal ,or eat yeast products a headache triggers on,so i believe headaches have something to do with food intolerance

  13. Ann 9 June 2012 at 2:08 am #

    I’ve been told by naturopaths that epsom salts, or magnesium sulfate, is great for a quick fix, as for muscle cramps, aches and pains, and to become relaxed and sleepy before bed, but not great for replenishing magnesium stores as it’s excreted rather quickly through urination.

    A much better approach to non-ingested magnesium supplementation is topical application of magnesium oil. It is a different form of magnesium, magnesium chloride, that will actually build up in the system, restoring optimum levels over time. You spray in on a couple of times a day, and no matter how much you use it doesn’t cause diarrhea. I’ve been using it for a couple of years, along with oral magnesium supplementation.

  14. jake3_14 9 June 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    Regarding magnesium oil, to the best of my knowledge, what you’re saying is not possible. Ionic substances like magnesium chloride don’t pass through the skin well at all. The amount you would get would seem to be insufficient for relieving headaches. I think that you can drink ionized Mg by mixing Milk of Magnesia with club soda (3 fl. oz./liter) and absorb more of the Mg.

  15. Vanessa 9 June 2012 at 9:33 pm #

    Hi,
    I have tried Magnesium before and it caused diarrhoea, which Magnesium type is best as to not cause this. Also, I thought you we supposed to supplement Calcium when taking Magnesium?

  16. jake3_14 11 June 2012 at 2:21 am #

    Hi Vanessa,

    A chelated form of magnesium (citrate, as Dr. Briffa mentions, or malate) will not cause diarrhoea.

    When you supplement with calcium, you must take magnesium in a 2:1 calcium:magnesium ratio. The reverse, though, it not required; you can supplement with magnesium on its own. Since magnesium is water-soluble, the body will discard what it can’t use.

    A note of caution about calcium supplementation, though. Some researchers (see http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120523200752.htm) are questioning the safety of supplementing with calcium, since it is associated with a higher risk of heart attacks, especially in post-menopausal women, the very group most likely to take calcium supplements.

    P.S.: For a cheaper magnesium supplement, you can mix 3 oz. of Milk of Magnesia (that’s the U.S. name) with a liter of carbonated water (called club soda in the U.S.). Cap the water bottle quickly, though, because the mixture effervesces a lot. Shake the bottle once after the mixture clears, and you’re done. Each ounce of the mixture contains about 40 g of ionized magnesium, which is well absorbed.

  17. Vanessa 12 June 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    Thank you Jake, I really appreciate your reply.

  18. Danny 12 June 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    @jake
    Why would chelated magnesium not cause diarrhea. Chelation simply helps absorption via an amino acid transporter. Taking 2000mg of chelated magnesium would not cause diarrhea? Can you provide some reasoning as to why not please? :)

    Also where are you getting your ratio recommendation of 2:1? Why would that be better then 1:1?

  19. Nan 15 June 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    I had over forty years of migraines which got far better on lchf diet, bit a few weeks ago I went gluten free and have had no headaches. I’m a believer n the Wheatbelly book now.

  20. jake3_14 22 June 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    Danny,
    You’ve provided your own answer. Because the chelation helps with absorption, it doesn’t stay in the small intestine as long, and so, doesn’t have the laxative effect that non-chelated forms, such as magnesium oxide, have. The 2:1 calcium-to-magnesium intake ratio is standard in every nutrition reference I’ve ever read.

  21. ShellM 6 April 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    I have been taking magnesium and drinking fresh fruit and vegetable juice daily for quite some time now and my migraines have subsided for the most part. My doctor though told me that if I’m trying to get pregnant I should stop taking the magnesium. I did and had a huge 3 day migraine so I started taking it again. Is there any way that magnesium could hurt my baby if I were to get pregnant? Last time I was pregnant I took it the whole time.

  22. Ronald Lavine, DC 23 May 2013 at 1:21 am #

    Thanks for your balanced approach to improving health naturally. It doesn’t seem like you’re advocating a specific approach to testing for a magnesium deficiency; instead, why not take supplement because it’s likely to help and highly unlikely to do harm. Would you say that testing urine pH is an indirect way to assess magnesium status?

  23. Londoner 26 August 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Hi I have had migraines for years and wondered will magnesium help menstral migraines?

  24. Priya 19 March 2014 at 5:39 am #

    I have been prescribed Magnesium and Riboflavin for migraine by my neurologist. What’s the difference between plain Magnesium like the Megafood brand and the chelated ones such as Magnesium Malate and Magnesium Glycinate? Which one should I take?

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