When it comes to migraines, sufferers will do nearly anything to prevent attacks and shorten them when they occur. In addition to avoiding triggering foods, there are some supplements that are rising in popularity as alternative treatments for migraine. Magnesium for migraines is one of the supplements getting attention, and with good reason. This vital mineral plays a role in over 300 of the body’s processes, but there is one problem: people in the U.S. are not getting enough of it.
The basics behind magnesium for migraines
In 2009, the World Health Organization published a report indicating that 75% of adults are not getting the recommended levels of daily magnesium, with one in five adults getting less than half of what they need.
Basic symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
- Twitching or cramping muscles
- Headaches and migraines
- Obesity (with or without high blood pressure)
- Heart palpitations
- Chronic fatigue
Looking carefully at the list of symptoms of magnesium deficiency, it becomes readily apparent how connected low magnesium and migraines are, sharing many of the same symptoms.
Magnesium for migraines makes sense. As early as 1989, a study found that migraine sufferers experienced low brain magnesium during an attack. In 2001, a scientifically valid study found low magnesium levels in women experiencing “menstrual migraine” (migraine related to fluctuations in hormone levels during their cycle). These findings were corroborated for both genders in 2002 with a study that found low systemic levels of magnesium in migraine patients regardless of migraine type.
The benefits of magnesium for migraines
An educational document about magnesium for migraines released by the American Headache Society elaborated on magnesium’s efficacy in the prevention of migraine, noting some of the benefits:
“The strongest evidence for magnesium’s effectiveness is in patients who have, or have had, aura with their migraines. It is believed magnesium may prevent the wave of brain signaling, called cortical spreading depression, which produces the visual and sensory changes that are the common forms of aura. Other mechanisms of magnesium action include improved platelet function and decreased release or blocking of pain transmitting chemicals in the brain such as Substance P and glutamate. Magnesium may also prevent narrowing of brain blood vessels caused by the neurotransmitter serotonin.”
Does magnesium for migraines actually work?
In 1996, a multi-center, placebo-controlled and double-blind randomized study of magnesium supplementation versus placebo for migraine was conducted, with promising results. In the study, groups were given either 600 milligrams of magnesium (trimagnesium dicitrate) daily for 12 weeks or placebo. Between nine and 12 weeks, the frequency of migraine in the magnesium group declined by nearly 47%, while the placebo group saw a drop of just under 16%. Migraine duration and use of other drugs for treatment decreased significantly in the magnesium group. While the placebo group also saw a decline in these two factors, it was not significant.
While this seems enough to universally recommend magnesium for migraines, another study in the same year found that magnesium supplementation at just under 460 milligrams daily had no clinically significant benefit when compared to placebo.
The efficacy of magnesium for migraines may come down to dosage. Because our bodies store most of our magnesium in our bones, it is not readily available for use. We need to add magnesium through food or other supplements. The recommended daily allowance of magnesium differs according to age, life stage, and gender.
The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements has set forth the following basic guidelines for generally healthy people:
- Age 1-3: 80 mg/day
- Age 4-8: 130 mg/day
- Age 9-13: 240 mg/day
- Age 14-18: 410 mg/day for males, 360 mg/day for females, 400 mg/day during pregnancy
- Age 19-30: 400 mg/day for males, 310 mg/day for females, 350 mg/day during pregnancy
- Age 31 and over: 420 mg/day for males, 320 mg/day for females, 360 mg/day during pregnancy
The American Headache Society and the American Academy of Neurology gave magnesium a Level B rating in 2012. This means that because magnesium for migraine is generally safe and has been proven effective for some, magnesium’s use either alone or with other medications is generally recommended. To utilize magnesium for migraines, the standard recommended dosage is between 400 and 600 milligrams daily, separated over at least two doses.
Magnesium for migraine can interact with some other medications, including:
- Antibiotics with tetracycline: Magnesium and antibiotics can mix in the stomach and reduce absorption of tetracycline, which may make the antibiotic less effective.
- Other medications that include magnesium: Antacids and laxatives with magnesium can combine with supplemental magnesium to cause magnesium toxicity.
- Anticoagulants: Magnesium can interfere with these and make both less effective.
- Iron supplements: Magnesium interferes with the absorption of iron.
Side effects of magnesium supplementation are generally mild and can include diarrhea.
Getting more magnesium in your diet
One of the best ways to increase magnesium in the body is through diet. Some magnesium-rich foods can serve as migraine triggers and should be avoided, but in general, excellent sources of dietary magnesium include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Cooked veggies (okra, sweet potato, broccoli, spinach, swiss chard, artichoke)
- Brown rice
- Dried fruit without preservatives or added sugar (raisins, cherries, cranberries)
- Fresh fruit (apricots, kiwis)
- Blackstrap molasses
- Whole grains (cereals, oats)
- Legumes (garbanzo beans, lentils, split peas)
It is important to talk to your doctor about any other health conditions you have before starting with supplementation of magnesium for migraines. If you are being treated for kidney stones, adding magnesium can decrease the effectiveness of treatment. Women who are pregnant or nursing should also only supplement with magnesium with the supervision of their healthcare provider.
In the end, magnesium for migraine is a relatively safe and potentially effective way to prevent migraines or limit their frequency and duration. Have you tried magnesium for migraines?