Magnesium for Migraine
Magnesium: what is it and what does it do?
The word magnesium comes from the Greek word for an area called Magnesia, which in turn gets its name from an ancient Greek tribe called the Magnetes. Magnetite and Manganese are also found in this area.
The mineral magnesium plays a role in over 300 different changes that take place in the body’s cells but is most commonly found in our bones, muscles and brain. We need magnesium to help to relax our muscles, to keep our nervous systems calm and to help to absorb other essential minerals, such as calcium, sodium, zinc, copper, iron, potassium and phosphorus.
It also helps to fight stress, aid our sleep, and for many people it can help to keep migraines at bay, or at the very least reduce the frequency and severity.
A deficiency of magnesium is believed to have a lot to do with certain illnesses, diseases and disorders and in migraineurs the levels of the mineral seem to be particularly low. During an attack they actually appear to get even lower. It’s not known why at the moment though. Some medical professionals believe that a deficiency in magnesium helps to speed up cortical spreading depression, the mechanism of migraine and how it moves across the brain.
Signs that you may have a magnesium deficiency include;
- Chronic Fatigue
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Sensitivity to loud noises
You may have noticed that some of the above problems exist with or are co-morbidities of migraine, and some of them are also symptoms of migraine or at least of living with migraine. This is by no means an exhaustive list so there are other symptoms.
Many doctors regard magnesium as one of the most effective minerals supplements for migraine and it is becoming a more common practice for GP’s to prescribe magnesium as a preventative treatment instead of other medical preventatives. It is generally regarded as safe to take, is easily accessible and relatively cheap to buy, however, if you have heart disease or a problem with your kidneys, such as kidney stones, or kidney disease you should talk to your doctor before starting magnesium supplements.
Magnesium Rich Foods
Many of us don’t get enough magnesium through our diets and this is mainly due to us not eating enough magnesium-rich foods. It’s not completely our fault as certain processes in the manufacturing of food can block either the production of magnesium or our ability to absorb it. Magnesium content in vegetables has declined steadily since the 1950’s due to more industrialised farm processes and typical grain refining processes for bread and pasta remove 80-95% of total magnesium.
Adult Human bodies require an adequate level of magnesium to function properly and it’s absorbed mainly through the gut, so the most efficient way to get it is through food. Generally speaking, you can eat as much magnesium-rich foods as you like without any adverse consequences as the levels in them are naturally occurring, and the kidneys remove the excess. However, high doses of magnesium from supplements or medications often cause nausea and abdominal cramping. (See the Down-side of Magnesium below) One of the first signs of over-using magnesium is diarrhoea, so if you suddenly suffer with this symptom, maybe reduce or stop taking the supplements and again check with your GP.
Foods that are rich in magnesium are;
- Brown rice
- Cocoa powder
- Kiwi fruit
- Peanut butter
All the foods listed above in italics are also regarded as potential triggers for migraine so once again, try using a migraine diary to figure out your own triggers, that way you’ll know whether or not you can take the particular food.
Consult a medical profession before using any of the supplements below, especially if suffering from heart disease, kidney disease, if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, are a diabetic or allergic to any of the ingredients!
If foods are a problem for you and too many of them prove to be triggers, magnesium is widely available in many formats in health food shops. Some of those formats are more easily absorbed than others and some may not be as effective against migraine as others. If your GP has prescribed a supplement, then he/she may be able to advise of a product that has proved effective in the treatment of migraine.
Magnesium oxide: This is the most common form of magnesium found in supplements. It’s not the most easily absorbed form but has been shown to be quite effective. It can cause diarrhoea. The recommended dose of Magnesium Oxide is between 400 – 600 mg a day
Magnesium sulfate: This is mostly found in Epsom Salts and can be used in a bath to help absorb magnesium through the skin. Some people like to add a drop of lavender to the salts or the bath. It can be used for other things and in other ways that may benefit someone suffering from migraine in other chronic diseases. See the following article;
Do NOT use Epsom Salts if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, are allergic to sulphur, or are a diabetic
Magnesium citrate: Very rapidly absorbed in the gut but it does cause diarrhoea too. It can be useful for the prevention of kidney stones.
Magnesium glycinate: Glycine is a calming amino acid and combined with magnesium has been found to be helpful for chronic pain.
If you have problems with your stomach when taking pills or supplements, many of them are available in powders, oils, salts and topical ointments.
The Down-side of Magnesium
Taking too much magnesium can cause Magnesium Toxicity, which includes the following symptoms;
- hypotension – low blood pressure
It can also interact with medications that you are taking for migraine as well as for other disorders or health problems.
Several types of medications interact with magnesium supplements or affect the magnesium status. If you take any of the following types of medication see your GP or specialist before taking magnesium
- Bisphosphonates – for the treatment of osteoporosis and other bone density medication
- Antibiotics – certain types of antibiotics are affected so you should always tell your doctor that you’re taking magnesium before taking antibiotics, particularly those for urinary infections
- Diuretics – these increase the amount of urine in the body which in turn expels magnesium with it during urination.
- Proton pump inhibitors – drugs that work on acid and gastric problems such as dyspepsia, peptic ulcer, etc., e.g. Nexium
- Anti-convulsants – anti seizure medications, e.g. Gabapentin (Neurontin)
- Anti-malarials – medications to prevent or cure malaria
- Anti-coagulants – these thin the blood and slow down clotting e.g. Heparin, Warfarin
- Iron supplements
- Cardiac drugs – the work of certain types of cardiac drugs are inhibited