Magnesium: what is it and what does it do?
There are several ways of treating migraine other than using medication, such as neuromodulation, vitamins and minerals, acupuncture, etc. Some can be used along with medication. One of the most common non-medical treatments for migraine is magnesium.
Magnesium plays a role in over 300 changes in the body and is mostly found in bones, muscles and the brain.
The role of Magnesium
- relaxes our muscles
- keeps our nervous systems calm
- helps to absorb other essential minerals
- fights stress,
- aids our sleep,
- helps 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. In people with Migraine, the levels of the mineral seem to be particularly low. During an attack they appear to get even lower.
Some medical professionals believe that a deficiency in magnesium helps to speed up cortical spreading depression (CSD). CSD is the movement of an electrical wave across the brain believed to cause Aura in migraine. “It can cause blood vessels to constrict, affect the release of serotonin and influence a number of neurotransmitters”, according to Dr. Alexander Mauskop and Dr. Jasmine Varughese from the New York Headache Centre
Signs that you may have a magnesium deficiency include…
- Chronic Fatigue
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Sensitivity to loud noises
The Science Part
Many doctors regard magnesium as one of the most effective mineral supplements for migraine. It’s becoming a more common practice for GPs to prescribe it.
According to Dr. Stewart Tepper, Professor of Neurology, New Hampshire, USA… “Parenteral (meds taken by some route other than through the alimentary canal – mouth to anus) magnesium (1 gram IV) can terminate migraine in patients with low ionized magnesium levels, and in those with aura. The recommended dose is 400–600 mg/day of chelated magnesium (taurate, glycinate, oxide, etc), for at least 3 to 4 months. Diarrhoea limits oral magnesium supplementation clinically.”  You may have met Dr. Tepper in 2017 at an event in North Dublin a few years ago. It was when the news about the new anti-CGRP medications first came out. He is one of the top neurologists specialising in migraine in the US and is Director of the Dartmouth Headache Clinic, in New Hampshire.
Dr. Deborah Tepper, Stewart’s wife, is also a neurologist with a special interest in headache at the Centre in New Hampshire. She spoke at the same event. She writes the Headache Toolbox section for Headache: Journal of Head and Face Pain. “Daily oral magnesium has also been shown to be effective in preventing menstrually related migraine, especially in those with premenstrual migraine. This means that preventive use can be targeted at those with aura and/or those with menstrually related migraine.” https://headachejournal.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/head.12220
A study on a product called Migravent/Dolovent published in 2015 showed that “Treatment with a proprietary supplement containing magnesium, riboflavin and Q10 had an impact on migraine frequency which showed a trend towards statistical significance. Migraine symptoms and burden of disease, however, were statistically significantly reduced compared to placebo in patients with migraine attacks”.
So you can see that other supplements may also help, however, Magnesium is regarded as safe, easy to find and relatively cheap to buy. 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 taking magnesium. It can affect how some medications work. You should carefully monitor your response to the supplement to see if it works for you, and to make sure you don’t suffer from any unusual side-effects.
Magnesium Rich Foods
An easier and probably safer way to get more magnesium into us may be through food. Many of us don’t get enough magnesium through our diets. This is mainly due to not eating enough magnesium-rich foods. It’s not entirely our fault, as certain processes in the manufacturing of food can block the production of magnesium and our ability to absorb it.
Magnesium content in vegetables has declined steadily since the 1950’s, due to more industrialised farm processes. The 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. It’s absorbed through the gut, therefore the most efficient way to get it is through food. You can eat as many magnesium-rich foods as you like without any adverse consequences as the levels in them are naturally occurring, and the kidneys remove the excess.
High doses of magnesium from supplements or medications often cause nausea and abdominal cramping. One of the first signs is diarrhoea. If you experience diarrhoea, reduce or stop taking the supplements, and check with your GP.
Foods that are rich in magnesium include…
- Brown rice
- Cocoa powder
- Kiwi fruit
- Peanut butter
All the foods listed above in italics are thought of as possible triggers. Try using a migraine diary to figure out your own triggers. If you’d prefer to use an app, we have a promotion offering FREE access for life to the Curelator N-1 Headache App. See details here https://migraine.ie/2020/05/migraine-association-of-ireland-partners-with-curelator-to-offer-free-premium-access-to-n1-headache-app/ Offer open until July 31st.
SuperValu has an interesting short article on Magnesium with a chart showing the magnesium content of foods they sell. https://supervalu.ie/real-people/health-and-wellbeing/nutritional-information/minerals/magnesium Watch the wasabi though 😉
Consult a medical professional before you use any supplements.
If food is a problem for you and many foods turn out to be triggers, magnesium as a supplement is widely available in many forms.
- Magnesium oxide is the most common form of magnesium supplements. The recommended dose is between 400 – 600 mg a day.
- Magnesium sulphate is found in Epsom salts, and can be used in a bath or foot bath. Some people like to add a drop of lavender to the salts or the bath. Do NOT use Epsom Salts if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, are allergic to sulphur, or are a diabetic
- Magnesium citrate is rapidly absorbed, but it can cause diarrhoea.
- Magnesium glycinate contains the amino acid Glycine and when combined with magnesium has been found to be helpful for chronic pain.
If you have problems with your stomach many supplements are available in powders, oils, salts and topical ointments. Mag 365 comes in fruity flavours, and is easily and rapidly absorbed.
If you suffer from heart disease, kidney disease, if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, are a diabetic or allergic to any of the ingredients seek medical advice!
 Mauskop, Alexander & Varughese, Jasmine. (2012). Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. Journal of neural transmission (Vienna, Austria : 1996). 119. 575-9. 10.1007/s00702-012-0790-2.