The human body is designed to make use of multiple essential minerals, and magnesium is a particularly important one. It’s necessary for regulating more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including muscle and nerve function, stabilizing blood pressure, supporting bone health and controlling blood glucose levels. Low magnesium levels have been linked to headaches, migraines, and other medical conditions.
What the Research Shows
Various studies over the years have shown that patients suffering from migraines often have lower brain magnesium levels than those who don’t. Research indicates three quarters of Americans don’t get enough magnesium through their diets.
While it’s difficult to measure magnesium accurately, some population groups have a higher risk of deficiency, either because of genetic factors, less effective absorption of dietary magnesium, or from excreting it at a higher rate than others. This led to the exploration of magnesium as a potential treatment for a range of headache types.
Magnesium as a Migraine Treatment
A report from the American Headache Society states that magnesium oxide is often used in tablet form to prevent migraines, with between 400 and 500 mg per day being considered effective.
The mineral is rated as a Level B medication by the American Academy of Neurology, and it’s frequently recommended alone or in conjunction with other medications as a preventive strategy. It’s especially popular because it has a high safety profile and minimal serious side effects.
In women who suffer from menstrual-related migraines, taking daily supplements has been proved to help prevent headaches. Magnesium sulfate is also administered intravenously, particularly for patients suffering migraine with aura.
Boosting Magnesium in Your Diet
Although magnesium is a naturally-occurring mineral, most of our supply comes from the food we eat. You can boost your dietary intake of magnesium-rich foods by eating more dark, leafy greens such as spinach and chard. A single cup of either vegetable contains between 38 and 40 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of magnesium.
Other foods containing the mineral are:
- Pumpkin seeds, or seeds from various kinds of squash
- Black beans, lentils and Edamame
- Cashews, peanuts and almonds
- Tuna, salmon or mackerel fish
- Figs, bananas, raisins, apples and avocados
- Low fat milk and yoghurt
Add some of these foods to your daily diet to increase the amount of magnesium you get naturally, although supplements offer a powerful extra punch. This table from the National Institutes of Health shows the recommended daily quantities of magnesium, depending on the patient’s age.
Risk Factors and Precautions
Few medical or natural treatments come without risk, and while magnesium is considered exceptionally safe, some precautions you should take note of are:
- Pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes or kidney problems, which can affect how the mineral is stored in the body
- Bleeding disorder or heart block, which can be impacted by slower blood clotting
- Digestive conditions, such as stomach infections or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which can impact the absorption of magnesium into the system
- Interaction with other medications, such as antibiotics, laxatives and heart medications
- Pregnancy, during which you can use magnesium oxide pills but not intravenous magnesium sulfate that can cause bone thinning in the fetus.
Side effects include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which can be alleviated by lowering your dosage. In patients with low blood pressure, taking magnesium can lower it even more, which can lead to fainting and weakness. If the dosage you’re taking is too high for you, it can lead to a buildup of the mineral in your system, resulting in irregular heartbeat, slowed breathing and even a coma.
Natural remedies have a long history of being helpful for various medical conditions, but few are reputed to be all-out cures. They seldom work completely reliably without the support of other treatment methods, and in spite of their relative safety they can interact with other medications or cause other conditions to become worse.
Before you head out to buy quantities of magnesium supplements, therefore, it’s best to check with your migraine doctor to determine whether this is a suitable option for you--and what your optimal dosage should be.