The Migraine-Magnesium Connection

Filed Under: General Health
Last Reviewed 07/01/2015

The Migraine-Magnesium Connection

The best way to treat migraines is with this simple mineral

If you suffer from migraines, I don’t need to tell you how these intense headaches can leave you essentially incapacitated. In addition to miserable pain and sensitivity to light and sound, migraines can also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, facial pallor, and cold hands and feet.

I wish I could tell you that there’s an ultimate cure. Unfortunately these headaches can result from numerous causes, and I don’t think there will ever be a single solution. 

It’s generally accepted that migraines are a result of changes in blood flow to the brain. The difficulty in eliminating migraine headaches stems from the fact that there are dozens of different “triggers” that can cause these blood flow alterations. These can include stress, skipping meals, lack of sleep, hormone imbalance, temperature or barometric pressure changes, bright lights, loud noise, strong odors, exertion, mineral and/or vitamin deficiencies, and many others.

The Missing Mineral

One of the most commonly overlooked migraine triggers is a magnesium deficiency. The precise role of this mineral in the development of migraines is still being unraveled, but we do know that magnesium deficiencies allow serotonin levels to flow unchecked. A serotonin increase causes vascular spasms, which then reduces blood flow and oxygen to the brain. It also brings about the release of other pain-producing chemicals.

Studies show that up to 50 percent of migraine patients have lowered levels of magnesium during an attack, and an infusion of the mineral can provide rapid and sustained relief. Additionally, routine oral use of magnesium can reduce both the frequency and severity of such attacks.

Magnesium deficiencies are far more common than most people realize. Studies have shown that only 25 percent of people in this country receive even the RDI of magnesium (420 mg) in their diet, and 39 percent get less than 70 percent of the RDI. Magnesium intake at the turn of the 20th century was between 475 and 500 mg a day, but our intake of this mineral has dropped over the last 100 years.

Keep Migraines at Bay With Magnesium-Rich Foods

Foods that help you obtain the recommended intake of magnesium include nuts, whole grains, unpolished rice, legumes, and chlorophyll-rich green vegetables such as spinach. 

A long list of factors also tend to deplete whatever magnesium stores you might have. For example, caffeine, diuretics, phosphates found in soft drinks, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, alcohol, nicotine, and medications such as steroids and antibiotics all either remove magnesium from your system or prevent its absorption. 

Consider a Supplement to Fix the Deficiency

If you suffer from migraine headaches, there’s a 50 to 75 percent chance that you have a magnesium deficiency and that supplementing with the mineral could help solve your problem.

Since healthy kidneys tend to flush out any excess, taking magnesium orally is safe as long as your kidneys are functioning properly. (If you have a kidney problem it would be wise to work with your doctor before adding additional magnesium to your diet.)

Additionally, the blood vessels in the intestines help control the amount of magnesium that gets absorbed—with too much magnesium often resulting in diarrhea or loose stools. (“Milk of Magnesia” is a form of magnesium commonly utilized as a laxative.) Monitoring your stools is actually one of the easiest methods to help regulate your dosage of magnesium.

The trick is to take enough magnesium without causing diarrhea. The best indicator that you’re getting enough oral magnesium to restore body levels and help migraines is the presence of soft, semi-formed bowel movements. The stool may fall apart in toilet water but the water should remain clear and colorless. If the toilet water turns cloudy or colored, then you’re having diarrhea and you’ll need to reduce your daily dose of magnesium by 10 to 20 percent. If, on the other hand, you remain constipated, then you are most likely still deficient in magnesium and will need to gradually increase your dosage 10 to 20 percent daily until the stool becomes soft and semi-formed. You can also expect to have two to three bowel movements a day, which is perfectly normal.

For migraine relief, the magnesium supplement I recommend is Mag-Tab SR. Mag-Tab releases magnesium over a longer period of time—which avoids the laxative effect. Start by taking two tablets a day and then increase by one tablet a day until stools become soft. (You may prefer to spread the dosage out at different times during the day with meals.) When stool becomes loose, back off one tablet and stay at that dosage.

More Dr. Williams Advice on Migraines

DISCLAIMER: The content of is offered on an informational basis only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health provider before making any adjustment to a medication or treatment you are currently using, and/or starting any new medication or treatment. All recommendations are "generally informational" and not specifically applicable to any individual's medical problems, concerns and/or needs.

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