Magnesium for Migraines

If you suffer from migraines or other types of headaches, it’s well worth your time to ask yourself whether you might be suffering from any nutritional deficiencies.

Magnesium for Migraines

Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals are more common than you might believe. Even if you live in a developed country, there’s a chance that your levels are below the recommended amounts for key nutrients which play a role in migraine prevention. One such nutrient is magnesium.

How Common is Magnesium Deficiency?

You might think that even though magnesium deficiency is one of the most prevalent nutritional deficiencies, that it would only affect a minority of people in the developed world.

This is not the case however. Magnesium deficiency actually affects the majority of people in the United States.

There is an interesting page that you can read about this over at ConsumerLab.com.

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A reader wrote in the question, ” I’ve read that magnesium deficiency is rare but also that most people don’t get enough magnesium. How can these both be true?”

It turns out that most people are consuming insufficient magnesium, but that our bodies are fairly good at masking our deficiency.

It could be that some people with migraines are experiencing them as a “breakthrough” symptom of magnesium deficiency.

Because migraines are so common and treating pain disorders is not much of a priority in the medical field (compared to treating other diseases), it is easy for physicians to overlook a possible link between the two when making a diagnosis.

Plus, there’s another reason why magnesium deficiency is often not diagnosed. It turns out that it is difficult to get an accurate measurement of the amount of magnesium which is present in a person’s body.

ConsumerLab reports that a range of health benefits are possible for magnesium-deficient people who supplement. These include, ” cardiovascular benefits, such as modestly reducing blood pressure and reducing the risk of stroke. It may also help prevent hearing loss from excessive noise, migraine headaches, and menstrual pain, and it can improve insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes.”

Key Point: Magnesium deficiency is among the most prevalent nutritional deficiencies in the world, even affecting populations in developed countries. It is often glossed over or missed completely during diagnosis.

Is Magnesium for Migraines Backed by Science?

scientist with glowing beaker

You have or be seen one mention of a connection which may exist between magnesium and migraines, as mentioned by ConsumerLab.

To go deeper into this topic, we will turn to the American Migraine Foundation. According to this resource provided by the foundation:

“There is some evidence that migraineurs may have lower levels of brain magnesium either from decreased absorption of it in food, a genetic tendency to low brain magnesium, or from excreting it from the body to a greater degree than non-migraineurs. Studies of migraineurs have found low levels of brain and spinal fluid magnesium in between migraine attacks.”

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Magnesium levels may be particularly associated with menstrual migraines. This study examined this relationship, finding that patients who exhibited menstrual migraines had lower levels of intracellular Mg++.

The researchers also found that supplementing with magnesium reduced the number of days migraineurs experienced headaches while also improving other premenstrual symptoms. These benefits were not found in any of the patients who took the placebo.

Now, it is important to note that magnesium is largely used as a preventative treatment for migraines.

This does not mean that it is effective as a treatment for an acute migraine which developing or is already in full swing.

The American Migraine Foundation states on this topic, ” Magnesium sulfate given intravenously was found to be most effective in those with a history of migraine with aura. In those without a history of aura, no difference was seen in immediate pain relief or nausea relief by magnesium, but there was less light and noise sensitivity after the infusion.”

Meanwhile, a meta-analysis which investigated magnesium as a treatment for acute migraine, ” failed to demonstrate a beneficial effect of intravenous magnesium in terms of reduction in pain relief in acute migraine in adults, showed no benefit in terms of the need for rescue medication and in fact have shown that patients treated with magnesium were significantly more likely to report side-effects/adverse events.” 

Nonetheless, it is easy to find examples of studies which conclude the opposite. For example, in this one from 2002, the researchers concluded, ” Our data support the idea that magnesium sulphate can be used for the treatment of all symptoms in migraine with aura, or as an adjuvant therapy for associated symptoms in patients with migraine without aura.”

This made very well be one of the research studies which the American Migraine Foundation was alluding to in the previously excerpted passage.

Key Point: In select situations, there is evidence which suggests that intravenously administered magnesium may be beneficial for acute migraines. Otherwise, magnesium is recommended largely as a preventive treatment.

Can Magnesium Treat Other Types of Headaches?

woman with headache

I always try to take some time to discuss other types of headaches in conjunction with migraines in my articles.

The reason that I do this is because migraines, tension headaches and other types of headaches can all easily be confused with one another.

As such, I suspect that a fairly large number of readers who find their way here may suffer from other forms of headaches.

You now know that magnesium can be used as a migraine treatment. But what if you suffer from tension-type headaches?

There are several studies which I would like to your attention to:

  • This research reported that serum magnesium levels were lower not just in migraine patients, but also in those with tension-type headache.
  • A 1996 study found that a variety of different types of headaches responded swiftly to intravenous intervention using magnesium.
  • This paper draws attention to the importance of magnesium in muscle function, indicating that this could also play a role in the treatment of tension-type headaches.

So even if you are not certain exactly what types of headaches you suffer from, supplementing with magnesium may make a difference in your life.

Key Point: Research suggests that magnesium supplementation may be able to help patients with a number of different types of headaches.

How to Choose a Magnesium Supplement for Migraines

Tablets Magnesium Nutrient Additives White Tablets

Let’s say that you have decided to go ahead and try using magnesium as a treatment for your head pain.

For most people, intravenous magnesium is not going to be a practical solution. So you will probably be shopping for supplements online or at a local store.

What should you be looking for a high-quality magnesium supplement?

First of all, there’s more than one way to get magnesium as a supplement.

The most common approach is to take tablets. But you can also ingest magnesium in a beverage. A third option is to use magnesium topical spray. Let’s talk about each of these options in more detail.

Magnesium Tablets

If you’ve decided to purchase magnesium tablets, you’ve picked a convenient and cost-effective method of delivery. Here is what you should look for in a high-quality magnesium tablet:

  • A trusted brand. There are a lot of dodgy companies right now selling inferior supplements which may or may not contain the ingredients stated on the label in the amounts which they claim. When possible, stick with a brand which you trust.
  • The right compound form. You should avoid certain forms such as magnesium glutamate (see more below).
  • The optimal dosage. Make sure that you are taking a dosage which will be both safe and potentially effective for treating migraines. Do not forget that you can always cut tablets in half if they contain too much magnesium.
  • High bioavailability. Choose a supplement which offers good absorption. When purchasing a more expensive form of magnesium for this or other purposes, make sure that it does not say on the label that it is buffered.
  • Tablets you can swallow with ease. Usually this is not a problem with magnesium tablets, which tend to be small. But it is still something to keep in mind as you shop.
  • Solid reviews. Checking reviews for magnesium tablets before purchasing them is always wise. Just make sure that what you read you take with a grain of salt.
  • A reasonable price. This too is not usually a challenge when shopping for magnesium, especially in the form of magnesium oxide. Still, you should make sure that you’re getting a good deal.

That is pretty much all you need to know about shopping for magnesium tablets. It is a pretty straightforward process.

Key Point: When shopping for magnesium tablets, consider factors such as brand, price, the type of magnesium compound, dosage, bioavailability, ease of swallowing, and more.

Magnesium Powders for Beverages

he next form of magnesium which you might consider supplementing with is magnesium powder which you can mix into a glass of water or another beverage.

Here too, you’re looking at most of the same factors: bioavailability, pricing, brand reputation, and so forth.

You will also want to add in solubility as another consideration. Some powders integrate better with beverages than others.

You also should consider flavorings and other ingredients. Some drink mixes which contain magnesium have a lot of additives. Others might be enhanced with additional nutrients. Some have flavors added, while others do not.

Ultimately, it is up to you what you shop for. But purity is generally a positive. There is a reason to go introducing unnecessary additives to your body.

Key Point: When shopping for magnesium powders, consider many of the same factors that you do while shopping for tablets along with solubility, flavorings, and additives.

Magnesium Sprays

A third type of magnesium supplement which you can try comes in a spray bottle. As of right now, there is insufficient research to determine whether this type of magnesium is able to absorb effectively through the skin, producing health benefits.

While awaiting further research, you may decide to give it a try. If you do, it is helpful to know that there is a significant price range for magnesium sprays and oils.

I cannot find any evidence that paying more is necessarily better. Products in the lower price range seem to be equally well-rated.

I have no idea whether magnesium in this form would be useful for treating migraines, but it may feasibly be helpful for treating tension-type headaches where you want to target specific muscle groups.

In theory, it should not work all that differently from Epsom salts in this regard.

I have been giving this form of magnesium a try myself.

So far, I cannot say definitively whether it is producing results are not.

There are two things that you should note if you do decide to try it:

  • Firstly, check the dosage on the product you purchase to see how many mg of magnesium you are (hopefully) getting with each spray. Make sure that you do not overdo it, and that you account for the spray you are using as well as any oral magnesium you are taking.
  • Secondly, when applying the magnesium spray, you may notice an itching, stinging or burning sensation. This is expected, and does not mean anything is going wrong. It subsides pretty quickly. I have read multiple theories as to its origin. Some people think it is the result of rapid intake in deficient tissue. Others point out that it leaves behind a salty residue. This in itself seems like it could be what causes the sensation.

Key Point: Magnesium sprays and oils are not well-researched, but there is a possibility that they may be helpful in alleviating muscle tension connected to headaches.

Magnesium Compound Forms

scientist compounding magnesium

Something else to be aware of while you’re shopping for magnesium supplements is that it can be present in a variety of different compounds. These include:

  • Magnesium oxide.
  • Magnesium chelate
  • Magnesium citrate
  • Magnesium chloride oil
  • Magnesium glycinate
  • Magnesium aspartate
  • Magnesium threonate
  • Magnesium pidolate
  • Magnesium glutamate
  • Magnesium orotate
  • Magnesium malate
  • Magnesium taurate
  • Magnesium sulfate
  • Milk of magnesia

Obviously you may feel a little overwhelmed by all of these options! So which should you choose for migraines?

Well, a lot of these forms have highly specific uses. Magnesium threonate for example is used by those who are trying to promote better cognitive function.

A couple of forms should be avoided altogether. These are magnesium aspartate and magnesium glutamate. Researchers are currently not certain whether these two forms might compromise human health.

Probably the most common form of magnesium which are likely to encounter on the market is magnesium oxide. It is cost effective, and the American Migraine Foundation mentions that it has been used to treat migraines. Sometimes this type of magnesium is also referred to as “elemental magnesium.”

If you are looking for a form which is more bioavailable, you can try magnesium chelate.

Magnesium sulfate may be helpful to you as well. This is the type of magnesium in Epsom salts. It costs very little, and can be used to treat sore muscles. This may reduce tension-type headaches.

Key Point: While there are many different compound forms of magnesium available, simple magnesium oxide is probably appropriate for most migraine sufferers. You might also consider magnesium sulfate for tension headaches.

How Much Magnesium Should You Take?

According to the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, these are the recommended daily amounts of magnesium:

Magnesium Intake Table
Via the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies

Here are the Upper Intake Levels (ULs) for magnesium supplements:

Upper magnesium intake levels

Via the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies

You will notice right off that the recommended amounts of magnesium are actually higher than the upper limits. What is going on thee?

This has to do with the fact that the magnesium which you get through food is processed in a different way than that which you get from supplements.

If the foods and beverages you consume provide more magnesium than your body has a use for, your body is able to expel it thanks to the help of your kidneys.

But when you get more magnesium than you need through supplements, it can build up. That’s when you might start to experience unwanted side effects.

Typically these are not too dramatic at low levels of buildup. You might have some cramps, or you could find yourself running to the bathroom more often than usual.

But if you consume more than 5,000 mg of magnesium each day, you could experience dangerous toxic effects.

So your next question might be, “Okay, why do so many magnesium supplements contain more magnesium than the recommended daily amount?

The reason is that people who are taking magnesium supplements often are doing so to combat conditions such as migraines, rather than simply to keep up with the daily recommended requirements.

Sometimes, a higher therapeutic dose is called for.

The American Migraine Foundation states, “Magnesium oxide is frequently used in pill form to prevent migraine, usually at a dose of 400-500 mg per day.”

While that is not far off from the recommended amounts, you can see that it might exceed them in some cases.

If you have concerns about exceeding the recommended daily amount, it’s wise to confer with a medical expert before proceeding.

Another reason that you sometimes see high amounts listed on supplement labels is that they are referring to the weight of the entire compound present, rather than simply the magnesium in that compound.

ConsumerLab explains this pretty well here. In their example, they refer to magnesium citrate:

“For example, if your supplement label states: “Magnesium (as magnesium citrate)….500 mg” it should contain 500 mg of actual magnesium. However, if the label says “Magnesium citrate 500 mg,” this means the entire compound is 500 mg — of which only a small percentage is magnesium (in fact, it’s only 16.2%).”

So it is important to pay close attention to the wording so that you know exactly how much magnesium you are actually consuming.

Key Point: In general, most people should not exceed the recommended daily amount of magnesium in their supplements. Those who are trying to treat migraines or other conditions however may require a higher therapeutic dose. Pay extra close attention to how dosages are labeled on supplements so that you know how much you are taking.

How to Take a Magnesium Supplement for Migraines

To take magnesium to treat migraines or other types of headaches, you simply need to follow the instructions for the product you have purchased.

Tablets:

Many people find it helpful to take magnesium tablets with food and water in order to reduce digestive discomfort. If you can take magnesium without food however, you might want to do so.

Natural Vitality states that, “According to Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of “The Magnesium Miracle”, “it is recommended to take magnesium supplements between meals for optimal absorption. Magnesium needs stomach acid to be absorbed. After a full meal your stomach acid is busy digesting food and may not be available to help absorb the magnesium.”

Make sure you take the correct dosage for your condition.

Powders:

When taking a magnesium powder, you need to dissolve the powder into water or another beverage of your choice. You can do so at room temperature, or you can heat up the water first or cool it down.

What temperature is most effective depends on the way that the product is formulated. Many products dissolve more effectively into warm water, and may take less time to undergo any necessary chemical reaction (this usually produces fizzing).

As with the tablets, it is best to take magnesium powders in between meals if you can. But if this causes you digestive problems, you can go ahead and eat something when you take your supplement.

Spray:

Conveniently, you can apply magnesium spray or oil at any time of day. Check the bottle to see how many times you should spray to get the dosage that you are after.

Make sure that you give the spray time to absorb before you try to wipe away any unwanted residue from your skin. The bottle should also inform you of how much time you need to wait.

Again, if you experience burning, stinging or itching, it should be quite fleeting. It usually goes away after a couple of minutes.

Here are some additional tips to get the most out of magnesium for migraines:

  • Try to give magnesium supplementation a reasonable amount of time to work. You probably will not see results right away. Even if you do, you will need to collect a fair amount of data before you can make a determination as to whether this course of treatment is effective. So plan to supplement for at least a few weeks or even months before you make up your mind about magnesium.
  • Take notes. Create a document where you record how much magnesium you take each day, what form you are taking it in, and how much you are taking. Track your headaches as well, and look for patterns.

Don’t Forget You Can Also Increase Magnesium Through Your Diet

long grains that contain magnesium

Whether you decide to take magnesium supplements or not, you can enhance your magnesium levels naturally and conveniently through the foods you eat.

Here are some foods you can consider adding more of to your diet in order to up your levels:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Shredded wheat
  • Soymilk
  • Black beans
  • Edamame
  • Dark chocolate
  • Peanut butter
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Avocado
  • Potato

This list comes from the Cleveland Clinic. Click through on the link and you can view a more extensive list, complete with the mg of magnesium in each serving. The clinic reports that you can eat as much magnesium-rich food as you want with no upper limit.

Key Point: There are many foods which are high in magnesium which you can enjoy. You can eat these foods without restriction.

Conclusion

You now are familiar with some of the scientific research which points toward magnesium as a useful supplement for treating migraines and tension-type headaches.

You also have had a chance to learn more about magnesium supplements, safe dosages, and foods which you can eat to increase the magnesium in your body.

Remember that magnesium is a preventive treatment, and as such, you will get the best results if you take it consistently for an extended time. Only then can you properly evaluate its effectiveness.

While magnesium supplementation may be effective for treating your headaches, you can achieve even more dramatic success if you pair it up with other natural treatment methods like taking an herbal supplement for head pain.

For more tips and tricks for treating migraines at home, be sure to explore all of the articles in our archive.

Sources:
https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/magnesium-deficiency-vs-insufficiency/magnesium-deficiency/
https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/magnesium/
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1526-4610.1991.hed3105298.x
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1468-2982.2002.00364.x
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1468-2982.1992.1201021.x
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1046/j.1526-4610.1996.3603154.x
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987701914392
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15650-magnesium-rich-food
https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/how-much-actual-magnesium-does-a-supplement-with-500-mg-of-magnesium-citrate-contain/how-much-magnesium-in-my-supplement/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579607/
http://naturalvitality.com/natural-calm-faqs/