Expert Answer: Magnesium for Migraine

Question: How is magnesium used to help with migraines? How do I know if I’m deficient and how much should I take? What are the side effects?

Migraine is known to have a strong genetic component, but what exactly
is wrong with the genes varies widely from person to person. One of the possible problems is genetic difficulty in absorbing magnesium.

Our research done at SUNY — Downstate showed that up to 50% of migraine sufferers and 40% of those with cluster headaches are deficient in magnesium. In addition to genetic reasons for magnesium deficiency, stress, alcohol, chronic illness, poor diet, gastro-intestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, can cause depletion of magnesium.

Magnesium is an essential element that is vital to the function of every cell in the body. It regulates literally hundreds of chemical reactions, modulates the function of
various cell receptors, helps open and close blood vessels, and performs many other functions. Changes in some of these receptors (serotonin, NMDA, and others) and blood vessel constriction are intimately involved in the development of migraine headaches. Our research also showed that a regular blood test is completely unreliable.


So, how do you know if you are deficient and should take a supplement? Here are some other signs of magnesium deficiency: cold hands and feet or just feeling colder than other people around you, muscle cramps in your legs or feet, which often occur at night, and PMS symptoms in women. But you may be deficient even if you don’t have these additional symptoms and since there is little downside in taking a magnesium supplement, it may be worth a try.

It may take a month or two of daily intake of about 400-500 mg of magnesium oxide or chelated magnesium, before headaches improve. Magnesium can cause is diarrhea or stomach upset, so it should be always taken with food. People with impaired kidney function (you
would know if you had it) should not take magnesium supplements without their doctor’s permission.

Magnesium can interfere with absorption of some antibiotics and other medications, so if you are taking prescription drugs it is important to talk to your doctor. Some people do not absorb enough magnesium even if they take a daily supplement, which we can tell if they get diarrhea or if their symptoms do not improve. We give these patients an intravenous infusion of magnesium and if it is effective, we repeat them monthly. We also give infusions for severe attacks and if the person is deficient, magnesium will provide immediate and dramatic relief. We also use the infusion as a test — if it helps, then a deficiency is probably present and taking an oral supplement may also help.

Even patients suffering from chronic daily headaches sometimes have
complete relief of their headaches from magnesium, although more often magnesium alone is not sufficient and we also need to give Botox injections, other supplements, such as CoQ10, biofeedback, and medications.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (23)
  • Leilani Siplon
    3 years ago

    I started this treatment in July, taking 500mg of magnesium a day, along with CoQ10, and I have been experiencing more migraines. I’m not sure that the new supplements are causing the increase though.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Leilani! We would recommend consulting your doctor before starting any supplements and at any time that headache frequency increases with any medication or supplement treatment protocols.

    Thanks for being part of the community, and please keep us informed as to how you’re doing. -All Best, Donna (Migraine.com team)

  • Dr. Alex Mauskop author
    7 years ago

    Actually, studies comparing magnesium oxide with chelated magnesium and a slow release form of magnesium showed equal absorption for all three. Magnesium oxide and chelated magnesium are very inexpensive and either one can be effective. However, if one causes upset stomach or diarrhea, the other one should be tried. Types of chelated magnesium are magnesium aspartate, glycinate, gluconate, and other.

  • MagnesiumMigraine
    2 years ago

    Bioavailability of US commercial magnesium preparations.

    Firoz M1, Graber M.
    Author information
    Abstract
    Magnesium deficiency is seen with some frequency in the outpatient setting and requires oral repletion or maintenance therapy. The purpose of this study was to measure the bioavailability of four commercially-available preparations of magnesium, and to test the claim that organic salts are more easily absorbed. Bioavailability was measured as the increment of urinary maginesium excretion in normal volunteers given approximately 21 mEq/day of the test preparations. Results indicated relatively poor bioavailability of magnesium oxide (fractional absorption 4 per cent) but significantly higher and equivalent bioavailability of magnesium chloride, magnesium lactate and magnesium aspartate. We conclude that there is relatively poor bioavailability of magnesium oxide, but greater and equivalent bioavailability of magnesium chloride, lactate, and aspartate. Inorganic magnesium salts, depending on the preparation, may have bioavailability equivalent to organic magnesium salts.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11794633?dopt=Abstract

  • MagnesiumMigraine
    2 years ago

    This study compared magnesium oxide and magnesium citrate with respect to in vitro solubility and in vivo gastrointestinal absorbability. The solubility of 25 mmol magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide was examined in vitro in solutions containing varying amounts of hydrochloric acid (0-24.2 mEq) in 300 ml distilled water intended to mimic achlorhydric to peak acid secretory states. Magnesium oxide was virtually insoluble in water and only 43% soluble in simulated peak acid secretion (24.2 mEq hydrochloric acid/300 ml). Magnesium citrate had high solubility even in water (55%) and was substantially more soluble than magnesium oxide in all states of acid secretion.

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/20747875_Magnesium_bioavailability_from_magnesium_citrate_and_magnesium_oxide

  • jamesbogash
    7 years ago

    There is much research supporting a mitochondrial dysfunction model in both migraine and epilepsy. Since Mg is a strong supporter of mitochondrial function, the addition of Mg certainly makes sense. BTW–Mg oxide is generally considered inferior to other, higher quality forms and may not work as well.
    http://lifecarechiropractic.com/blog/2012/seizure-migraine-headache-treatment/

  • Cindy Dalton
    7 years ago

    Magnesium supplements help me with migraines and asthma, which are related. Since I have the rare Hemiplegic Migraine disorder which is more chronic than simple Migraine with aura, I still have frequent attacks, but they are much shorter in duration and less intense with the magnesium.

  • Felicia Murphy
    7 years ago

    Jigsaw brand magnesium from Amazon is sustained releases and does not cause intestinal side effects so it’s easier to take the amount needed. Try it! Interesting about the cold hands and feet part!

  • Christy Kiefel-Masterson
    7 years ago

    Another, not yet mentioned way to get magnesium, is transdermally from magnesium oil, no side affects, though u may want to mix with an oil if skin is sensitive. Goes straight to bloodstream bypassing digestive system. Some massage therapist also offer it and give magmassages with it. GREAT stuff!

  • MagnesiumMigraine
    2 years ago

    Hi Cindy, Dr Dean, Watkins, Sircus, Wharing, Shealy are the advocates for transdermal absorption. They have a vested commercial interest in supporting this delivery method. We have found perhaps 2or 3 other clinical pilot trials that look at transdermal absorption. Its very slim evidence to support this claim.

  • Julianne Zimmerman Alley
    7 years ago

    Yes! Magnesium oil is great. Not only does it increase your magnesium level without digestive side effects, but it’s also great for reducing muscle tension. I’ve just been using it the last month or so and it is really great stuff.

  • Stacy Phillips
    7 years ago

    I have a Magnesium-Calcium powdered drink mix I purchased through my Chiropractor, and yes, it does help! My migraines are hormonal, so I have a good idea when they will come, so I make the week leading up to it, that I get plenty of magnesium.

  • Renee Whitlow Reed
    7 years ago

    Haven’t had one since. I’m totally excited about that. of course I’ve had other things come up from the hysterectomy but nothing I can’t handle. It’s doesn’t knock me down like those migraines did. hope you find some relief.

  • Stacy Phillips
    7 years ago

    Renee Whitlow Reed Really? That is just the opposite of the articles I read, that some people’s migraine increased after losing their ovaries. So glad to hear you no longer suffer from them!

  • Renee Whitlow Reed
    7 years ago

    My complete hysterectomy cured my migraines. Haven’t had one since 08. I used to go in a dark quiet room with ice packs on my head and I took maxalt. That seemed to help.

  • Pat Smith Burdette
    7 years ago

    My neurologist suggested Magnesium 400-500mg/day and I must say — it has done more to prevent my migraines than my prescription migraine prophylaxis medication. I used to have migraines sometimes as long as 8-9 days. No more!

  • Karen Loar
    7 years ago

    So glad you found something that works, Pat!

  • Noreen C. Richards Frederick
    7 years ago

    Taking it, doesn’t help!

  • Kerry Sue
    7 years ago

    been taking 400-800mg of Magnesium Citrate in a solution for some time now. It didn’t take weeks for me because I have hemiplegic complex migraine every day. Therefore, the relief was instant and as you said, dramatic. I feel that Magnesium is as effective as any prophylactc drug, but, that is just me. I will soon begin regular IV therapy, twice a month, with magnesium in the hope of further relief and for emergent relief when I get “the bad ones.”

  • Christina Nordquist Jasper
    7 years ago

    I agree, this does help. I have chronic daily migraines for 3 years and they have gotten worse lately, even after botox. I was taking Magnesium Oxide in a tablet along w/ other supplements and drugs daily. I did not notice relief. My neurologist wanted me to come in for IV treatments that uses a combination of magnesium and drugs. This worked for me in the past but I didn’t want to pay thousands this time. So I went to the healthcare store and bought a powde form of magnesium citrate called Natural Calm by Natural Vitality, which you mix w/ water. With in minutes my migraine was gone, after having constant pain for several days! It was amazing. I have had some migraines since, but with continued use of this powder, they are much more manageable, less frequent and shorter in duration.

  • Jessica Madore
    7 years ago

    Since I have started taking 400mg of Magnesium Oxide daily my headaches have become much more manageable. I was doubtful at first but after a few weeks I started seeing improvements in the severity and duration of my migraines.

  • Cathy Frost
    7 years ago

    I was doubtful too. I had read in some women’s health magazine that 400mg a day could help. I figured that it could not hurt. I have been taking it for a short time now (and it is hard for me to remember to take!), but I think so far this is a reduction in migraines. We will see! 🙂

  • Poll