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Migraine treatment series: oral and topical magnesium

I have taken magnesium for migraine prevention on and off for many years.  This time last year, I saw my neurologist, who was upset by the increased frequency of my migraine attacks since my previous visit. She asked me to please consider going on preventive medication again.  I explained to her that I really didn’t want to go on a daily prescription drug again (I’ve had a lot of side effects from preventives and, to be honest, I am growing more and more wary of putting chemicals in my body regularly, even if they are FDA-approved.)  She conceded and asked me to consider starting up my magnesium and B2 routine daily.

After that checkup appointment, I headed to my local health and wellness store, Alps Nutrition. I had gone to chain vitamin stores before but have found that the locally-owned, independent shops have staff that really know their stuff.  The manager of the store immediately found the vitamin (B2) and mineral supplement (magnesium) that I needed and I was on my way.

I mentioned that I’d taken both magnesium and B2 (aka riboflavin) before. I somehow had forgotten that magnesium pills give me intestinal pain and diarrhea. Oops. I kept taking them for awhile before realizing the connection. At my next appointment, I asked my doctor about topical magnesium spray or cream.  I had used something called Zyclear before to treat early-stage migraine attacks (it worked or even just staved off the full onset of migraine about two-thirds of the time!), so I knew that non-oral forms existed.  My doctor did some research to make sure that the creams and sprays showed fewer intestinal side effects and then gave me the all-clear to use topical treatment instead.

One problem with that, though: the only way to know how much magnesium I’m putting on my skin is for me to buy the prescription magnesium my neurologist called into the pharmacy for me. But since topical magnesium in varying strengths is available over the counter, my insurance company won’t pay for the measured prescription tube that contains instructions.  I bought some concentrated magnesium spray from Alps Nutrition and then talked to my neurologist, the pharmacist, and the manager at Alps to see if we could figure out how many sprays equalled the amount of magnesium I was supposed to put into my body each day.  None of us could figure it out since the spray mechanism itself isn’t calibrated.  I’m pretty good at math and still couldn’t figure it out, so now I just pump a few sprays on my neck and shoulders twice a day and hope that’s enough.

I got tired of not knowing if I was using enough, and then I realized I had a nearly full bottle of magnesium pills in my medicine cabinet.  “I’ll just go back to this,” I thought, and deposited the capsules into my pill box so I’d remember to take my supplements each day.

That entire week, my stomach was a mess. Don’t read the next line if you’re squeamish: I had diarrhea multiple times a day and my tummy felt tight and pinched.  I had just recently gotten over a cold virus and thought maybe the flu was on its way.  Self-pityingly I moaned, “What’s wrrrooonnnnggg with meeee? Owwwwiiiiieee!”

Suddenly it came to me, like a vision! An epiphany! Duh! I was taking oral magnesium again even though I had strong suspicions it caused diarrhea and upset stomach in the past.  I felt pretty dumb, but thank goodness I figured it out. I stopped the oral magnesium, went back to the non-regimented spray, and the diarrhea and stomach pains were gone within a day.

So, you wonder. What’s the point of all this? Can’t you just tell us if magnesium is working for you as a preventive?  Well, dear readers, I can’t.  I have had a crappy migraine time the last many months and think there are too many factors and triggers around for me to definitively say if magnesium and B2 are helping me. For now, pending my neurologist’s agreement, I’m going to stay the course and see how things go.  And if any of you have a source for topical magnesium that is affordable (not $75+ as it is through my insurance) and measurable (so I actually know how much I’m putting into my body), please share your knowledge!

As a side note, I now have a clawfoot tub and take at least one Epsom salt (aka magnesium sulfate) bath a week, and that can sometimes stop a migraine in its tracks if I take a soak pretty soon after my aura shows up.

Do you take magnesium for migraine, or have you ever? Does it help with your health? How about Epsom salt baths or soaks? Share your stories below! 

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

  • Kellyc
    2 years ago

    I’ve found a magnesium cream when I rub on my temples and back of neck is working for me when I feel the onset of my migraine occurring

  • Diane101010
    3 years ago

    Cheap, home-made magnesium oil.

    I use the recipe found at this link. http://wellnessmama.com/5804/make-your-own-magnesium-oil/

    Magnesium chloride flakes can be found online much cheaper than at health food stores. If you have a migraine friend, you can share.

    It leaves the skin feeling sort of oily, so I spray it on my back after my shower, I let it air dry before I get dressed. It does not harm or mark up my clothes.

    And no upset gut, like many people experience from an oral magnesium supplement. Encourage everyone in your family to use it, as most Americans are deficient in magnesium.

  • Kurt Donley
    3 years ago

    Kind of a dumb thought, but when your topical spray runs dry (or temporarily put in different container). Fill it with water and count how many pumps till empty. Divide that by the amount of magnesium that is supposed to be in the bottle. Divide that (magnesium per pump)amount into the amount of magnesium you are supposed to be taking and that value will be the proper pump count.

  • Wiff
    3 years ago

    The kind of magnesium supplement makes a huuuge difference. I get the symptoms described if I take magnesium oxide, but magnesium citrate is tolerated ok.

  • researchdaily
    3 years ago

    Amazing, when you hear of something (magnesium) all of a sudden it is everywhere. Look into Dr Axe. He’s into all natural and essential oils, I started taking his magnesium supplement about a week ago, with no problems and a lot of benefit.

  • jns192 moderator
    3 years ago

    Dear researchdaily,
    Thank you for your feedback on our article on Magnesium. We are thrilled to hear that this new supplement is working wonders for you! Also thought you may be interested in this article about aromatherapy for migraines: https://migraine.com/blog/aromatherapy-for-migraines/
    (Peppermint & lavender are my favorites!)
    Be well,
    Jillian (Migraine.com Team)

  • tammay
    3 years ago

    I am one of these weird people for whom magnesium actually triggers migraines for me. I’m not sure why but every time I have tried magnesium supplements (and I’ve tried different kinds and doses), an hour or so after I take it, it triggers a migraine. And it’s not just in supplement form either. A few months ago, I twisted my ankle. I read that epsom salt baths help. I bought some and did one bath and an hour later I had a migraine (epsom salt has magnesium in it). So I guess absorbing it caused the migraine.

    Tam

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    How odd! Our bodies are fascinating, eh? Good thing you pay such close attention to your body. I hope you’re feeling good today.

    -Janet

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thank you!

  • jackie
    3 years ago

    I’ve had magnesium infusions in my neurologist’s office
    (he is a headache specialist)that have helped a great deal, from time to time. I also take a magnesium drink
    (mix a tablespoon with water or juice, turns fizzy/ from health food store). Not a cure, but a help!

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks, Jackie!

  • jackie
    3 years ago

    or maybe a teaspoon? Natural Calm as stated below is one of them.

  • Anne
    3 years ago

    try putting epsom salt in a foot spa and using that nightly. You’ll get your magnesium and have restful sleep and won’t have to take a full bath to get the benefits.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    That’s a great idea–thanks! I take Epsom salt baths at least once a week but that seems like a waste of water to do more often. The foot soak seems more do-able. -Janet

  • Nonster
    3 years ago

    Great tip! I’m going todo that, thanks!

  • MaryW
    3 years ago

    Natural Calm, is a form of magnesium, that you can get at health food stores, is easily assimilated and comes in a powder form. This is dissolved in warm water and drank. I have no stomach upset from this, and comes in several flavors. Works best for me. You might want to start with a half dose so as not to get diarrhea, it does move the bowels well. Also helps my muscles to relax on bad fibro nights. I also have fibromyalgia, arthritis…

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much for the tip! I have psoriatic arthritis as well as migraine, so this might be good for me. -Janet

  • Julianne
    3 years ago

    When talking about transdermal magnesium, I think you’re making it too complicated. You really don’t need to figure out how much to use. Your body will absorb what it needs, and when it has enough, it won’t absorb more. So go ahead and soak your feet or your whole body. You won’t be harmed by too much getting into your system. Personally, I always have magnesium chloride flakes around and soak in them often or mix them up into magnesium “oil” to spray on my skin. I’m not sure that helps with my headaches but it certainly helps with my muscles. I highly recommend you check out the Ancient Minerals products and website.

    Magnesium isn’t absorbed well orally. It would take two years of taking it orally for it to build up to a point at which you would notice a difference. And as you’ve seen, most people can’t tolerate it long enough for it to do any good.

    I’m a huge fan of all the Ancient Minerals products so that would be my recommendation for you.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    Dear Julianne (that’s my sister’s name!),

    Thanks for the thoughtful and educated feedback. I will definitely take your suggestions to heart and look into Ancient Minerals products. Your insight about magnesium absorption is really helpful, too.

    Hope you’re feeling good today.

    -Janet

  • Meggietye
    3 years ago

    I have read everything everyone has to say and a little bit to add. One of the biggest triggers for my migraines was not sleeping properly. Every night was the same thing, I slept 3 hrs then awakened at 1or 2 a.m and fell asleep again by 5 a.m thru 7 a.m. I did this every day for 21 yrs beginning when I turned 39 yrs old. I had daily migraines triggered by lack of sleep..but had to live thru it. March 2014 I saw a naturopath on local TV discussing magnesium citrate powder as a fix for insomnia – I could hardly believe my ears/eyes!! I spoke with 2 pharmacists that afternoon and they assured me it was safe with my medications, I got online and ordered it pronto. What I use is called, ” Natural Calm ” and I have the organic lemon flavour, I just mix 3/4 tsp with some hot water after dinner and sleep like a baby for 8 hrs. I still have different triggers for migraine..food, drink, weather..but my 21 yrs of insomnia are gone as are my early morning migraines. The recommended dose of this magnesium citrate is 2 tsp which was way too much for me…I find the 3/4 of a tsp dosage ideal.

    I am exercising again and all the crazy crazy carb cravings that came with the insomnia are gone..I lost 40 lbs just about effortlessly! I switched to a ketonic diet (Google The Migraine Miracle by neurologist Dr Josh Turknett) and my life is really turning around. He is an American neurologist who has suffered from migraine all his life. He changed his way of eating just to become healthier and along the way realized he wasn’t having migraines and neither was his wife. Dr Turknett began speaking with some of his patients with migraine and they decided if they wanted to try this ancient way of eating as well and patient after patient began to have success. That was in 2010 and after much success with hundreds of folks he wrote a book with his story and the food plan. I got my copy in April of 2015 and began immediately..not only has it been tremendously helpful for my food & drink triggered migraines but my Bipolar disorder and my Chron’s disease have been impacted for the better as well. And my IBS is gone, after suffering with it for nearly 60 yrs!

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    Dear Meggietye,

    Thanks so much for this thoughtful feedback. I’m thrilled to hear that you’ve had such amazing breakthroughs for your health. That’s awesome. I will look up what you referenced. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    -Janet

  • lisa c santa cruz
    3 years ago

    hello,
    I have been taking magnesium capsules for over 5 years.yes it helps but does not alleviate migraine.i began taking for sleep then my naturopath upped the dosage and a better brand and it will always be apart of my migraine “cocktail”.
    pure magnesium salts has just been added in my life for baths which I take infrequently due to water rationing.everyone I know uses this stuff for all sorts of issues.i soak my feet in a wash tub and it works well.Blessings for a migraine free day / week. lisa

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks, Lisa!

  • Shinetrue
    3 years ago

    I agree with a lot of the comments posted above. When I first tried magnesium I tried the citrate and it did nothing for me, so I moved on to oxide. I learned later that citrate does nothing to raise your magnesium levels (and neither do Epsom salts – I take baths once a week with Epsom salts and mag flakes) and oxide is usually poorly absorbed – although it worked for me. I now prefer threonate although I can tolerate mag malate too. The b6, as someone mentioned above, is important and there are other co-factors too. If a person is not taking any vitamins I would say take AT LEAST magnesium and a good b-complex. I cannot tolerate glycinate at all. Excess glutamate is the main cause for all my migraines and when the mag glycinate is metabolized the glycinate becomes glycine – which for me is excititary.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for the thoughtful response! You definitely know more than I do about this and I will look into what you wrote.

    -Janet

  • Wendy
    3 years ago

    How can I found out more about the GABA Glutamate balance?

  • Shinetrue
    3 years ago

    Btw I have had migraines w/ aura off and on since age 5 and now feel I have complete control of them focusing on my GABA/glutamate balance. I have not had a migraine in 4 months. My frequency for the last yr was 2/mth. My first line of defense is magnesium and b2.

  • Cyndi Hackett
    3 years ago

    Maybe this is a silly idea, but what about making your own tincture spray of magnesium? As in crush the tablets and dissolve them with distilled water. You could pour that into a mini-spray bottle that the discount stores sell.

  • Diane101010
    3 years ago

    I make my own magnesium oil. Although it has no oil in it and is super easy to make. I use the recipe from this link. http://wellnessmama.com/5804/make-your-own-magnesium-oil/

    I bought the magnesium chloride flakes from a local health food store, only to find it cheaper online afterwards.

    I spritz it on my back after I dry off post shower. It leaves the skin feeling different, so I put it on my back.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    Interesting idea. Thanks!

  • Tim Banish
    3 years ago

    I took magnesium for many months at my doctors request, then added B2 at the neuro’s request. (his rule is 400mg max daily) Took both for several months with no change in my migraine frequency. After 4 or 5 months of taking both I began to feel bloated, achy and like I was in a fog. At that time my doc also had me on a baby aspirin 1X day, and a 40mg cholesterol drug. When I woke up one day feeling like a wet blanket and very nauseated I decided to quit taking all the pills. In less than a week I felt better that I had in months. So that was about 6 months ago, and I still feel fine, migraines as frequent as the day they started.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    Oh, goodness, what a rollercoaster! I hope you’re feeling good today, and thanks for sharing your story.

    -Janet

  • Dr. Alex Mauskop
    3 years ago

    Unfortunately, you cannot get enough magnesium through the skin, even if you soak yourself in Epsom salts daily. See my recent blog post about this http://www.nyheadache.com/blog/you-cant-get-magnesium-through-the-skin/
    However, as someone already mentioned, you may be able to tolerate and absorb magnesium glycinate.
    You can also ask your doctor to check your RBC magnesium level; not serum level because it is totally unreliable, unless it is low. I’ve seen patients with high normal serum level and very low red blood cell magnesium (RBC magnesium). This is because most of the body’s magnesium is inside the cells.
    Another option is to have an intravenous infusion of a gram of magnesium sulfate, which gives you immediate answer – if you feel much better, you were deficient. Many of our patients come for monthly infusions.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks so much, Dr. Mauskop. Years ago I took magnesium glycinate and didn’t have these terrible gastrointestinal issues, so maybe I’ll switch away from the current form I’m taking and get the mg glycinate. Thanks again.

    -Janet

  • Nicci
    3 years ago

    I have found personally that magnesium glycinate chelate has been life-changing. Mycrinutrients Pty Ltd (I don’t work for them!) I can tolerate 600-800 per day in 200mg doses. Doses definitely should be divided throughout the day, but rarely do I see this mentioned. I learned about this dosage and magnesium variety from a very small study on major depression was remitting within a week of high-dose chelated magnesium glycinate. I would urge folks who feel the other forms aren’t working to try this and be sure to split the dose. You can increase the dose to the point you feel relief, or you get the poops. (Best to investigate on a day at home!)

  • BCN
    3 years ago

    After a lot of experimenting, I take magnesium citrate (Which is supposed to have good absorption) with calcium from Solaray in the mornings and before sleep I take magnesium with vitamin b6 (format from French lab pileje).
    I also take 100 mg only of B2 daily.
    I take 2 pills of Daosin 15 minutes before any meal where I am having alcohol, cheese, meat or any histamine loaded meal. I have been able to go back to enjoying a glass of red wine.

    Since October, with this formula, I have had less migraines than I can remember in a loooong time and when getting any, they have been mild and short. I have had good energy levels and good sleep. I also have the opposite problem regarding bowel movements so for me it has been a win/win situation.
    Before this, I was chronic. And Triptans gave me bad side effects and mean hangovers. I don’t take them anymore at all. I am also trying to stay away from otc painkillers. I suspect I have a strange kind of eczema from them in my hands. I know they don’t help but sometimes when I am desperate, I take them anyway.

    Finding the right magnesium balance has changed my life. I have also experimented with stopping it cold turkey and I had a nightmare of a month as a result. Heart palpitations, fatigue, bad mood, etc. So I have made sure it is really this that helps.

    I still feel I can fine tune more and also wonder if I am going to take these supplements all my life, but in the meantime I am incredibly grateful.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    I’m glad you found the right balance. It’s hard to be patient with such things, huh?

    -Janet

  • BCN
    3 years ago

    I forgot to say that B6 really helps with absorption.
    I have also read that the ratio for calcium and magnesium changes depending on how you eat. But it is more important to get magnesium to absorb calcium than the other way around.
    These are all my findings from reading everywhere and experimenting. Please do correct me if I say anything out of place.

  • bluebird
    3 years ago

    Magnesium oxide is poorly absorbed. It does draws fluids into the gut and results in bowel movements. But in my experience it does not help Migraine. I think the taurate or glycinate has helped more. NOt sure about the Calcium requirement at all.
    Whatever the form, diarrhea is a clear indication to reduce dose!
    An inexpensive treatment is the old Epsom salt baths. Adjusting dose is less precise but it is an effective way to absorb magnesium and is deeply calming when you can relax into a warm tub and wait long enough to feel the ease arrive in the body.I find it excellent when restlessness/ squirming/ tightening of the body just won’t let go. Grateful for Epsom salts

  • mygrainetoo
    3 years ago

    For anyone on high calcium doses, epsom salts can be taken in juice to relieve constipation and a little goes a very long way. The 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium is fine except for those of us who have calcium triggered migraines. I take magnesium twice a day hoping to hold onto every bit of calcium I ingest since I’m also lactose intolerant.

    All magnesium supplements are not created equally! The citrate or sulphate forms twice a day each kept me in bathrooms with awful abdominal cramping and diarrhea until I quit taking them. Now I take the 500 mg citrate form capsule late afternoon and the 500 mg oxide caplet in the morning. My migraines are almost always food/ drink triggered, so when one sneaks up on me I make sure to take my magnesium even if I don’t feel like having anything else except my heaven-sent Fioricet in my stomach. It may be my imagination, but since I have been taking the magnesium, I think the Fioricet works faster to abort migraines now.

  • 10gctxp
    3 years ago

    I have been taking magnesium glycinate for my migraines, from my research on magnesium some supplements use magnesium oxide is a very CHEAP magnesium to use in supplements and you don’t absorb very much of it, magnesium glycinate has the best absorption rate with less side effects but if you take too much you will get diarrhea, gas, etc. I found I can take 2 pills a day and have no problems and I take 400 mg for B2, like everyone here taking these two I still wonder if they are helping me because I still get migraines a lot. I am trying a new supplement called Eyebright 420 mg and found that has been helping my migraines are not as bad as they use to be they seem to be less frequent or not as painful. Some of the research I did on Eyebright say it is used for headaches, memory, sinus problem and eye stress. I have been buying it at Swanson’s Vitamins and it is CHEAP almost $3.00 a bottle of 100 pills. I have one question do I need to take calcium with magnesium for it to absorb better? I stopped taking calcium after they said on the news your body doesn’t absorb much of it that it is a waste of money to take it. Comments please.

  • Tammy Rome
    3 years ago

    I learned from a dietician that calcium should always be taken together with Magnesium in a 2:1 ratio for proper absorption of both. That should eliminate any problems with intestinal cramping, diarrhea, etc. I take Country Life Calcium Magnesium liquid. It contains 1,000 mg Calcium and 500 mg Magnesium per 1 ounce serving. I take one ounce in the morning with breakfast and one more at bedtime. Your local health food store should be able to get this for you.

  • Dr. Alex Mauskop
    3 years ago

    Actually, magnesium does help calcium absorb better, but calcium does not help magnesium absorption. If you need calcium (post-menopausal women usually do), take calcium with magnesium, but if you are also lacking magnesium, take an additional dose of magnesium without calcium at a different meal.

  • Tammy Rome
    3 years ago

    10gctxp – Yes, that is exactly what I am doing.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks!

  • 10gctxp
    3 years ago

    What is the dosage for the calcium to magnesium? Are you saying the calcium is double to the magnesium you are taking?

  • GD
    3 years ago

    I take 200 mg magnesium citrate 3 times a day (capsules), for 600 mg per day, for yrs but have no evidence it improves migraine frequency or severity. I continue because I fear what might occur if I stop. I have the opposite issue with bowels so also fear what stopping might do with that too. I’ve also taken 400 mg B-2 a day for about 3 yrs. No evidence it helps either, but continue anyway. Desperate people will do just about anything to gain relief, if not life threatening.

  • Luna
    3 years ago

    Am not sure magnesium actually helps with migraine but it helps me sleep better and my body not ache or twitch as much.
    Magnesium comes in several “forms”. Some are more bowel stimulating than others. I don’t have that problem but I take a supplement with mixed forms. I tried a magnesium spray but it takes too long to dry so switched to a lotion but don’t really like the smell (smells like a weed that I have to pull every spring and that smell doesn’t sit well with my brain). There is no way to know how much is in a squeeze.
    As with everything we have to try and educate ourselves as much as possible. Hope the following helps some.
    How to take it: An important point about magnesium is that it promotes bowel motility. If you take “too much” magnesium, you can get cramping and diarrhea. Magnesium is often balanced with calcium, because “calcium constipates and magnesium moves” when it comes to bowel activity. When supplementing, any dose that causes loose bowels is too high; when magnesium acts as a laxative you are not absorbing the magnesium internally. An estimated dose is somewhere between 3 and 10 mg per pound of body weight.
    What to take: Magnesium citrate and magnesium malate are two of the best-absorbed forms of magnesium, … Magnesium Lactate is the most efficient form in terms of restoring red blood cell levels of magnesium.
    For those with bowel sensitivity, the forms magnesium taurate and magnesium glycinate are less stimulating and better absorbed by the body.
    For those seeking the increased bowel activity, the most potent bowel stimulating form of magnesium is the magnesium oxide. http://www.drdeborahmd.com/magnesium

  • Migraine Man
    3 years ago

    Of all the options, the IV with magnesium sulphate would be ideal. But most of us don’t have that readily available 🙂

    I was curious what form of magnesium you were taking? You definitely want something chelated. This is highest quality magnesium supplement I have found on the market:
    http://www.naturalstacks.com/products/magtech

    Unfortunately I haven’t really had a chance to try it out.

    Also, if you’re able to handle chelated magnesium, you might want to look into a product called Migravent. It has magnesium, riboflavin, and the most common natural migraine preventatives – all in one pill.

  • Luna
    3 years ago

    P.S. Am not sure how accurate drdeborahmd.com is so here are more websites to look at. Each has a little different aspect of information about magnesium and the body.
    https://drnibber.com/understanding-different-types-of-magnesium/

    http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/types-of-magnesium/

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