Magnesium

Magnesium for the treatment of migraine headaches: an introduction

Magnesium is a mineral that is important for many functions in the body, including the production of protein, management of blood sugar, regulation of blood pressure, and the normal function of muscles, nerves and the rhythm of the heart. It is also helps the cells produce energy and helps transport calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes.1

More than half of the body’s magnesium is stored in the bones. Most of the rest of the magnesium in the body is in the soft tissues, with less than 1% being present in the blood. Magnesium is normally secreted out of the body in the urine, with the kidneys filtering out what the body does not need.1

A deficiency (not enough) of magnesium has been associated with depression, interfering with the release of neurotransmitters (chemicals that communicate between the nerves and can influence mood), the aggregation of platelets, and the constriction of blood vessels. All of these processes are believed to be involved in migraine.2

As the the typical dose of magnesium used for migraine prevention exceeds the usual recommended amount, magnesium should be used with your doctor’s knowledge. Talk to your doctor about all medications, vitamins, and supplements you are taking.1

Food containing Magnesium

Magnesium is widely found in foods, including:

  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Legumes, like beans
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Seeds
  • Soy products
  • Bananas
  • Peanut butter
  • Avocados1

Magnesium to prevent migraine

One pilot study that evaluated 40 people with migraine found that during a migraine attack, 50% of them had low levels of magnesium in the brain. The intravenous (IV) administration of magnesium appeared to reduce the pain of the migraine in about 50% of these patients.2,3

Low magnesium levels may also be related to menstrual migraine and may have a deficiency of magnesium. Low levels of magnesium were more commonly found during menstrual migraine compared to migraine that occurred at other times.2

Studies on magnesium and migraine

Several small studies have found that oral supplementation of magnesium may reduce the frequency and severity of migraine attacks. In one study from 1996 of 81 people with migraine who were randomly assigned magnesium or a placebo, magnesium supplementation reduced the frequency of attacks by 41.6% compared to 15.8% in the placebo group.2,4 More recently, a 2008 study compared magnesium supplementation given to 30 patients compared to 10 patients given placebo. The study found that treatment with magnesium resulted in a significant decrease in migraine attack frequency and severity.2,5

Formulations of magnesium available

As a natural remedy, magnesium supplements are available to purchase without a prescription in a variety of forms, including:

  • Powder
  • Capsule
  • Liquid
  • Syrup
  • Tablet6

Magnesium injections are given only by or under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Side effects and other precautions

The most common side effect of magnesium, especially high doses of the mineral, is diarrhea. Rarely, other side effects may occur, including:

  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Flushing (redness in the skin)
  • Difficulty breathing6

People with kidney disease or kidney failure have a higher risk of problems from high doses of magnesium because the kidneys no longer removes the extra magnesium. Too much magnesium can be toxic in the body and may cause serious or potentially fatal side effects, including muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, extreme low blood pressure, vomiting, and heart attack.1

Who should not take magnesium

People with kidney failure should not use magnesium supplements.

Several medications can have negative interactions with magnesium, including antibiotics, bisphosphonates, diuretics, and proton pump inhibitors. Talk to your doctor about all medications (over-the-counter and prescription), vitamins, and supplements you are taking.1

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or who plan to become pregnant or breastfeed, should talk to their doctor about the safety of using natural remedies like magnesium.

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As always, the best source for advice on treating migraine is your own migraine specialist. These descriptions of natural remedies are provided only for informational purposes. You should begin no medication or supplement without first checking with your physician.

Written by: Emily Downward | Last review date: May 2018
View References
  1. Magnesium. National Institutes of Health. Available at https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 5/8/18.
  2. Sun-Edelstein C, Mauskop A. Alternative headache treatments: nutraceuticals, behavioral and physical treatments. Headache. 2011 Feb;51(3):469-483. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2011.01846.x.
  3. Mauskop A, Altura BT, et al. Intravenous magnesium sulphate relieves migraine attacks in patients with low serum ionized magnesium levels: a pilot study. Clin Sci (Lond). 1995 Dec;89(6):633-6.
  4. Peikert A, Wilimzig C, Kohne‐Volland R. Prophylaxis of migraine with oral magnesium: Results from a prospective, multi‐center, placebo‐controlled and double‐blind randomized study. Cephalalgia. 1996;16:257‐263.
  5. Koseoglu E, Talashoglu A, Gonul AS, Kula M. The effects of magnesium prophylaxis in migraine without aura. Mag Res. 2008;21:101‐108.
  6. Magnesium supplement. Mayo Clinic. Available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/magnesium-supplement-oral-route-parenteral-route/description/drg-20070730. Accessed 5/8/18.