If you’ve been suffering with migraines for any length of time, you know that they can be complex to diagnose and treat. Causes vary from patient to patient and headache to headache.
But here’s a cause you may not have considered: magnesium deficiency.
Studies indicate that a magnesium deficiency may be a contributing or exacerbating factor for migraines in many people. Fortunately, both oral and topical magnesium supplements are safe, affordable, easy to find, and may reduce both the frequency and severity of migraines.
The Problem of Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium is an essential mineral in the body. It’s the second most prevalent intracellular fluid and is essential in over 300 chemical processes in the body. Magnesium helps promote a healthy heart and blood vessels, regulates energy levels, is critical for bone health, and is a natural blood thinner and vasodilator.
However, it is estimated that nearly 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium! This is due to several factors including:
- Eating the standard American diet high in processed foods, meat, refined grains, and sugars
- Nutrient-deficient soils
- Overconsumption of alcohol, caffeine, and soda
- Drinking “soft” water that is low in magnesium
- Stress (which increases our demand for magnesium in the body)
- A genetic inability to absorb magnesium
- Use of calcium supplements
Because of where magnesium is stored in the body, a deficiency does not generally show up on routine blood tests. If you think you may be at risk for a magnesium deficiency, it’s important that you pay attention to your symptoms. The effects of magnesium deficiency can vary from person to person, but, as you pay more attention to your body, you will begin to recognize your own signs and symptoms.
Some common symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
- Muscle spasms and cramps
- Changes in mood
- Food cravings (chocolate is a common one that appears to pop up in magnesium deficiency)
- High blood pressure
- Trouble sleeping
- Low energy levels
I know that I’m running on the low side when I start craving chocolate, experiencing twitching and spasms in my muscles, and sleeping poorly. Be on the lookout for your own cues.
Magnesium Deficiency and Headaches
Studies indicate that magnesium deficiency may be one of the most commonly overlooked migraine triggers. There is also evidence to suggest that magnesium deficiency is even more common in migraine sufferers than non-migraine sufferers.
The exact connection between migraines and magnesium is still being studied, but researchers believe that it may be related to magnesium’s role in regulating serotonin. An increase in serotonin from a lack of magnesium can cause vascular spasms and contraction which reduces the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. It is believed that constriction of the blood vessels is a leading cause of headache pain.
Because of this, magnesium is also being studied as an effective remedy for migraine sufferers. Several studies have indicated that taking magnesium for migraines can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines when taken as an oral supplement or intravenously. In oral form, it can be effective on its own or as part of a supplement containing other minerals as well.
Choosing a Magnesium Supplement
There are a few things you need to know before you begin experimenting with magnesium as a treatment for your headaches.
First of all, one of the common side effects of magnesium supplementation is diarrhea and intestinal discomfort. It is recommended that you begin supplementation very slowly to determine what levels you can comfortably tolerate. Believe it or not, the most commonly recommended way to find the right dosage for yourself is to very slowly increase the amount you use until these side effects occur and then back off. Every body is different and uses a different amount at different times in their life.
Also, magnesium comes in many forms – and not all forms are created equal! Here’s what we recommend:
- Magnesium malate is our first choice and is a mix of magnesium and malic acid. Because of malic acid’s role in the body, research suggests that malic acid can improve ATP production in the cells, thereby increasing energy and reducing pain.
- Magnesium glycinate is one of the most bioavailable forms of magnesium. It is also the least likely to cause intestinal problems. If you try malate and experience diarrhea, you may want to try this form instead.
- Magnesium threonate has recently been studied to improve memory and brain function. The advantage of magnesium threonate is that it is highly absorbable. This form optimizes magnesium levels in the brain and is a good option if you are not getting relief from the other forms.
For neck and shoulder tension relief, we suggest avoiding magnesium oxide because it isn’t easily utilized by the body and magnesium citrate because it can stimulate the bowels before you absorb enough.
You should also avoid magnesium glutamate and aspartate. These break down into neurotransmitters that can trigger headaches for many people.
Making a quality magnesium supplement part of your regular routine can help prevent headaches by increasing magnesium levels in the body, which supports overall functioning of the body since magnesium is involved in SO many processes and pathways. You can also take an extra dose at the earliest sign of a migraine or PMS symptoms if you are prone to menstrual migraines. Taking magnesium along with cofactor B6 and B2 or a bioavailable B-complex can help speed absorption and provide faster relief.
If the oral supplements listed above do not relieve your muscle tension or cramping or an adequate dose causes severe intestinal discomfort, you can also supplement through the skin.
Many migraine sufferers benefit from an Epsom salt bath. Add 2 cups of Epsom salt to your bath two to three times a week and see if the frequency or severity of your headaches decreases.
You can also try topical gels, sprays, or oils. Here is one of my personal favorites.
Follow the directions on the package and experiment with different doses and products to find the one that works best for you.
Talk to Your Doctor About Magnesium Supplementation
Magnesium supplementation can be an effective preventative measure as well as a pain reliever when a migraine strikes.
While magnesium overdose is rare, it is a risk, especially for people with reduced kidney function. It is recommended that you start with the lowest dose possible and increase slowly. Talk to your doctor about the best way to add a magnesium supplement to your health regimen and before making any changes to your supplementation programs.
For more tips on short-circuiting the migraine process download our Migraine Rescue Toolbox at www.migrainert.com.
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