Those who suffer from migraines know how painful and debilitating they can be. Migraine type headaches can have many underlying causes. As such, it can be equally as difficult to find an effective treatment. Fortunately, Magnesium has been found to have some effectiveness in improving the occurrence of migraines, especially if related to an underlying magnesium deficiency [check out our article all about magnesium deficiencies here].
What is a migraine?
Migraines are associated with symptoms of severe head pain, often with aura, nausea, and vomiting. Those who experience migraines with aura may describe feelings of nausea, light sensitivity, and irritation that start around 30 minutes before the actual headache begins. Migraines can last anywhere from 4-72 hours.
Migraines are more common in women and it is believed that approximately 12% of people experience migraines! The severe pain associated with migraines is sudden and debilitating.
What causes migraines?
Migraines are complex and multifactorial in origin; what causes a migraine in one person may not be the underlying factors behind a migraine in others. It is believed that the following areas impact migraines: diet, immunity, inflammation, cellular toxins, energy, and digestion. Migraine headaches are related to abdominal migraines in some individuals, more commonly in children.
Migraines can also be triggered by daily or monthly changes in environment, hormones, or other factors. In young women, a common migraine trigger is menstruation. Other triggers include food allergies, traumatic events, lack of sleep, stress and dehydration.
Many studies suggest a relationship between genetics and migraines with aura. Some variations offer protective factors against migraines, and others are predisposed to migraines with aura.
Research supports the concept that the aura of a migraine is caused by cortical spreading depression. This occurs when there is an electrical disturbance in the brain that activates adjacent parts of the brain while producing inflammation. When this happens, the brain has a difficult time managing chemical and electrical gradients necessary for proper functioning of affected areas.
After a migraine, calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) may be elevated. This peptide can also cause inflammation in the brain when the brain’s vessels become dilated
There is some research that indicates that serotonin may play a role in the presence of migraine headaches. Some studies have shown a variation in serotonin levels before, during and after a migraine. However, professionals question the impact of these variations.
Migraine Treatment with Magnesium
While there are many prescription medications on the market used to treat migraines (propranolol, Topamax, etc), these drugs treat the symptoms but not necessarily the underlying problem causing the migraine.
Magnesium plays a very important role in the body and is essential to the absorption of many vital nutrients such as potassium, calcium, zinc, iron, sodium, and acetylcholine. Despite its importance, it is estimated that 48% of individuals who eat the standard American diet are deficient in magnesium! There are many elements that may negatively impact an individual’s magnesium including but not limited to thyroid disorders, excessive alcohol intake, a diet heavy in fat, prescription medications, and stress. Low magnesium levels can cause neurological issues because magnesium helps to manage the excitability of neurons.
Low tissue magnesium levels have been found in some patients with migraines . Research has suggested that regular magnesium supplementation can reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines and that IV magnesium can be used to relieve an acute migraine.
The individuals with migraines who benefit the most from magnesium supplementation are typically those who already have a magnesium deficiency. Despite this, magnesium is often a later choice (second to prescription drugs and nonpharmacologic options) when treating migraines.
A blood test can be completed to determine an individual’s magnesium level and this is often helpful in determining the appropriate dose. However, because magnesium is often safe and available over the counter, many proceed without blood tests. In our practice, we like to order “before” and “after” levels for comparison to help guide our supplementation strategies.
The best magnesium supplements are those that are paired with citrate, malate, or glycine. The magnesium dose ranges are between 200-800 mg/day and this is dependent on an individual’s tolerance for the mineral. Keep in mind that Magnesium Citrate is also known as Milk of Magnesia, a commonly used laxative. In higher doses, magnesium supplements can cause diarrhea.
Ask a Doctor
If one suffers from migraines it is very important to have a discussion with a doctor about what the underlying cause of the migraines could be. Magnesium is one possible intervention that is both easy to measure and easy to provide. Prior to the start of any supplementation, one should have a discussion with one’s health care provider to ensure that it is the best option for the individual.