Magnesium for migraines. Really?

Here’s what the latest medical research knows about migraines… (we’ll get to magnesium and how it might help with migraines in just a sec)…  


The easy to say version: 

A migraine is an inherited and complex brain problem with no known cure. 


The PhD version:

“A migraine is a complex primary brain disorder that involves a cascade of events that lead to recurrent inappropriate activations of the trigeminocervical pain system. And migraines involve alterations in the sub-cortical aminergic sensory modulatory systems that influence the brain widely.


So where does that leave you (we’re assuming you have migraines if you’re reading this) and what does it have to do with magnesium? Well… in the hunt for what causes migraines and how to treat them science has stumbled across a few things that can really help and magnesium is one of them. 


There’s nothing new about magnesium itself, we’ve known about it for decades. It’s a naturally occurring mineral found in all sorts of foods and it’s helpful for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body… so it’s like really important. Magnesium plays a role in nerve and muscle function, immune system function, heart function, and bone health (just to name a few). And some people who get migraines find that taking a little extra magnesium can help “take the edge” of their migraines and even help them get less migraines. 


If you don’t like taking pills or powders (whether they be medicine or supplements) don’t worry, you can change your diet a bit to make sure you’re getting loads of magnesium. In fact, when you eat foods rich in magnesium you don’t run the risk of getting any of the side-effects that can happen when you take magnesium supplements. 

The list of foods known to be great sources of magnesium are:

  • nuts and grains
  • black beans and lentils
  • cereals
  • spices
  • cocoa
  • tea and coffee
  • green leafy vegetables
  • avocado
  • seeds, such as pumpkin or squash seeds
  • almonds
  • mackerel, tuna, and Pollock
  • low-fat yogurt or kefir
  • bananas
  • figs
  • dark chocolate

Most of the clinical studies that look at the effects of magnesium and migraines used supplements, so let’s talk about that too. 


As we mentioned earlier, medical researchers trying to figure out migraines stumbled across a common feature in people that get migraines – low magnesium levels. So they began to give migraineurs some extra magnesium by using supplements and found that some of them said their migraines were less painful and happened less often. It didn’t work for all of them, but the results were significant enough to pay attention to.  


Side-effects of magnesium? (Yes, there are some…)


The most common side effects of taking too much magnesium are diarrhea, cramps, and vomiting. People taking any sort of antibiotics for some other health reason need to be careful with magnesium because it appears to interfere with the absorption of the antibiotics. There’s one particular kind of antibiotics called aminoglycosides that can have a strong reaction with magnesium and the two should never be taken together – it causes muscle weakness and other problems. Magnesium also has a tendency to lower blood pressure, so if you’re already taking blood pressure medication the extra magnesium could give you hypotension (very low blood pressure). 


A little extra magnesium might be helpful, but too much can be downright harmful. An excessive buildup of magnesium can cause irregular heart beat, slow breathing, even a coma. And there are certain medical conditions that can be complicated by taking extra magnesium; bleeding disorders, diabetes, kidney problems, ulcers, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).


Before taking a supplement for a specific health problem like migraines, it’s always recommended that you talk to a health care professional that can give you advice based on your particular situation and needs.