Researchers have established an important link between magnesium levels in the body and migraine attacks. Evidence shows that during a migraine headache up to 50 percent of people have low magnesium levels in their brain and red blood cells. It’s thought that a deficiency of magnesium in the brain can cause nerve cells to be overly excited, triggering a migraine attack. (A few medications can deplete magnesium stores, including estrogen, estrogen-containing birth control pills and certain diuretics.)
If you increase the amount of magnesium in your tissues and red blood cells, can you prevent a migraine? According to researchers from Germany, the answer is yes. They gave 81 migraine sufferers either 600 milligrams of magnesium or a placebo pill once daily for three months. In the second month of the study, the frequency of migraine attacks was reduced to 42 percent in the magnesium group, compared to only 16 percent in the placebo group. What’s more, the duration of a migraine and drug use significantly decreased among those people who took magnesium supplements.2
Magnesium is the second most abundant mineral in the body (second only to calcium). It plays a crucial role in over 300 cellular reactions. Among its many roles, magnesium helps cells generate energy, moves important compounds in and out of cells, and transmits impulses from nerve to nerve. To help prevent a low magnesium level and resulting migraines, first make sure you are getting enough from your daily diet by checking the RDA table on page 21 in chapter 1; then consider taking a supplement.
The best sources of magnesium are whole foods including unrefined grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, dried fruit and green vegetables.
If you’re going to try to ward off your migraines by boosting your intake of magnesium, you’ll need to take a supplement. The randomized controlled trial I discussed above used 600 milligrams per day. Buy a magnesium citrate supplement; compared to other forms of the mineral (e.g., magnesium oxide), magnesium citrates are more easily absorbed by your body. Split your dose over the course of the day. Take a 300 milligram supplement twice daily, or 200 milligrams three times a day. It will depend on what dose you can find in your health food or supplement store. You may be able to get your extra magnesium from calcium supplements if you buy a 1:1 formula—that means each tablet gives you an equal amount of calcium and magnesium.
The daily upper limit for magnesium has been set at 350 milligrams from a supplement. That’s because doses higher than this can cause diarrhea and stomach upset, common side effects of magnesium supplementation. Taking 600 milligrams in divided doses may help ease intestinal upset.