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The Magnesium Migraine Connection


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So what is the magnesium migraine connection? There are many theories about how magnesium is involved in migraine headache. What seems to be well accepted is that there are receptor sites in the brain that magnesium will bind to. These sites are normally excitatory in nature and the binding of magnesium seems to calm them down. Severe lack of magnesium in the brain has been known to cause everything from apathy to psychosis in psychiatric conditions and can even cause seizures.

Unfortunately up to 85% of all migraineurs are magnesium deficient. The levels of magnesium in the blood do not correlate to that in the fluid of the brain, so if you ask your doctor to check your levels, don't be surprised if he or she tries to put you off a bit.

How did you become magnesium deficient? While we don't know why migraineurs are more deficient in magnesium compared to the rest of the population, there are some things that can cause this. The most common cause is inadequate intake through diet. For most people this is easily solved by eating a healthy diet and taking a multivitamin. Unfortunately, other conditions can lead to low magnesium including diabetes and alcoholism, both of which cause more magnesium to leave the body through the kidneys. The following medications can also result in more magnesium leaving the body through the kidneys: diuretics, aminoglycosides, cisplatin, digoxin, cyclosporin, and amphotericin B.

Many people are confused as to which type of magnesium to take for their migraines. Some forms are not well tolerated and can cause stomach problems. At the present time, the best tolerated type is magnesium citrate. This form of magnesium seems to lessen the well known side effect of diarrhea which occurs about 10% of the time.

Most experts agree that the minimum daily intake of magnesium for migraineurs should be 400mg. Many of the studies done in the late ‘80's were at this dose and did show a significant reduction in headaches. The research from more recent years has indicated that up to 800mg per day may reduce migraine frequency and pain. Of particular interest is the fact that magnesium seems to be effective in menstrual migraine and for barometric pressure headache One study showed that menstrual migraineurs dip their levels of magnesium even further during the menstrual week. No wonder that headache is so bad.

Again, if you choose to use magnesium to help your headaches, remember to give it a least 90 days to have the full benefit. It takes the brain that long to make changes. Dietary intake will also help and this is found in green vegetables, beans and whole grains. Prolonged use of supplements of magnesium should be balanced with calcium intake as over time magnesium has the potential to pull calcium from the bones.

Mary K. Betz, MS RPA-C is a practicing Physician Assistant in neurology who specializes in headache medicine. For more information visit


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