Migraine is the most common neurological disorder. According to a large review article, which was published in the scientific journal, Nutrients, large doses of magnesium may be useful for treating migraine by several accounts. Many people lack magnesium and should therefore consider taking a supplement. Just make sure that it is a form of magnesium, which the body can absorb and utilize. Also make sure to consume magnesium in the right balance with calcium, and avoid other things that can trigger a migraine attack such as certain foods and chemicals.
Migraine is one of the most common neurological disorders in the Western world and affects millions of people. It normally occurs in the form of a half-sided, throbbing headache, and the pain is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity. The headache can last anywhere from a few hours to several days. Science known that migraines are characterized by changed electric activity in the brain’s nerve cells, which starts and stops the attack. This is where magnesium has a preventative and therapeutic effect.
Magnesium prevents nerve cells from being overstimulated
Magnesium fuels more than 300 different enzyme processes, which are of vital importance to blood pressure, muscle contraction, insulin metabolism, bone health, DNA synthesis, maintenance of the electrolyte balance, and a host of other functions. In the nervous system, magnesium is important for regulating nerve impulses. The mineral also protects cells from being overstimulated by neurotransmitters such as glutamate, which in the worst case can cause cells to go into a cramp, or cause them to be destroyed or even die.
|The human brain consists of approximately 125 billion nerve cells – also known as neurons – that have a complicated interplay. Magnesium controls our nerve impulses.|
Magnesium’s interactions with calcium are vital for our nervous system
The interaction between magnesium and calcium is fundamental for all living cells. Our bones and teeth store around 99 percent of the calcium in our body, whereas one percent is used for metabolic functions such as nerve impulse transmission. Of course, these nerve impulses must be regulated, and cells in the soft tissues such as muscles and nerve tissue are nearly devoid of calcium. It is magnesium’s role to make sure that only the right amount of calcium enters these cells.
One of magnesium’s most important functions is to bind to a receptor in the cell membrane’s calcium channel, which is called NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate).
NMDA is a receptor for the signaling substance glutamate, which is released between certain nerve cells in the brain. The calcium channel in the cell membrane does not open, unless the nerve cell is also influenced by signaling substances like glutamate, and calcium concentrations inside the nerve cells determine their activity.
If we lack magnesium, the calcium channels are left open, and we risk that the nerve cells are flooded with calcium. The incoming calcium ions may trigger various changes inside the synaptic clefts, which overstimulates the cells, exposing them to cramps and oxidative stress. These abnormal interactions between glutamate and NMDA (also known as excitotoxicity) are involved in many neurological disorders, including migraine, chronic pain, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, sclerosis, and stroke.
The neurotransmitter glutamate plays a role in migraine
Neurotransmitters are signaling substances that enable the transmission of signals between nerve cells. There are many different neurotransmitters, for all of which there is a receptor molecule in the nerve cells. In the central nervous system, the neurotransmitters glutamate and the receptor molecule NDMA play a major role in connection with migraine. The same is the case with magnesium that binds to NMDA.
Magnesium relieves migraine by protecting nerve cells against calcium toxicity
Although the underlying mechanisms behind migraine remain unclear, researchers do know that there are disturbances in the nervous system, and they have also observed abnormal functioning of the mitochondria, which are the powerhouses of cells.
Glutamate is one of the most widespread neurotransmitters. All nerve cells use glutamate for neurotransmission. The same is the case with different parts of the brain cortex, which forms a network for cognitive functions such as memory and speech. However, glutamate is toxic to cells, and therefore the extra-cellular glutamate concentration in the central nervous system is kept at a low level. Magnesium is believed to be able to relieve migraines by blocking NDMA, the glutamate receptor, thereby preventing the nerve cells from being flooded by calcium ions. Magnesium is also important for mitochondrial function.
Magnesium deficiencies are common among migraine sufferers
According to an article that is published in Journal of Neural Transmission, magnesium deficiencies are involved in over 50% of migraine attacks. In other studies of migraine patients scientists have observed significantly lower levels of magnesium in serum, saliva, and spinal fluid during and between the migraine attacks. The brain is also believed to be low in magnesium in these situations. The researchers point to the problem with not being able to detect a magnesium deficiency with a normal blood test, because magnesium is mainly concentrated inside the cells. Nonetheless, they advise migraine patients to try taking magnesium supplements, especially because magnesium deficiencies are very common.
Treating the symptom or the cause
Unlike conventional migraine medicine that is often associated with serious side effects, simple dietary advice and magnesium supplements are natural solutions that can address the underlying cause.
Magnesium supplements reduce both the number and intensity of migraines
In their new review article, the scientists refer to several meta-analyses where migraine patients have been given magnesium supplements, but not all studies demonstrated a positive effect. Also, there is no information about how much magnesium they got in the different studies, and one cannot expect any effect, if the dosage it too, or the preparation has poor bioavailability.
Nonetheless, a more recent meta-analysis from 2016 (Chiu et al.) shows that magnesium supplements have a therapeutic effect. The meta-analysis includes 11 studies of intravenous magnesium given to patients with acute migraine and 10 studies that looked at magnesium’s preventative effect on migraine. By and large, this meta-analysis shows that magnesium supplementation has a positive effect both as acute therapy and prevention, and it shows that magnesium can reduce the number of days with migraine by 22-43 percent.
Magnesium supplements are not only able to reduce the number of days with migraine, they also reduce their duration and severity and lower the need for acute medication. This was seen in a placebo-controlled study that is published in the science journal Cephalalgia, which is the official voice of the International Headache Society. The study included 81 migraine patients that were given either 600 mg of magnesium daily or matching placebo for a period of 12 weeks. After 9-12 weeks, the number of migraine attacks in the magnesium group had decreased by 41.6 percent compared with 15.8 percent in the placebo group.
Magnesium deficiency is common
Magnesium is primarily found in kernels, almonds, nuts, whole grain, cabbage, and other compact vegetables. An estimate 50-80 percent of the American population lacks magnesium, and there is also evidence of a similar pattern in Denmark. Magnesium deficiency is often a result of eating an unhealthy diet with too many refined foods. A large consumption of alcohol and other stimulants plus diuretics and stress can also deplete the body’s magnesium stores. Insulin resistance with impaired cellular uptake of sugar can also leach the body’s magnesium reserves, and the combination of the above mentioned factors can often make it even worse.
Normal blood samples are unable to reveal a magnesium deficiency
Magnesium is mainly concentrated inside the cells, which means that normal blood tests are unable to show if there is too little magnesium. The only way to find out is by conducting a whole blood analysis that also measures intra-cellular magnesium levels.
The relation between calcium and magnesium
Health authorities and science have still not reached a consensus regarding the optimal balance between calcium and magnesium. In Denmark, the reference intake (RI) levels for calcium and magnesium is 800 and 375 mg respectively. In Japan, the ratio is closer to 1:1, which is because the Japanese population does not consume dairy products and only gets around 400-500 mg of calcium daily. On the other hand, the average Japanese gets more magnesium from vegetables and the rate for osteoporosis is therefore lower. No matter what, too little magnesium is harmful to the nervous system, and many people get too much calcium from dairy products and supplements. The problem is that they forget to get the necessary amount of magnesium, which makes sure to channel most of the calcium in to the bone cells and make sure that cells in the nervous tissue and other soft tissues remain virtually devoid of calcium.
Magnesium, supplements, and medicine
Magnesium is found in nutritional supplements and certain medical drugs.
Easily assimilable magnesium sources include magnesium carbonate, magnesium acetate, magnesium orotate, and magnesium acid chelate. Magnesium oxide, which is a tablet filler that you find in cheap magnesium supplements, has poor bioavailability and does not improve the body’s magnesium status. Magnesium oxide has a better effect on heartburn and constipation (Magnesia).
Some magnesium supplements contain a blend of different magnesium sources to help ensure good bioavailability and better utilization of the nutrient. A good way to test your magnesium supplement is to place a magnesium tablet in a glass of water to see how fast it dissolves. A good preparation should ideally dissolve within less than a minute. Fast dissolution of the tablet gives a better guarantee that the body can absorb the magnesium.
High-dosed magnesium supplements are not associated with side effects other than rare cases of diarrhea, which one can avoid by starting with a low dose and gradually increasing it or by lower the dose, if diarrhea occurs. What many people find, in fact, is that magnesium improves their digestion.
With reference to the above mentioned studies, migraine patients can take 200 mg of magnesium tree times daily (with their main meals) for 12 weeks, or longer if it has a positive effect.
Studies of Q10
There are also studies that show how supplementing with 300 mg of Q10 has a positive effect on the prevention of migraine. In these cases, the underlying cause of migraine is most likely mitochondrial dysfunction in the brain cells. Q10 is a natural coenzyme that is involved in the energy turnover in the mitochondria.
Also be aware of migraine-triggering factors such as:
Anna E. Kirkland et al. The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders. Nutrients 2018, 10 (6),730;doi:10.3390/nu10060730
Andrea Rosanoff et al. Essential Nutrient Interactions: Does Low or Suboptimal Magnesium Interact with Vitamin D and/or Calcium status. Advances in Nutrition 2016
Mauskop A, Varughese J. : Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. Journal of Neural Transmission 2012
A Peikert et al. Prophylaxis of Migraine with Oral Magnesium: Results from a Prospective, Multi-Center, Placebo-Controlled and Double-blind Study. Cephalalgia 1996
Hershey et al. Q10 and migraine. Headache 2007
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