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Magnesium plays a key role in the development and treatment of migraine

Magnesium plays a key role in the development and treatment of migraineMagnesium deficiency can lead to various imbalances in the brain and nervous system and that can trigger a migraine attack. Magnesium also seems to help in the treatment of migraine, according to a review article published in Nutrients. As magnesium deficiencies are rather common, it makes perfect sense to consider taking a supplement. But it is important to choose a magnesium source that the body can easily absorb and utilize. Also, pay attention to other factors in the diet and environment that may help trigger migraine attacks.

Migraine headaches are among the most common neurological ailments in the Western world, and millions of people are affected by them. They typically occur as a unilateral, throbbing headache that is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light. Migraine with aura begins with transient visual disturbances. Transient sensory disturbances and aphasia may also occur. The headaches can last anywhere from a few hours to three days. A migraine can be that debilitating it prevents you from working or engaging in any activities. Migraine headaches are associated with massive human and socioeconomic costs and therefore deserve much more attention so we can find new ways to prevent and treat them.

  • There are two types of cells in the human brain
  • Neurons - nerve cells that send and receive electric impulses
  • Glial cells – supportive cells with various functions

What happens in the brain during a migraine attack?

There are different theories about what triggers a migraine attack. Many experts link migraine attacks to something called CDS (cortical spreading depression), which is dramatically altered electric brain activity that involves both neurons and glial cells. Migraines are even associated with oxidative stress, changes in the blood vessels, electrolyte imbalances and the release of a neurotransmitter named glutamate. The new review article aimed to look closer at different studies of magnesium and its role in the nervous system and in connection with migraine headaches.

Magnesium’s role in the nervous system

Magnesium is one of the minerals that we humans need the most. Fifty-three percent of the body’s magnesium is stored in our bones, while 46 percent is found intracellularly in muscles, brain tissue, blood tissues, and other soft tissues. Only one percent of our magnesium circulates in our blood. Magnesium controls over 300 different enzyme processes inside our cells. Magnesium also controls the calcium intake in cells, thereby ensuring that most of the calcium ends up in our bones and teeth instead of ending up in our soft tissues.
Magnesium plays a vital role in our energy turnover, blood pressure, muscle contraction, insulin metabolism, electrolyte balance, bone health, and a number of other functions.
Magnesium is important for regulating nerve impulses in our nervous system. It also protects neurons against being overstimulated by neurotransmitters like glutamate, which is exchanged between brain neurons. Abnormally high glutamate concentrations can lead to overexcitation of the receiving nerve cells and cause cell damage or cell death.

Magnesium’s role in connection with migraine headaches

According to the new review article, CDS (cortical spreading depression) can only partially explain a migraine attack. The authors describe the important interaction between magnesium and calcium that is vital for nerve transmission. We have magnesium in all our cell membranes. Here, one of magnesium’s most important functions is to bind to a receptor in the calcium channel of the cell membrane. The receptor is named NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate). NMDA is also a receptor for glutamate that should only be exchanged between neurons in limited amounts.
The calcium channels in the neuron membranes only open when the neurons are influenced by other neurotransmitters such as glutamate. The calcium concentration in the neurons is determining for their activity.
If we have too little magnesium, our calcium channels stay open and we risk that calcium ions flood the neurons. This causes an overstimulation that can trigger a migraine attack.
Supplementing with magnesium can relieve migraines by blocking the glutamate receptor (NDMA), thereby preventing calcium ions from flooding the nerve cells.
Magnesium is believed to have different roles in the prevention and treatment of migraine headaches such as affecting neurotransmitter exchange, blood platelet activity, and blood vessel constriction. It also appears that levels of the neurotransmitter CGRP (Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide) are linked to magnesium. CGRP is produced by neurons. It surrounds the brain’s blood vessels and is possibly released in connection with a migraine attack and intensifies the pain impulses. In brief, magnesium plays a vital role for the nervous system, the calcium balance, glutamate release, and a number of other functions. Lacking magnesium may therefore increase the risk of triggering a migraine attack.

  • The neurotransmitter glutamate plays a role in migraine
  • Neurotransmitters are signaling compounds that exchange signals between neurons
  • There are many different types of neurotransmitters, and they all have their own receptors in the neuron
  • Glutamate and its receptor, NDMA, play an important role in the central nervous system in connection with migraines
  • The same is the case with magnesium that binds to NMDA

Magnesium therapy

The scientists refer to different studies where migraine patients have been given up to 600 mg of magnesium daily. Not all studies have been able to demonstrate an effect. According to the authors, an effect can only be expected if a person is magnesium-deficient to begin with and if the supplement that is used contains a form of magnesium that is easily absorbed and in the right dose. It can be difficult to detect a magnesium deficiency with a normal blood test because we only have around one percent of our magnesium in the bloodstream. It is better to make a so-called whole blood analysis that also measures intracellular magnesium levels. Other studies have tested intravenous magnesium therapy for treating acute migraine attacks.
In conclusion, magnesium supplements can be useful for preventing and treating migraines (especially migraine with aura) at all ages, including children, women with PMS-related migraine, and other people with other ailments. Magnesium can also be useful in cases where other therapies fail to work or cause side effects.
With the many studies and clinical observations, there is new hope for migraine patients in terms of what it is that causes the migraines, and how to relieve the symptoms with medicine and/or supplements such as magnesium. It is inexpensive, safe, and natural and not linked to undesirable side effects. The new review article is published in Nutrients.

Other factors that may also trigger migraine headaches:

  • Histamine-containing and histamine-releasing foods like cheese, red wine, pickled and smoked foods, chocolate, and monosodium glutamate
  • Stress and tension
  • Inadequate fluid intake and low blood sugar
  • Hormonal changes
  • Smoky rooms and bad air quality
  • A misaligned bite
  • Strong sunlight
  • Electrosmog from cell phones, computers, TVs, etc.

Studies of omega-3

An American study published in British Medical Journal shows that omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish or fish oil supplements are able to reduce migraines. Click here and read more:

»Higher omega-3 intake helps against migraine«

Studes of Q10

Studies show that supplementing with 100 mg of Q10 three times daily can have a positive impact on the prevention of migraine in cases where the migraine are likely to be caused by mitochondrial dysfunction. Q10 is a coenzyme involved in the energy turnover in the mitochondria. Click here and read more:

»How Q10 prevents and relieves migraines«


Izabela Domitrz and Joanna Cegielska. Magnesium is an important Factor in the Pathogenesis and Treatment of Migraine – From Theory to Practice. Nutrients 29 January 2022

Anna E. Kirkland et al. The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders. Nutrients 2018

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

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