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Migraines can be challenging to treat using traditional painkillers, so many people look for alternative ways to help prevent them. One potential remedy is magnesium.
Magnesium is a natural mineral that helps keep blood pressure stable, promotes heart health, regulates nerve and muscle function, and builds bone, DNA, and protein. A lack of magnesium may also contribute to headaches and migraines.
Some people use magnesium to treat and prevent migraine symptoms, including a severe headache, visual disturbances, sensitivity to light and sound, and nausea and vomiting.
Some research has indicated that taking a magnesium supplement could be an effective way to prevent headaches. Other studies have also suggested that the magnesium levels in a person’s brain may be low during a migraine.
The American Migraine Foundation suggest taking a 400–500 milligram (mg) supplement of magnesium oxide daily to prevent migraines.
Some researchers think that magnesium’s effectiveness as a preventive against migraines increases when a person takes higher doses — over 600 (mg) — for at least 3 to 4 months.
However, taking high doses of magnesium as a supplement may cause adverse effects in some people.
Taking magnesium may be more effective for people whose migraines include aura, or visual disturbances.
People with migraines can take magnesium oxide in the form of a pill to supplement their magnesium intake.
Alternatively, a doctor may administer 1–2 grams (g) of magnesium sulfate intravenously if a person is having problems absorbing it.
Other forms of magnesium include:
- magnesium carbonate
- magnesium chloride
- magnesium citrate
The body absorbs these different types of magnesium at different rates. The body has difficulty absorbing magnesium unless it is bound to something else, so magnesium supplements often contain other substances, such as amino acids, that also provide health benefits.
Some people prefer to boost their magnesium intake through their diet.
Foods that contain magnesium include:
- nuts and grains
- black beans and lentils
- tea and coffee
- green leafy vegetables
- seeds, such as pumpkin or squash seeds
- mackerel, tuna, and Pollock
- low-fat yogurt or kefir
- dark chocolate
Magnesium occurs naturally in many foods. Increasing magnesium levels by eating more of these foods does not appear to have any associated risks.
However, taking too many magnesium supplements can cause some adverse effects, including diarrhea, cramps, and vomiting.
If a person experiences diarrhea due to a magnesium supplement, they should stop taking it. It is also essential for a person with diarrhea to stay hydrated.
People should also avoid taking magnesium supplements alongside a type of antibiotics known as aminoglycosides. Taking these substances together can cause muscle weakness and other problems.
Magnesium can also interfere with how a person absorbs antibiotics. Therefore, a person should take any necessary antibiotics at least 2 hours before or 4 to 6 hours after taking these supplements.
Magnesium can also lower a person’s blood pressure. People on medication for high blood pressure who take magnesium supplements could be at risk of hypotension, which is when the blood pressure dips dangerously low.
An excessive buildup of magnesium in the body can lead to severe side effects, including:
- an irregular heartbeat
- slowed breathing
Magnesium supplements may also cause additional side effects in people with certain medical conditions, such as:
- bleeding disorders
- kidney problems, including kidney failure
- gastrointestinal conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or a stomach infection
Anyone thinking about taking magnesium supplements should discuss it with a doctor first. A doctor can advise an individual on whether the supplement is safe based on their medical history.
Pregnant women should also consult a doctor before taking a magnesium supplement. They should also avoid taking high doses of magnesium sulfate intravenously, as it may cause bone thinning in the developing fetus.
When taken correctly, magnesium could be a safe treatment option for people with migraines. It has a lower potential for adverse side effects than some traditional medical treatments.
People with a history of aura may find the use of magnesium oxide particularly helpful.
Anyone considering taking magnesium supplements should speak to a doctor first, as they may interact with a person’s medication or make symptoms of an existing condition worse.
Magnesium supplements are available in many pharmacies, health food stores, and online.