The other day I read about a woman who suffered from unbearable migraines nearly every day. Her quality of life was so depleted that she was missing out on chunks of her life. Her doctor, knowing of studies that have shown magnesium can alleviate migraines, recommended magnesium supplements for her. And what happened? Her migraines are now almost nonexistent.
Is this another example of a nutritional issue causing a common health problem?
“Migraine headaches result from a combination of blood vessel enlargement and the release of chemicals from nerve fibers that coil around these blood vessels. During the headache, an artery enlarges that is located on the outside of the skull just under the skin of the temple (temporal artery). This causes a release of chemicals that cause inflammation, pain, and further enlargement of the artery. A migraine headache causes the sympathetic nervous system to respond with feelings of nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. This response also delays the emptying of the stomach into the small intestine (affecting food absorption), decreases blood circulation (leading to cold hands and feet), and increases sensitivity to light and sound.” – Medical News Today
I was sympathetic towards this woman, as I have many friends who frequently suffer from migraines. In fact, about 18% of women and 6% of men in the US suffer from migraines (LiveStrong). It’s not just about suffering through the pain, either – the risk of stroke among migraine sufferers who are female is a startling seven times higher than the layperson (JAHA). I can’t imagine having to spend an entire day locked up in a dark room or avoiding things like chocolate, caffeine, allergens, or any of the millions of migraine triggers. As a future dietitian I was interested in the evidence behind magnesium halting migraine attacks. Here’s the deal:
Magnesium is mostly found in our bones, and is used for “more than 300 chemical reactions that keep the body working properly” (WebMd). Some of those include helping your nerves and muscles to function in the right way and for maintaining the integrity of your bones. You can find magnesium in a balanced diet through whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Dairy products, meats, chocolate, and coffee also contain magnesium.
Magnesium deficiency in the US is not unheard of, though we hardly see people with actual symptoms. Nutrient absorption disorders such as Crohn’s Disease and gluten intolerance can impact your daily absorption of magnesium. Also, if you have a low blood level of either calcium or potassium, you may not be absorbing enough magnesium. (NIH)
Eating enough magnesium in your diet can help keep cardiovascular health and immune function strong. Scientists have found that it also may help to keep insulin function under control for those with diabetes (NIH).
Although the exact mechanism isn’t known yet (big surprise), a number of studies have found a connection between magnesium and migraines. A 2009 study showed that the serum Mg levels were “frequently low” in people with both migraines and other headaches, and other studies have shown that actual IV Mg injections have helped to alleviate migraines “by over 40 percent” (LiveStrong). Not to mention this woman’s brand new take on her life, migraine-free.
FYI: As always, talk to your doctor before making a significant lifestyle change such as taking supplements or altering your diet significantly. It’s important to be monitored professionally if you are taking any kind of supplement, as magnesium itself can cause some nasty side effects in excess.