Magnesium is often used to address a deficiency that contributes to muscles spasms and night-time leg cramps. But can this mineral also be used to address headaches and migraines?
Regulating muscular contraction and relaxation is not possible without magnesium. Calcium is the primary supporter of muscle contraction in our body, while magnesium could be said to be more supportive on the relaxation side.
Magnesium deficiency is much more likely to be a problem than calcium deficiency.
Our intake of magnesium has declined dramatically in the past 100 years. We just don’t get it as much in our foods and it is rarely added back into soil in conventional farming methods.
Cooking vegetables in boiling water removes about 50 percent of the magnesium.
When brown rice is converted into white rice, the loss rises to 80 percent. While there are foods rich in magnesium — seeds, legumes, green leafy vegetables — we tend to eat more refined foods, meat and dairy which are low in magnesium.
Mag-nesium doesn’t just affect muscle relaxation. It also is critical to almost all enzymatic functions in the body, is vital for bone mineralization, and involved in cell replication, protein formation and energy production.
Efficient heart function and normal blood pressure are both dependent upon magnesium. Calcium and magnesium work together to promote smooth muscle relaxation. Studies are showing that individuals with cardiovascular problems tend to have lower levels of magnesium.
Decreased blood pressure could result from correcting a magnesium deficiency by facilitating the impulses that allow the muscles of blood vessels to relax. These smooth muscles can spasm and remain rigid due to magnesium deficiency. And loss of elasticity contributes to inflammation which can interfere with blood flow.
When it comes to migraines and cluster headaches though, magnesium has been shown to reduce aura and prevent brain signaling that produces the visual and sensory changes. It can also decrease the release of pain transmitting chemicals like Substance P and glutamate. It also inhibits excess platelet aggregation. All these could be factors in migraines.
Magnesium is rated probably effective by the American Headache Society and something that should be considered for preventative therapy. In addition to vessel muscle relaxation, function of various cell receptors in the brain is modulated by magnesium and it has an effect on nitric oxide synthesis.
Because there is such a strong genetic orientation to migraines, one thought is that this is related to magnesium absorption. This could be from not getting enough from food, getting it into the brain, or excreting it too quickly.
To be metabolized effectively, magnesium should be taken with calcium, or with adequate calcium in the diet. Magnesium is not good for those with kidney problems. But it can help if you are prone to constipation.
Taking too much magnesium can lead to diarrhea. But this can be corrected by taking a more absorbable form of magnesium, like glycinate, malate, or threonate as opposed to magnesium oxide. There are even lotions and oils available.
After all, you want to get it into your body and not just out the other end.
Taking magnesium with food or before bedtime can reduce stomach upset and prevent those leg cramps.
Chronic headaches are the result of a complex array of reactions in the nervous system and not still entirely understood. But inflammation arising from confused signals and the resulting chemical releases is being recognized as an important player.
In addition to exploring triggers, magnesium may just be one way to raise the migraine threshold and lower inflammation. Come on down if you’d like to talk more.
Scott Porter, a functional medicine pharmacist, is the director of the Center for Functional Nutrition at Sandpoint Super Drug.