When your head is pounding, it can be difficult to work, play, or enjoy life.
According to the World Health Organization, half to three-quarters of adults aged 18 to 65 years in the world have had at least one headache in the last year. Among that population, 30% report experiencing migraine headaches, and 1.7 to 4% of the world’s adult population experience 15 or more headache days every month.
Headaches are also a significant cause of disability worldwide, especially migraines. The Global Burden of Disease Study, updated in 2019, reported that migraine is the second most common cause of disability in the world, and the number one cause for young women.
Headache disorders come with substantial personal suffering, as well as financial costs – but some studies have shown that magnesium can be a powerful tool for preventing and treating headaches.
How does it work? What’s the science behind magnesium for headaches? And if you choose to take it, what should you consider?
Let’s dig into some of the details of the relationship between headaches and magnesium, and give you some tips on relieving headaches with this essential mineral.
What Is Magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral that plays a critical role in over 300 enzyme reactions in your body.
Magnesium is best known as a supplement for sleep, stress, and pain. Magnesium also regulates blood pressure, supports the immune system, helps your muscles and nerve function, and contributes to cardiovascular health.
Foods that naturally contain high levels of magnesium include:
- Pumpkin seeds and most other types of seeds
- Spinach and many dark, leafy greens
- Cashews and many types of nuts
- Legumes and beans
- Some types of fish
- Dark chocolate or cacao
- Whole, unprocessed grains
Inadequate intake of magnesium, chronic disease, or other medical problems can cause low magnesium or hypomagnesemia. Many Canadians don’t get enough magnesium through diet.
How Do Magnesium Levels Affect Headaches?
Magnesium has a multi-faceted relationship with many different types of pain.
Numerous studies suggest a relationship between magnesium deficiency and migraine or tension headaches. One study in International Clinical Psychopharmacology reported that the odds of acute migraine headaches increased 35.3 times in patients when the levels of magnesium in their blood reached lower than normal levels.
There are multiple ways that low magnesium is implicated in headaches, simply because magnesium is involved in so many biochemical processes.
For example, some headaches are caused by inflammation, such as headaches triggered by alcohol and sinus congestion. Human studies have shown that low magnesium status is associated with increased inflammatory stress.
Magnesium is also responsible for relaxing muscles and blood vessels. A drop in magnesium levels may cause blood vessels to constrict, which can play a role in headaches. Similarly, if your headaches are caused by tension in the shoulders and neck, you could need more magnesium.
Magnesium has an important role in regulating neurotransmitter hormones such as serotonin, which is involved in headaches:
“Newer theories suggest tension headaches are caused by changes in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (including serotonin), similar to what happens with a migraine. Scientists don’t know why the levels of neurotransmitters go up and down, but they think it activates pain pathways in the brain.”— Mount Sinai Hospital
Magnesium is also involved in the regulation of hormones such as estrogen that change throughout a woman’s monthly cycle and in menopause. We know that magnesium helps reduce symptoms of PMS and it appears to help with PMS headaches and PMS migraines as well.
“In a small trial of 32 women, oral magnesium was found to be an effective treatment for premenstrual symptoms related to mood changes. Treatment with magnesium has been found to ease headaches, sugar cravings, low blood sugar and dizziness associated with PMS.”— Cision PR Newswire
Intravenous Magnesium Treatment for Migraine Headaches
In a study published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain in 2001, patients with moderate to severe migraine headaches were given either intravenous magnesium sulfate or a placebo saline solution.
All of the patients who received intravenous magnesium for headaches experienced a reduction in symptoms – for 90% of the patients in that group, the attack ended, and 100% of the patients reported that their accompanying symptoms (including nausea and sensitivity to light) disappeared.
The researchers of this study did call for further study of magnesium sulfate for headache treatment but recognized that IV magnesium can be a safe, well-tolerated drug for treating migraine attacks.
Should You Take Magnesium for Headaches?
In 2017, a review of five “gold standard” studies in the journal Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain showed that magnesium supplements can be a potentially effective way to prevent or treat migraines.
“Magnesium oxide is frequently used in pill form to prevent migraine, usually at a dose of 400-600 mg per day. Acutely, it can be dosed in pill form at the same dosage or given intravenously as magnesium sulfate at 1-2 gm…because of the excellent safety profile of magnesium, any patient who has frequent migraines and is considering a preventive strategy to reduce the frequency or severity of their headaches may want to consider this option and discuss it with their physician.”— American Migraine Foundation
A magnesium supplement of up to 400 milligrams a day is also safe for pregnant women.
You should talk to your doctor before starting a magnesium supplement. If you get your healthcare provider’s approval, ask if you can follow the American Migraine Foundation’s recommendation of a 400 to 500-milligram supplement of magnesium each day.
We do not recommend magnesium oxide as it is less soluble than other forms, like magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate.
When to Seek Help for Headache Pain
You should schedule a visit with your healthcare provider if you experience headaches that:
- Are more severe than usual, or occur more frequently
- Don’t improve (or get worse) when you take over-the-counter drugs
- Keep you from participating in your normal day-to-day life (working, sleeping, recreational activities, etc.)
- Are causing distress or unhappiness
Seek immediate medical attention if you:
- Are experiencing the worst headache you’ve ever had
- Lose consciousness or vision
- Are vomiting uncontrollably
- Are confused or are having trouble speaking
- Have a high fever (greater than 39 to 40 C)
- Have a stiff neck
- Are experiencing numbness or weakness on one side of your body
Note: This content is for informational use only, and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or professional diagnosis.
Natural Calm Magnesium for Headaches
Consistency is key when you’re taking magnesium for headache prevention, so choose a supplement that you’ll enjoy taking every day.
Natural Calm® magnesium citrate powder is a gentle, easily-absorbable magnesium supplement that you can take to cut down on headache pain.
Dissolved in liquid, Natural Calm® creates a delicious fizzy beverage that you can drink hot or cold. Try it today to see if you can decrease the amount and intensity of the headaches you’re experiencing.
Natural Calm magnesium gummies are also very popular (and occasionally out of stock with Covid-related supply chain issues). Check the shelves of major Canadian retailers to find these gummies, which are easy to pop when you feel a headache coming on. We should have more available on the website very soon.