Friday, February 14, 2014

On Magnesium (Why I Take Supplements)

I've had migraines (with auras) for years. At one point, I was on Topamax and various other prescriptions that would supposedly help with migraines, but they really didn't help much at all in my experience, and I eventually went off them because I didn't feel like the risks (i.e. birth defects) were worth the benefits since I wasn't really getting any relief anyway.

For me, the aura part of the migraine was the worst--with virtually no warning, I'd get tunnel vision. I could see, sort of, but had weird floating things all over my field of vision, and it was hard to do much other than lay on the couch. I can remember a couple of times where an aura would come on while I was driving, or out grocery shopping, and it was absolutely terrifying to me to suddenly hardly be able to see.

At one point, one of my dad's friends told me that he also had migraines and that a pharmacist had recommended he take a calcium/magnesium/zinc supplement. To be honest? I totally ignored him. People were always giving me "migraine solutions", and 99% of the time they didn't work. I was tired of trying (and spending money on) things that didn't work. I felt like I had a system that would generally get me through them, and that was the best that I could hope for.

Then, when I was pregnant with Becca, I started having both migraines and ocular migraines (which is basically the aura, minus the headache).  I'd typically have at least one migraine or ocular headache per week, and it was pretty miserable because not only would I have the day of the migraine, but then I'd feel terrible, like I'd just had the flu, for a day or two after. My OB ran EKG's and all sorts of other tests to make sure that the baby was okay, but in the end, it was just migraines, and it was just awful. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I remembered the calcium/magnesium/zinc supplement suggestion, and got the okay to try it.

OH MY WORD. I took the supplement for the first time during an active migraine, and while my migraine didn't immediately vanish, it cut the pain and the usual headache time in half. I was shocked.

Since then, I've done a little bit of research on magnesium, and the more I read, the more surprised I became. First of all, one study that I came across stated:

"The available evidence suggests that up to 50% of patients during an acute migraine attack have lowered levels of ionized magnesium. Infusion of magnesium results in a rapid and sustained relief of an acute migraine in such patients. Two double-blind studies suggest that chronic oral magnesium supplementation may also reduce the frequency of migraine headaches. Because of an excellent safety profile and low cost and despite the lack of definitive studies, we feel that a trial of oral magnesium supplementation can be recommended to a majority of migraine sufferers."

The University of Maryland Medical Center website also stated:

"In one study, people who took magnesium reduce the frequency of attacks by 41.6%, compared to 15.8% in those who took placebo. Some studies also suggest that magnesium may be helpful for women whose migraines are triggered by their periods. Side effects from magnesium can include lower blood pressure and diarrhea. Magnesium can interact with medications including heart medications, diuretics or water pills, some antibiotics, and muscle relaxers."

During that time, I had also been tracking what I was eating in order to try and identify if I had any dietary triggers that caused migraines...and what I observed was that whenever I attempted to eat paleo, even just for a day, I'd get a migraine. And as I looked up many of the foods that paleo eliminates, I discovered that legumes, nuts, and whole grain breads all tend to be high sources of magnesium. Now, some people have noticed that eating nuts, legumes, and yeast breads trigger migraines for them (and it sounds like they may be a good candidate for the paleo diet) but for me, it's the opposite--magnesium levels seem to trump all when it comes to my migraines.  Isn't it interesting how different we all are? There really is no ONE way to health, I'm becoming convinced.


Along the way of researching magnesium, I kept seeing lists of things in our bodies that magnesium helps. Most of them looked like this:
  • Gives rigidity AND flexibility to your bones
  • Increases bioavailability of calcium
  • Regulates and normalizes blood pressure
  • Prevents and reverses kidney stone formation
  • Promotes restful sleep
  • Helps prevent congestive heart failure
  • Eases muscle cramps and spasms
  • Lowers serum cholesterol levels and triglycerides
  • Decreases insulin resistance
  • Can prevent artherosclerosis and stroke
  • End cluster and migraine headaches
  • Enhances circulation
  • Relieves fibromyalgia and chronic pain
  • Treats asthma and emphysema
  • Helps make proteins
  • Encourages proper elimination
  • Prevents osteoporosis

I've also read that magnesium supplements can help with anxiety as well as sleep. One article even mentioned that breastfeeding mothers who are taking magnesium supplements may notice that their infants sleep better as well. I definitely notice a positive difference in my anxiety levels when I'm taking magnesium supplements, but I also noticed a positive difference in sleep for Becca back when she was nursing. That said, I was most regularly taking the supplements just after she turned one, which is when sleep seems to settle down for most kiddos, so it's hard for me to pinpoint that specific event to the magnesium definitively. Still, I've found tons of benefits in taking a daily (well, 3x's daily) magnesium supplement for myself. 

I really thought that this snippet from an article written by a former ER doctor was telling as well:

"I find it very funny that more doctors aren't clued in to the benefits of magnesium, because we use it all the time in conventional medicine. But we never stop to think about why or how important it is to our general health or why it helps our bodies function better.

I remember using magnesium when I worked in the emergency room. It was a critical "medication" on the crash cart. If someone was dying of a life-threatening arrhythmia (or irregular heart beat), we used intravenous magnesium. If someone was constipated or needed to prepare for colonoscopy, we gave them milk of magnesia or a green bottle of liquid magnesium citrate, which emptied their bowels. If pregnant women came in with pre-term labor, or high blood pressure of pregnancy (pre-eclampsia) or seizures, we gave them continuous high doses of intravenous magnesium."

During my informal research, I also kept  seeing the statistic that 68-80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. The Wellness Mama has a great blog post that covers some of the changes to farming and water that may contribute to lower levels of magnesium. But, keeping in mind that 60-80% of the American public may be deficient in magnesium, I found the lists of symptoms of magnesium deficiency to be fascinating. From the book The Magnesium Miracle, here some conditions that may be caused by a magnesium deficiency:
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Asthma
  • Bowel disease induced by constipation
  • Cystitis and bladder spasms
  • Depression.
  • Diabetes.
  • Fatigue.
  • Heart disease.
  • Hypertension.
  • Hypoglycemia.
  • Insomnia.
  • Kidney stones.
  • Migraine.
  • Musculoskeletal conditions including fibrositis; fibromyalgia; muscle
  • spasms; eye twitches; cramps; and chronic neck and back pain.
  • Nerve problems including migraines; muscle contractions;
  • gastrointestinal spasms; calf, foot and toe cramps; vertigo; and
  • confusion.
  • Premenstrual Syndrome; dysmenorrhea; infertility; premature
  • contractions; preeclampsia; and eclampsia in pregnancy.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Raynaud’s syndrome.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome. 
  • Tooth decay 
I also found a number of studies (here's one) that linked magnesium as a therapy and prevention tool for congestive heart failure, and I also found a lot of information about magnesium on this website, including links to studies on the relationship between magnesium and everything from ADHD to various forms of cancer (I didn't read through all of these studies, so I can't speak to their validity).

Now, as I mentioned above, I don't think that there's a one-size-fits-all approach to health. I don't think that magnesium is the miracle solution to "fix" everyone who suffers from any of those problems listed above. That said, I wouldn't have known about the link between magnesium and migraines unless someone had told me how well it worked for them. And that's what this is about--magnesium supplements have changed my life for the better...and if you deal with two or three or four of the symptoms above, it might be worth a shot at trying a magnesium supplement, especially since researchers seem to be linking magnesium to the prevention of osteoporosis right along with calcium.

Obviously, I am not a doctor and you should definitely consult YOUR doctor before adding magnesium supplements to your diet as it can interfere with some specific medications. However, magnesium has really helped me a lot, and I think it could possibly help others as well, so I wanted to share! 


  1. I am definitely going to check this out!

  2. This is awesome, so glad you've found something that works, Meredith! I'm sending this to my sister who suffers from migraines - worth a shot, huh? Do you take 3 supplements a day as prevention or only when you get a migraine?

  3. So glad to hear this!!! I think I sent along some magnesium info a while back maybe? Thrilled to hear its working so beautifully for you. It's something I take daily too :)

  4. Oh my goodness, so I had no idea what it meant when you said "with auras' so I did some googling, and I get those! But without pain, which I gather is kind of weird but not unheard of. I was so scared the first time it happened, I was driving and all of the sudden I had these flashing zig zag lines in my vision. I went to the eye doctor and he said he had no idea what that was so I have been thinking I was a freak of nature.

    So thank you for inadvertently helping me figure out what was happening to my eyes!

  5. Wow, I had no idea magnesium attributed to so many health issues! 60-80%?!?! So crazy and makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing!!


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