Magnesium for Migraine

Medically Reviewed by Murtaza Cassoobhoy, MD on February 10, 2023
3 min read

If you have migraines, should you take magnesium supplements? You may have heard or read that high doses of magnesium can help prevent this extremely painful form of chronic headache. While scientists aren’t certain whether magnesium supplements stifle migraines, there’s enough evidence from studies to suggest that this simple, inexpensive treatment might be worth a try.

Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in your body. Much of it goes toward helping to build bones and muscle, but you also need magnesium to produce energy, control blood pressure, and perform many other critical roles.

Studies have found that people who have migraines tend to have lower levels of magnesium than people who don’t get headaches. Some scientists believe that magnesium blocks signals in the brain that lead to migraines with an aura, or changes in vision and other senses. Research also suggests that magnesium stops certain chemicals that cause pain. What’s more, a drop in magnesium levels also seems to cause blood vessels in the brain to narrow, or constrict, which may also play a role in migraine.

Many foods are rich in magnesium, including spinach, legumes, nuts such as almonds and cashews, peanut butter, and whole grains. But to get the dose you need to prevent a migraine, you’ll probably need to take a dietary supplement. Magnesium supplements are easy to find. You may see them paired with other minerals, vitamins, or medicinal herbs in products marketed for preventing migraines. Doctors can also treat migraines by giving you magnesium in a vein. This happens in a clinic to treat a migraine attack that’s already underway.

Talk to your doctor before taking magnesium supplements. If they give you the go-ahead, they may suggest 400 milligrams a day as a starting dose. Some research studies give people with migraines up to 600 milligrams a day. Don’t take more than 1,200 milligrams a day. If you already take a multivitamin, check to see if it contains magnesium.

Whether magnesium supplements prevent migraines hasn’t been widely studied, but a small amount of research suggests they might help. In a 2017 review published in the journal Headache, scientists analyzed the results of five “gold standard” studies, in which magnesium supplements were given to one group of migraine patients, while a second group received inactive placebo pills.

One study found that people who took magnesium supplements had migraines on 43% fewer days than others given the empty placebo pills. Several of the other studies found that magnesium users had fewer migraine attacks than nonusers. But the quality of the studies was uneven. Overall, the researchers judged magnesium to be “possibly effective” for preventing migraines. The American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society reached a similar conclusion about using magnesium for migraine prevention.

Studies suggest magnesium supplements are safe, but they can cause some mild side effects, including diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps. And here’s another good reason to let your doctor know if you take magnesium supplements: They don’t always work well with drugs for other conditions like bone health, infections, high blood pressure, and chronic heartburn.

Magnesium supplements are reasonably inexpensive and sold in a variety of forms. Some are easier for your body to absorb. These include magnesium aspartate, magnesium citrate, magnesium lactate, and magnesium chloride. If you and your doctor agree that magnesium might be worth a try for preventing migraines, be patient. It could take 3 or 4 months before you notice any benefit.