Buffalo News, 08-25-05
When it comes to treating migraine headaches, an ounce of prevention may be worth a pound of cure. Some experts believe that the mineral magnesium is one of the keys to migraine prevention.
Alexander Mauskop, director of the New York Headache Center and associate professor of clinical neurology at the State University of New York, has long studied the association between migraines and magnesium.
According to Mauskop, "Magnesium is a mineral that you can't live without, because it plays many roles in the human body." One of these roles, he explained, is the regulation of serotonin levels, a brain chemical known to be involved in the onset of migraine headaches.
In the brain, fluctuating magnesium levels can send blood vessels into spasm, stretching delicate nerve endings and generating pain in the process. In addition to pain, migraine sufferers also may experience nausea and vomiting, visuals changes, and sensitivity to light and sound.
Mauskop became interested in the link between magnesium and migraines in 1992, when he and a colleague began measuring ionized magnesium levels in migraine sufferers. Incredibly, approximately half of the headache patients they tested had low levels of magnesium in their blood.
Since Mauskop's initial research, several additional studies have confirmed that many migraine sufferers have low magnesium levels. "When I began treating my migraine patients with magnesium," he said, "some of them got dramatic relief."
Mauskop, the author of "What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Migraines," explained, "When we tested magnesium levels in headache patients, we were measuring the ionized form of the mineral. This is a much more sensitive indicator of deficiency than the serum magnesium that is commonly tested in doctors' offices and hospitals."
The blood test for ionized magnesium is not widely available. "Really, it isn't necessary to test magnesium levels in everyone with migraine headaches, because magnesium deficiency is so common," Mauskop noted. "Even without the test, a person with migraines can at least try magnesium to see if it works, because it is very safe, and has very few side effects."
Magnesium supplements are generally well tolerated by healthy individuals, with the most common side effect being diarrhea. For people with kidney disease, however, magnesium can be unsafe, and should not be taken without a doctor's supervision.
For migraine prevention, Mauskop advises his patients to take 400 milligrams (mg) of magnesium a day. If this doesn't work, he recommends increasing the dose to 600 or 800 mg, as long as the higher doses are tolerated.
Many foods are rich in magnesium, including dark green vegetables, whole grains, beans, bananas and seafood. "For a person with a magnesium deficiency, eating a well-balanced diet usually isn't enough," Mauskop said. "Most people will need to take a supplement to correct the deficiency."
In addition to magnesium, vitamin B-2 and an herb known as feverfew have been shown to be effective in the prevention and treatment of migraines. An over-the-counter preparation, called MigreLief, combines all three of the ingredients.
Curt Hendrix, a chemist and creator of the MigreLief formula, has been involved in drug research for more than 15 years. He said, "Each one of these ingredients may help some migraine sufferers, but not others. Instead of guessing which one will be most effective, it makes sense to try all three at the same time."
Vitamin B-2, or riboflavin, works by increasing the energy production of structures called mitochondria, which serve as microscopic power plants for cells in the body and brain. Research has demonstrated that mitochondria in the brains of migraine sufferers produce significantly less energy than mitochondria in the brains of people without the condition.
"At a dose of 400 milligrams a day, riboflavin is very effective in the prevention of migraine headaches," Hendrix said.
For migraine sufferers who don't get relief after taking magnesium or riboflavin, the herb feverfew may help. Also known as bachelor's button, the plant has been used in the treatment of headaches for hundreds of years.
Taking magnesium, riboflavin, and feverfew on a regular basis won't necessarily cure migraine headaches, but they can reduce their frequency and intensity. For migraine sufferers in search of relief, these supplements may be well worth trying.
Dr. Rallie McAllister is a family physician in Kingsport, Tenn.