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Those who suffer from tension and migraine headaches are often desperate for relief, turning to excessive dosing of over the counter medications and even prescription drugs in an effort to medicate away the pain. Headache sufferers learn to live with the throbbing, the light sensitivity, the nausea that can result from the pain level and they know almost immediately if the particular headache they are actively experiencing is one that they can still function with, albeit in great discomfort. However, there are some headaches that can be so debilitating that they greatly affect quality of life, the capability to work and cause “missed moments” when the ability to attend or enjoy important events becomes compromised by incapacitating pain. Although there is no single solution to the treatment of headaches, there is mounting evidence that the mineral magnesium may provide relief from tension and migraine headaches specifically by preventing them from occurring.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), magnesium assists in regulating “diverse biochemical reactions in the body.” Some of these reactions include muscle and nerve function. In addition, magnesium also helps to transport ions of calcium and potassium across cell membranes, which is critical to those functions.
In terms of tension headaches, this ion exchange is facilitated by magnesium, which acts as an electrolyte to balance the fluid levels that carry electrical impulses across membranes. This exchange is what allows muscles to contract and then, more importantly in terms of tension headaches, to relax. Muscle tension, especially in the shoulders, neck and jaw area is a common cause of tension headaches. Given its role in ion exchange, a deficiency in magnesium would likely contribute to muscular tension. Conversely, adequate levels of magnesium would maintain muscles in a more relaxed state, which would decrease the likelihood of developing a tension headache.
Magnesium has also been studied for its potential role in helping to prevent migraine headaches. A National Center for Biotechnology Information abstract of a blind study documented in the Journal of Neural Transmission, states that there is “strong evidence that magnesium deficiency is much more prevalent in migraine sufferers than in healthy controls.” Further, according to the Journal of Head and Face Pain, magnesium also serves to “improve platelet function and decreased release or blocking of pain transmitting chemicals in the brain.”
Despite numerous studies that have examined the connection between low magnesium levels and the prevalence of both tension and migraine headaches, the use of magnesium to prevent such headaches is considered supplemental to other treatment choices. However, the internet is rich in personal testimony from people who have achieved a significant reduction in the number and severity of their headaches simply by supplementing their diets with magnesium.
Those intending to supplement with magnesium should consult with their physician or pharmacist before doing so as there are some known side effects and drug interactions. Side effects are generally mild and may be ameliorated by taking the higher quality chelated version of magnesium as opposed to some of the lower quality supplements that are available. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of magnesium is considered safe and the supplement is not cost prohibitive. Given these factors, those who suffer from migraine and tension headaches have very little to lose by supplementing their diet with magnesium. By doing so, they will be able to determine if in fact, the addition of the mineral provides them with headache relief by lowering the frequency and perhaps severity of their headaches.
By Alana Marie Burke