Why Taking Magnesium Might Exacerbate Your Migraines

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The idea that those with migraine need – and will automatically benefit from – taking magnesium is seen as one of those universal truths.  You can find many accounts online of people who started taking magnesium and suddenly no longer have migraines. As wonderful as this sounds, I’ve never actually met anyone in years of coaching who has had a dramatic or obvious benefit in terms of reduced symptoms from taking magnesium.  But I’ve encountered many who have actually felt worse on it.  How could this be?

First of all, migraine is a manifestation of serious systemic and chronic inflammatory health issues affecting every organ of the body and involving MANY vitamin and mineral imbalances.  Therefore, it is highly unlikely that any single mineral, or even multiple minerals or vitamins working in concert together, will be powerful enough to completely heal the actual underlying cause of migraine.

It’s true that minerals – the sparkplugs of life – are some of the greatest leverage points in that healing process. But the hope that a single mineral like magnesium can totally shift and transform a chronic inflammatory state is unrealistic.  This is because all minerals work in concert and delicate balance with one another. So, if someone has a mineral deficiency in a single mineral, it is guaranteed they also have imbalances in others. 

The other side of the coin is that once a person has identified a deficiency and is addressing that with mineral supplementation (perhaps magnesium), they may feel initial benefit – but can eventually feel worse if they are supplementing too high or not supplementing along with other synergistic minerals, once the initial deficiency has been addressed.

Now, if there WERE a few minerals that I would credit with getting rid of my migraine symptoms, those would be copper, zinc. ALL of the minerals are needed for optimal health, and I experiment with and in love with them all (right now, it’s phosphorus, last month is was chromium). I do take magnesium daily, but I do so with an awareness to how it works in dynamic relationship with other minerals.

The reasons why migraineurs (and pretty much everyone else) need magnesium are numerous, and valid.  Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a role in hundreds of enzymatic processes in the body, especially those related to the ability to digest food, for blood sugar regulation, bone health, cardiovascular health, and a functioning nervous system (Source).  It has a relaxing, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effect on the body. For those with migraine, it’s especially appealing because it reduces histamine reactions, increases serotonin, and relaxes spastic muscles and blood vessels (Source).

But back to the central question: why would anyone feel WORSE on magnesium? 

It comes down to understanding the dynamic relationships that minerals have to one another. The primary relationships worth noting with magnesium have to do with this mineral’s relationship to sodium and potassium.

Since magnesium lowers both sodium and (indirectly) potassium, someone who is already very low in these minerals may feel much worse on magnesium. Sodium is crucial for adrenal health, and potassium is needed to make cortisol.  Since magnesium lowers both sodium and cortisol, it can really exacerbate symptoms in migraineurs with low cortisol and weak adrenal health. 

The strategy is then to always take magnesium with sufficient sodium or potassium, or to start supplementation with magnesium AFTER the sodium and potassium levels have been restored through mineral balancing.

Another reason that taking magnesium may cause people to feel worse is because magnesium helps the body to detoxify, especially metals like aluminum and lead (Source: Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. The Magnesium Miracle. New York: Ballantine Books, 2007).

Taking supplemental magnesium is no guarantee that you will absorb it, as you need sufficient stomach acid to do so.  This is where looking at zinc levels is important, since zinc is required by the body to make stomach acid. Magnesium is easily lost through stress.

Sodium/magnesium balance, adrenal health, and Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis

The sodium/magnesium ratio in a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis is the adrenal ratio.  It gives us an indication of whether a person’s adrenals are overactice, active and healthy, or depleted. We can see this by way of how high or low the sodium levels are in relation to magnesium. 

Magnesium lowers sodium and adrenal hormones.  Aldosterone, a hormone that is released by the adrenal glands, signals the kidneys to retain and recirculate sodium (and other minerals as well, such as copper).  When the adrenals are overwhelmed or depleted, they cannot send this signal as readily – which results in the loss of many important minerals in the urine, notably sodium. 

80% of the population is composed of slow oxidizers, and slow oxidizers already have low adrenal hormones.  Therefore taking magnesium may only initially feel supportive for fast oxidizers who have relatively higher sodium levels. However, I have only seen migraineurs in my practice, whether fast or slow oxidizers, with LOW sodium levels.

Even fast oxidizers like myself can have low sodium and depleted adrenals.  In Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis, there are four subtypes of both fast and slow oxidizers.  Fast 4 oxidizers, who have a metabolic type leaning towards slow, have a fast metabolism but with weakened adrenal activity.

Having a chronic illness like migraine is in itself draining, so it’s no surprise that we see most migraineurs have very low sodium levels (ie, weak adrenals).

While it’s theoretically possible that some people with migraine have headaches from high blood pressure and elevated sodium levels, I have NEVER seen a case of this.  I have only seen migraineurs with low sodium and low blood pressure.  This is why taking salt is so beneficial to those with migraine – as it will raise their blood pressure and can even eliminate the migraine.  Magnesium, on the other hand, will lower sodium, lower blood pressure, and potentially exacerbate migraine.

So how do you know if you’re low in sodium or magnesium?

Many people go to their doctor and are told that their magnesium levels, as reflected in a blood test, are fine. One problem with this is that blood serum represents only a very short window of time – ie, the past hour previous to the blood draw – and blood is a transport medium.  That means that it reflects what the body has decided it needs to transport from one place to the other, not what is in the cells, where it counts. Because magnesium is an intra-cellular mineral (ie, most needed inside the cell), blood serum levels of magnesium don’t tell us much.  An elevated level of magnesium could even be a reflection of a LOSS of magnesium from the cells into the blood.

This is where a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis can come in handy. It is a better reflection of cellular mineral levels, but ALSO can indicate when magnesium is being lost from the cell.

How do you raise sodium – and support your adrenals – besides eating more salt?

To raise sodium through supplementation so that you can handle magnesium, it comes back to understanding mineral dynamics.  Personally, my favorite way to raise sodium is with copper, but that’s because I’m a fast oxidizer and benefit from copper supplementation. Someone who is copper toxic would need to make their copper bioavailable and lower their tissue copper load, since excess bio-unaavailable copper taxes the adrenals and causes loss of sodium as well.

Bottom line: those who have low sodium levels need to take care of their adrenals.  The solution to this is not always a supplement.  The solution is to slow down, learn to regulate your stress response (I use EMDR therapy for this), stop overextending yourself, develop some personal boundaries, and prioritize your own self-care as a lifestyle habit.

If only there was a pill for that!  There isn’t.  Part of the blessing of getting sick is the opportunity to realize that our illness is asking us to do something very specific.  The migraines are asking you to do more than to take more supplements.  They’re probably yearning for you to make some serious lifestyle changes. I’ve written about my journey with that in my blog post here.

What are the best types and sources of magnesium?

I personally use magnesium chloride for my source of magnesium.  I like magnesium chloride because it isn’t synthesized in the lab.  It’s an earth-based source of magnesium mined from ancient seabeds.  I use Ancient Minerals magnesium chloride from the Zechstein seabeds in Holland.  I take mine internally in a mineral water soule along with salt and boron. 

Magnesium chloride can also be made into a topical spray called magnesium oil that is absorbed and assimilated very well into the body.  This may be a good option for those with low stomach acid, though it is itchy.

The best tolerated forms of magnesium in supplement form are magnesium glycinate and magnesium taurate.  Magnesium citrate may help for those who are constipated, but it generally leads to runny stool and so is not beneficial for those who already lean on that side of the spectrum.

Stay away from magnesium oxide, aspartate, and glutamate as these are poorly absorbed or excitotoxic, and therefore exacerbate migraine.

Kelp is one of the best sources of food-based magnesium.

The takehome?

Totally healing migraine involves dietary, stress-management, nutritional, spiritual, and emotional approaches consistently applied over the long-haul.  Especially for those with chronic migraine, a multifaceted approach is needed. 

If you know that you benefit from sodium, you will want to be more cautious with magnesium supplementation. And if you’d like to find out more about your individual body chemistry and mineral patterns, a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis is the perfect way to develop a strategy for supplementation that takes into account the dynamic relationships that minerals have to each other, and specifically to you.


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For the past 3 years, Marya has been helping those with chronic migraine to clear their head, heal their digestion, regain their energy, and transform their lives using simple plant and mineral solutions.

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Disclaimer

The information in this article is for educational purposes only and not meant to replace diagnosis, treatment, or prescription by a qualified medical professional.

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About Marya Gendron
Marya Gendron is a biodynamic craniosacral therapist and health coach specializing in chronic migraine headache relief and alleviation of brain fog, indigestion, and histamine intolerance through plant-based solutions and hair mineral analysis. She practices out of White Salmon, Washington.

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