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Ask Tufts Experts June 2012 Issue

Q: Is it true that increasing magnesium intake can help migraine sufferers?

Answer :  Jennifer Hall, a dietetic intern at Tufts’ Frances Stern Nutrition Center, looked into this for us. Here’s what she found: “It is estimated that approximately 36 million Americans suffer from migraines each year. Conventional treatment includes over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription medications, but these can have side effects and there is ultimately no cure for migraines. Because of this, many people have been searching for alternative therapies in the treatment and prevention of migraines. One of the most recognized alternative therapies is the use of magnesium. While the mechanism isn’t entirely understood, it is thought that magnesium can inhibit the synthesis of a neurotransmitter involved in the cascade of events leading to a migraine, and that it could also act as a relaxant on vascular tone, which could decrease migraines.

“Magnesium is a mineral that is found most notably in the skeleton of the human body. It acts within our bodies to keep bones strong, support the immune system, and maintain normal muscle and nerve function. Magnesium is present in all tissues and most foods, including buckwheat flour, bulgur, trail mix snacks (which include semisweet chocolate, nuts and seeds), spinach, nuts such as almonds and cashews, barley, wheat bran, oatmeal and beans. The RDA for magnesium in adults over 30 years of age is 420 milligrams a day for men and 320 for women; eating a diet that contains a variety of legumes, whole grains and green vegetables allows most people to meet these recommended intakes.

“There is evidence from multiple clinical studies that magnesium supplementation can decrease both the frequency and duration of migraines; this suggests that oral magnesium can be used in the prevention of migraines. Studies found magnesium supplementation to be safe and cost effective while promoting migraine prevention; the recommended dose for prevention is 600 milligrams per day of magnesium glycinate. It is important to note, however, that some people may experience side effects such as abdominal cramping or diarrhea when taking magnesium supplements. It is always important to consult your doctor before starting any new supplements or medications. Also of note is that these studies were not done using dietary sources of magnesium for migraine prevention, a possible area for future research..”

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