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Can Magnesium Pills Counteract Recurrent Headaches?

Many people don't get enough magnesium in their daily diets. Correcting that deficiency can help reduce recurrent headaches.

People who suffer recurrent headaches may find themselves in a bind. Taking medication day after day can actually lead to rebound headaches if the dose is missed. No wonder people would like to know how to control these headaches without medication, if possible. One reader shared a supplement regimen recommended by the doctor. Another one discovered the value of magnesium supplementation by accident.

Magnesium Pills Do Double Duty:

Q. I suffered from migraines from the time I was 12 years old. As an adult, I suddenly began to suffer from constipation as well.

To try to manage the constipation, I started taking chelated magnesium every night before bed. No more constipation, but better yet, I have not had a migraine in months!

In the rare event that I wake up in the morning with a twinge of an incipient migraine, I take a BC Powder. You have to be careful with that because it can lead to rebound headaches if you take it too often. Then I dab some peppermint oil on my temples and the pain goes away immediately. I hope this information helps other people with recurrent headaches or migraines.

Magnesium for Migraines:

A. Your accidental discovery that magnesium helped prevent migraine headaches is confirmed in the medical literature. A review of “non-pharmacological” approaches “…such as riboflavin, coenzyme Q10 and magnesium and acupuncture, are used for the management of migraine” (Open Medicine, Nov. 23, 2022). Do keep in mind that magnesium supplements are not advisable for people with reduced kidney function. The kidneys might not be able to handle the burden.

If you would like to learn about both medications and other non-drug approaches, you may find our eGuide to Headaches & Migraines of interest. This online resource discusses migraine triggers and cluster headaches as well as treatments.

Supplements to Stop Recurrent Headaches:

Q. My neurologist recommended magnesium glycinate, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and CoQ10 as a preventative for migraines. Long story short, I have not had a migraine since shortly after I started this regimen.

A. In a review of nutritional supplementation to prevent migraine, the authors list riboflavin, magnesium and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) along with thiamine, niacin, carnitine, folate, pyridoxine, cobalamin and lipoic acid (Nutrients, Dec. 10, 2021).  A meta-analysis of six studies found that CoQ10 supplements reduced the frequency of migraine headaches compared to placebo (BMJ Open, Jan. 5, 2021).

What’s the Story on CoQ10?

Every cell in our bodies uses CoQ10 (in its active form, ubiquinol) in mitochondrial energy production.

As a dietary supplement, CoQ10 is available without a prescription. ConsumerLab.com recently tested several products. Noting that CoQ10 is generally better absorbed with a meal that contains some fat, the organization found that high-dose Kirkland (Costco house brand) also had the lowest cost per 100 mg. Puritan’s Pride Q-Sorb and Spring Valley also came off well. ConsumersLab.com subscribers can access the entire report.

Coenzyme Q10 does not seem to cause frequent side effects. Some people experience digestive upset, and occasionally people react with a rash or insomnia. This supplement may not be appropriate for people on warfarin (Methods in Molecular Biology, 2010).

Managing Recurrent Headaches:

Q. I have had a lot of trouble with headaches. Someone told me that magnesium tablets could relieve headache pain. Is this true?

Are You Deficient in Magnesium?

A. Some research shows that magnesium deficiency is fairly common among people who suffer repeated migraine headaches (Journal of Neural Transmission, May 2012). Correcting such a deficiency with magnesium supplements seems to be helpful in preventing them (Expert Review in Neurotherapeutics, March 2009). Magnesium seems to be especially helpful in preventing menstrual migraines (Neurological Sciences, June, 2010). Again, this suggestion should be followed only by people whose kidneys work well.

The evidence that magnesium can relieve acute headache pain is inconclusive, although a review found it “probably effective” (Headache, Jan., 2015). Two cases of hard-to-treat headache responded well to magnesium therapy (Neurohospitalist, July, 2016), but we generally prefer actual studies over case reports.

Other Options for Treating Headaches:

There are other non-drug approaches that can be helpful, particularly for migraine headaches. They include riboflavin, butterbur, feverfew and Coenzyme Q10 in addition to magnesium (Headache, April, 2016).

Learn More:

You can find more information on non-drug approaches to head pain prevention and treatment in our Guide to Headaches & Migraines. 

One thing to be wary of with recurrent headaches is medication overuse. Taking a pain reliever more than two or three times a week can result in analgesic withdrawal headaches. We have discussed this problem in detail with Dr. Joel Saper of the Michigan Head-Pain and Neurological Institute and Dr. Alan Finkel of the Carolina Headache Institute.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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