Magnesium, Migraines, and Mitochondria

Dr. Eric Viegas, ND

An estimated 2.7 million Canadians, more women than men, suffer from migraine headaches. A migraine is often a throbbing, one-sided headache with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to bright lights, or aura. An aura can be a quick disturbance of visual or neurological function, and usually precedes a migraine attack.

There are a few different causes of migraines, and one or more could be at play in individual cases. One theory is that blood vessels increase pressure by constriction, and then re-actively dilate. This sudden alteration in blood flow can lead to a migraine headache. Another theory suggests that issues with mitochondria — the powerhouses of the cell — and poor energy production cause a migraine. Tobacco use, caffeine consumption, and birth control pills can increase the frequency of migraines in certain people (1,3). Too large of an ingestion of salt can lead to a migraine 6–12 hours later (2). It is also worthwhile to check if the side effects of any medications you are taking may be worsening your headaches.

A possible underlying cause of migraine headaches is an intolerance to wheat, citrus, eggs, tea, coffee, chocolate, milk, beef, corn, cane sugar, yeast, mushrooms, and/or peas. Elimination of these offending foods for 8 weeks helped 60 migraine patients reduce their frequency of headaches from 402 to just 6 per month (3). Interestingly, magnesium is typically deficient in migraine patients (4). Supplementation of magnesium can improve mitochondrial energy output, and reduce the frequency and/or severity of migraine headaches (5). Riboflavin (vitamin B2), and Niacinamide (vitamin B3) can be effective for migraine relief as they play important roles in mitochondrial energy production. Coenzyme Q10 also benefits mitochondria and, as a result, migraine headaches (6).

Estrogen has been linked to menstrual migraine headaches, and postmenopausal women may experience a reduction in migraines and tension-type headaches due to a decline in sex hormones. Serotonin agonists like 5-HTP may acutely relieve and prevent menstrual headaches (8). If you suffer from migraines and also have a history of fibromyalgia or myofascial pain syndrome, you may benefit from mitochondrial support, magnesium, and 5-HTP (9, 10). An underlying cause of anxiety and insomnia may perpetuate migraine and tension-type headaches amongst postmenopausal women and the general population (7). There are many migraine treatment alternatives; this was just a small summary of strategies for a big headache.

References:

  1. Werner A. Treatment of migraine. N Engl J Med 2002; 347: 764.
  2. Brainhard JB. Salt load as a trigger for migraine. Minn Med 1976; 59: 232–233.
  3. Grant ECG. Food Allergies and Migraine. Lancet 1979; 1: 966–969.
  4. Barbiroli B, Lodi R, Cortelli P, et al. Low brain free magnesium in migraine and cluster headache: an interictal study by in vivo phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy on 86 patients. Cephalgia 1997; 17: 254.
  5. Weaver K. Magnesium and migraine. Headache 1990; 30: 168.
  6. Okada H, Araga S, Takeshima T, Nakashima K. Plasma lactic acid and pyruvic acid levels in migraine and tension-type headache. Headache 1998; 38: 39–42.
  7. Neri I, Granella F, Nappi R, Manzoni GC, Facchinetti F, Genazzani AR. Characteristics of headache at menopause: a clinico-epidemiologic study. Maturitas 1993; 17(1): 31–37.
  8. Brandes JL. The influence of estrogen on migraine: a systematic review. JAMA 2006; 295(15): 1824–1830.
  9. Caruso I, Sarzi Puttini P, Cazzola M, Azzolini V. Double-blind study of 5-hydroxytryptophan versus placebo in the treatment of primary fibromyalgia syndrome. Journal of International Medical Research 1990; 18(3): 201–209.
  10. Birdsall TC. 5-hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor. Alt Med Rev 1998; 3(4): 271–280.