Migraines, IBS, and Anxiety

Migraines and Tension Headaches

When it comes to multitasking, magnesium is an all-star.

“Most of the rumors you hear about magnesium are true,” says Svetlana Kogan, MD, a holistic and integrative physician, referring to the nutrient’s reputation for curing everything from insomnia to stress. But there are three symptoms in particular it really excels at fighting: migraines, IBS, and anxiety.

“Magnesium couples with calcium working with the special channels that have to do with the activity of our muscles,” Dr. Kogan explains.

When you have a migraine, it can be virtually impossible to focus on anything besides the pain—the intense throbbing can be so all-consuming that it often leads to nausea and vomiting.

“Migraines are caused by the blood vessels in the head not being able to dilate as much as they should, and magnesium helps with that dilation,” Dr. Kogan says.

The supplement works to treat tension headaches in a similar way. “Tension headaches have to do with strained muscles in the head and neck—we have a bunch of muscle fibers running from the top of the head into the shoulders and neck,” Dr. Kogan explains. “Magnesium helps control the contraction of that muscle tissue so it isn’t too tight or too weak. The body is very smart and will utilize as much of the mineral as it needs to contract either stronger or weaker. It works very well with the wisdom of the body.”

IBS and Anxiety

Muscle contraction is a big part of what causes IBS, too, though this time the contractions are happening in the gut, not the head. “Bloating, cramps, and diarrhea are all caused by inappropriate spasms of the muscles in the gut,” Dr. Kogan says. “But magnesium helps relax these muscles and that leads to feeling much better.”

Since migraines and IBS are both related to muscle spasms, it makes sense that calming magnesium works to treat both, but what about anxiety? Though often thought of as more mental, Dr. Kogan says there are lots of physiologic effects, too. “Think about it: When you feel anxious, your heart starts beating really fast, your blood pressure goes up, and you’re in a state of fight or flight,” she says. “Magnesium actually addresses all of that.”

Dr. Kogan explains that your heart is a muscle. Mmagnesium can slow down the heart muscle contractions similar to the way it does in the head and gut. “And when your heart rate slows down, you instantly feel calmer,” she says.

How to Take It

Now that you know how magnesium works, the big question is how do you make sure you’re getting enough. Dr. Kogan’s recommendation for anyone who regularly experiences migraines, IBS, or anxiety is around 300 milligrams a day (with an absorbable form of magnesium such as magnesium citrate powder) something to keep in mind when looking at supplement labels.

“It is possible to get too much magnesium,” Dr. Kogan says. “If you have more than 500 or 600 milligrams a day, you might feel nauseous, dizzy, or woozy.” So no, popping double the required supplement dose won’t make your headache go away any faster. (Though if you are premenopausal, she says a dose between 600 and 800 milligrams a day is recommended.)

The supplements don’t work the same way a pain killer does, where you can expect almost immediate relief. Instead, Dr. Kogan says they work best when taken over time to prevent symptoms altogether.

She also stresses that, if taking a supplement, it’s important to give the body one week off each month to avoid adaptation. “If the body stops recognizing it as a useful substance, it won’t react,” she says. She sees it as a short-term solution, so you can really get to the root cause of your migraines, anxiety, or IBS. “It’s not a ‘forever solution,’ but it does help a lot.”

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