Jay S. Cohen, MD, is an Associate Professor (Voluntary) of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Cohen is a widely recognized expert on prescription drugs and their natural alternatives. He has published scientific papers in leading medical journals and has written articles for Newsweek, Bottom Line Health, and Life Extension Magazine. A highly sought-after speaker, Dr. Cohen is also the founder of the Center for the Prevention of Medication Side Effects, which offers commentary on current issues in medical care.
1. Magnesium Migraines and Cluster Headaches
Migraines: A Common and Severe Malady
Blood Vessels Migraines and Magnesium
Magnesium—The Essential Element for Normal Body Functioning
Magnesium vs. Prescription Drugs
2. Magnesium Deficiency and Migraine Headaches
The Most Common Mineral Deficiency
The Evidence for Magnesium in the Prevention of Migraine Headaches
The Evidence for Magnesium in the Treatment of Acute Migraine Headaches
Why Magnesium Deficiencies Are Not Identified or Treated
3. Magnesium Deficiencies in Migraine-Prone Populations
Women Migraines and Magnesium
Children Migraines and Magnesium
Men Cluster Headaches and Magnesium
4. How to Use Magnesium to Help Prevent and Treat Migraine and Cluster Headaches
Magnesium: A Nutrient and a Medication
Treating Acute Migraines With Magnesium
Preventing Migraine Headaches With Magnesium and Other Non-drug Therapies
Where to Begin
How Much Magnesium to Take
How to Use Magnesium Successfully
About the Author
A basic principle of good medical care is to use the safest medicines first when treating any disorder. Yet, mainstream medicine frequently relies on potent prescription drugs when other, safer, natural methods are all that is needed. This book is about a safe, proven-effective, natural, non-drug alternative that can be very helpful for people who get migraine and cluster headaches, that is widely available and inexpensive, that provides many benefits for the body, yet is overlooked by most doctors: magnesium.
To say that migraine and cluster headaches are painful is an understatement. Most people get tension headaches, and they assume that migraine headaches are not much different. But migraine sufferers know that migraines are a quantum beyond common tension headaches. I know, too, because in the late 1980s I began getting migraines that forced me to retreat to my bedroom, turn off the lights, stop any noise, and place an ice pack on my forehead and pray for sleep. I did not get many migraines, maybe a handful a year, but that was enough to know how truly disabling migraine headaches can be.
I do not get migraines anymore. I have not had one since 1999. I’m fortunate. Today, 25 million American adults and children—18.5 million women and 6.5 million men—suffer from migraine headaches. Cluster headaches affect another 5 million people.
Experts know that migraine and cluster headaches are among the most severe forms of pain known to humankind. Prescription medications are helpful for some people, but they are often not very helpful or cause intolerable side effects for others. I never got enough migraines to seek medical treatment, and I’m glad I did not. As magnesium caused my erythromelalgia to gradually disappear, it also had the same effect on my migraines. When I spread the word about magnesium’s benefits to other members of The Erythromelalgia Association, I began receiving interesting reports about other improvements experienced by some members. Magnesium’s benefits were not limited to my rare disorder, but appeared to benefit other vascular disorders as well.
In May 2001, for example, I received an e-mail from Laura, who had contacted our group on behalf of her mother, who was suffering terribly from erythromelalgia. At the end of the e-mail about her mother’s status, Laura added as an afterthought:
Incidentally, I started taking magnesium myself a couple of months ago. I was hoping it might stop my migraines which I’ve suffered from for seventeen years. I haven’t had a migraine since—which is quite clearly, I believe, due to the magnesium. I’ve tried various migraine prophylactic drugs before with no improvement at all, so this is VERY good!
I asked Laura for additional details. She explained that she was a teacher, and her stress at work was very high. Laura’s migraines were variable in frequency. Some weeks she would have as many as four migraines, other weeks she would have one or none. Laura had tried several prescription drugs, but none prevented the migraines and only one partially lessened the pain—if she took it quickly enough.
Laura explained: “I was prompted to start taking magnesium by the number of unsolicited comments from people who, regardless of whether magnesium helped their erythromelalgia symptoms, mentioned that their headaches or migraines had decreased or stopped.” When Laura wrote to me, she had not had any migraines for several months despite the usual stresses. This was a highly unusual, excellent response, especially since so many other therapies had failed to help her. Indeed, because Laura had not responded to drugs previously, and because I never mentioned that magnesium might relieve Laura’s migraines, I doubted that this was a placebo response.
Laura’s next e-mail contained another surprise: “Let me tell you about my friend who gets very severe migraines.” Laura wrote that he was fifty-six years old and had suffered from severe migraines his entire life. “He was often home from work sick,” Laura explained. “His migraines were so bad that he was frequently incapacitated by excruciating headaches and vomiting. Several times he’s been admitted to the hospital emergency department for treatment. Since starting magnesium about six weeks ago, he has only had two migraines, both of which were relatively mild and brief compared with his normal ones. He can’t remember ever going for such a long time with so few migraines. We’re only a sample of two, but we’re both convinced of the effectiveness of magnesium in our cases.”
I would have been skeptical of Laura’s reports a few years earlier, but since that time I had not only experienced my own amazing response to magnesium, but also broadened my research. I learned that since the 1960s, more than a thousand articles on magnesium had been published in medical journals. This was reassuring because when considering any treatment, whether a natural substance or a drug, you should consider the evidence. Is it convincing? Does the treatment make sense? Have studies been done? What do experts say? As you will see in this book, the evidence in all of these regards is convincing for magnesium.
Scientific evidence is important, but as every medical textbook teaches, the ultimate test is how well a treatment works for individual patients. My response to magnesium, as well as Laura’s and her friend’s responses, did not seem like coincidences, and the evidence supported this conclusion. Magnesium stabilizes nerve and blood vessel functioning, the two main players in vascular abnormalities such as migraine and cluster headaches, as well as in high blood pressure, Raynaud’s phenomenon, and erythromelalgia. Magnesium is essential for normal vascular functioning. Blood vessels require magnesium to operate properly. Deficiencies of magnesium are common and linked to many diseases. One of these is migraine headaches (to avoid constant repetition, I will use the broad term “migraines” to include both migraine and cluster headaches unless stated otherwise).
Yet even if a treatment is effective, is it safe? As we have seen again and again in recent years, many promising drugs with outstanding research have proved ineffective for some patients and/or toxic for others, necessitating disuse or outright withdrawal. Magnesium’s safety has been established over six decades. Today, magnesium is commonly used in cardiac care units for heart arrhythmias. It is used intravenously in maternity wards to treat the dangerous effects of eclampsia in pregnant women.
The unfortunate irony is that despite magnesium’s long use in these medically high-risk situations, and a body of scientific evidence spanning more than half a century, few medical schools teach doctors anything about magnesium’s value for everyday conditions like migraine headaches and high blood pressure. As a result, most doctors are not aware of magnesium’s effectiveness for these common, often difficult-to-treat disorders. Yet, magnesium has proven its value not only in studies, but also in the offices of practitioners who have learned about it. If you go to a conference on integrative medicine and ask the brightest and best doctors about magnesium, they will relate hundreds of experiences of using magnesium with excellent results.
Nevertheless, not everyone with migraine or cluster headaches responds to magnesium. Magnesium is not a panacea. The migraine syndrome is complex, as are all vascular disorders. No single treatment works for everyone. Some migraine sufferers require prescription drugs and benefit highly from them. But why start with expensive drugs with frequent, sometimes serious side effects when safer, natural methods might do? And even when prescription drugs are needed, so too might magnesium be if the goal is to have your blood vessels function optimally. Yet, few mainstream physicians know about magnesium, so they rarely recommend it to their patients.
If you have been prescribed prescription drugs for your migraines, yet not told about magnesium, you have been denied your right of informed consent. The American Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics states that you must be given “enough information to enable an intelligent choice.” You also must be told about “therapeutic alternatives consistent with good medical practice.” Magnesium is certainly a therapeutic alternative consistent with good medical practice. I would argue that magnesium is a better, safer therapy that should be considered before resorting to expensive, side-effect-prone drugs.
The Magnesium Solution for Migraine Headaches is intended to provide a more balanced perspective on how to prevent and treat migraines. This book provides you and your doctor with all of the information needed to understand: why magnesium can be very helpful in preventing and/or treating migraine and cluster headaches; what you can expect from taking magnesium; and how to take magnesium successfully. This is vital information not only because, unlike drugs, magnesium has virtually no side effects at proper amounts, but the mineral also exerts hundreds of other important effects that are required for the healthy functioning of all cells and body systems. Magnesium is a key player in the normal functioning of nerves, muscles, blood vessels, bones, and the heart. So when you take magnesium, you not only may get relief from your migraine headaches, but also provide every cell and system in your body with a nutrient it needs.