Heads up: Higher intake of dietary calcium and magnesium may reduce migraine

By Guan Yu Lim

- Last updated on GMT

The findings suggest that a higher intake of calcium and magnesium was associated to reducing migraine in women, and to some extent in men. ©Getty Images
The findings suggest that a higher intake of calcium and magnesium was associated to reducing migraine in women, and to some extent in men. ©Getty Images

Related tags migraine Calcium Magnesium

A higher intake of calcium and magnesium from the diet is linked with lower migraine occurrence, according to researchers from Harbin Medical University in China who analysed more than 10,000 cases.

Migraine is a common neurological disorder and previous studies have demonstrated nutrients such as magnesium, riboflavin, coenzymes Q10, vitamin B12, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid can help in preventing migraine, through nerve function.

There are limited studies on calcium and its association to migraine onset, and even for magnesium, most studies for migraine prevention are limited to drugs and supplements.

To our knowledge, studies that directly examine the association between dietary calcium and magnesium and migraine are rare​,” researchers wrote in Frontiers in Nutrition​.

So they conducted a cross-sectional study to investigate this association using six years of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) of America (1999 to 2004).

Data analysis

The NHANES data from US comprised of 10,798 adults (5,526 men and 5,272 women), aged 20 years or older. The data contained information information on demographics, physical examinations, laboratory tests, diet surveys and other health-related questions.

Severe headache or migraine were assessed by self-report in the NHANES questionnaire. 

We have reason to assume that most participants with severe headaches suffer from migraines. We classified patients who reported having severe headache or migraine as having possible migraine​.”

From the data, about 20% of the population reported having migraine.

To assess dietary intake of calcium and magnesium, as well as any form of supplementation, the 24-hour dietary recall was used in the NHANES.


The study found that people with the highest intake of dietary calcium (>1,149mg/day) were at reduced odds (0.77) of getting migraines, compared to a lower intake (378-571mg/day) (0.85).

Similarly, for dietary magnesium, the highest intake (>371mg/day) was at lower odds (0.69) of getting migraine compared to a lower intake (161-217mg/day) (0.81).

According to researchers, magnesium may prevent migraine by inhibiting neuronal overexcitation, counteracting vasospasm, and reducing the formation of inflammatory mediators.

Calcium and magnesium may also work synergistically in the synthesis and release of various neurotransmitters and inflammatory mediators, which help the nervous system function normally and relieve nerve tension.

When comparing between sex, there was a statistically significant association between dietary magnesium intake and migraine in females, but not in males.

Researchers explained, “We speculate that this might be due to significantly higher ionised magnesium levels in the muscles of men than in women. Therefore, the effect of dietary magnesium intake on actual magnesium levels may be attenuated in men.​”

Dietary sources preferred

The findings suggest that a higher intake of calcium and magnesium was associated with reduced migraine in women, and to some extent in men.

Researchers encouraged calcium and magnesium sources from the diet, instead of drugs or supplements.

While magnesium and calcium supplements could also alleviate migraine, “these supplements may have some side effects of gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhoea​.”

Dietary calcium and magnesium are safer and more convenient than supplements and should be recommended as a priority​.”

As the first and largest nationally representative sample study to evaluate the association between dietary calcium and magnesium and migraine in US adults, researchers found that the average intake of daily calcium and magnesium of US adults was lower than their RDAs.

American adults should raise their awareness of RDA for calcium and magnesium and increase dietary calcium and magnesium intake, which may become an effective way to prevent migraine​.”

Good sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish, and beans, while dairy foods, soy products, grains, seafood, and fortified foods are good dietary sources of calcium.

This study is a cross-sectional study, which cannot make a causal inference, and the results are not representative of the world population.

Further prospective longitudinal studies and mechanistic studies are needed to elucidate the association between dietary calcium and magnesium intake and migraine​.”

Another recommendation to consider was to study the effect of dietary vitamin D and its role in calcium and migraine association. Previous studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is associated with migraine, and vitamin D plays a key role in calcium absorption.


Source: Frontiers in Nutrition


“Dietary Intake of Calcium and Magnesium in Relation to Severe Headache or Migraine”

Authors: Shu-Han Meng, et al​.

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