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The Inexpensive Way to Treat Migraines, Depression, Leg Cramps and More

The Inexpensive Way to Treat Migraines, Depression, Leg Cramps and More

What is the most common elemental deficiency in my practice? Magnesium. This is probably the most underutilized “medicine” out there for migraines, restless legs, constipation, kidney stones, leg cramps, menstrual cramps, asthma and many other  medical conditions including treatment resistant depression.  It has tons of research available to support its use in these and many other medical conditions but often it is overlooked because I personally feel we as doctors have not been educated on its benefits except for “emergency” cases.  

It is not a drug so there are no people sitting in tubs on a cliff holding hands and talking about its benefits on TV and there is no Magnesium Lobby group to push its cause so I will try to champion the miracle mineral here.

Magnesium is the most utilized mineral in the body and is responsible for actions ranging from relaxation and decalcification of the arteries to utilizing sugar in the cell, all the way to improving mood.  We cannot survive without it.   In my practice it plays an essential role.  

After first addressing inflammation in the gut I then address magnesium status as the second step in almost all treatment plans especially for those patients with depression and anxiety. Matter of fact, this mineral is essential for relaxation and mood.  

Magnesium is better than the anti depressants in studies with postpartum depression and treatment resistant depression.  Interestingly, treatment resistant depression is not a Zoloft deficiency to start with but more likely is a magnesium deficiency and there is quite a bit of data to back this up.  By adding magnesium to their current regimens almost 80 percent had resolution of their symptoms of depression.

Not only good for mood disorders, it also has amazing effects on the brain in general.  Magnesium repairs the brain following stroke.  One study showed a 50% improvement on mental functioning with administering magnesium one year after the stroke!  

Another brain issue is migraines and you guessed it, magnesium is an effective cure.   It is always my first and most effective intervention for migraine.   “Wow, magnesium is awesome” you say,” and I will have my doctor check my levels right away.”   As the sports announcer Lee Corsco says “Not so fast my friend…”

Are You Deficient?
It is hard to measure total body stores since 99% is in the tissues and only 1% is in the blood, where our testing is performed.   We can be depleted of magnesium in our body compartments but our blood shows we are normal which is only 1% of our total stores.   We will use that 99% to keep the 1% in the normal range and our brain tissue may be very low and our blood levels be normal.   So what to do?  Assume you are magnesium deficient as most of us are (over 80%) and this can be explained by our diet and exposures.

Back in the days of clubbing our women over their head and dragging them back to our cave (not cool now except inArkansaswhere this is still very vogue)* we had a lot more magnesium in our diet.  In fact the ratio of magnesium to calcium was 1:1.  It is now near 1:6.   This ratio has worsened with the introduction of row crop farming on a large scale.   We have mineral depleted soil and it has very little organic matter so the food we grow in it is less than complete in nutrition.  One of the major minerals we are missing in our processed food is magnesium. We are also wasting it with stress, caffeine intake and not able to replace it with our processed food.   

Another unseen cause of depletion of magnesium is ironically  diuretic meds (hydrochlorothiazide is one of the most common) used to treat high blood pressure which causes long term magnesium depletion which causes high blood pressure.  We doctors be jeanusisses.  

So, long story short-we are a generally magnesium depleted society and we need to get some now at some “Superstore.”   Once again, not so fast my friend.

Where & Which Kind?
Ok, so I’ve got nothing against a certain conglomerate chain of stores but in regards to magnesium this is not your best source to buy it.  Magnesium comes in a lot of different forms and if you want to actually absorb it you will need the right kind. Your doctors office (nutritional oriented doctors office that is) or higher end health food store or specialty pharmacy is the place to start.  Magnesium Taurate is probably my favorite but is the hardest to find.  The taurate portion of the magnesium chelate is very calming to the brain and works in synergy with magnesium to help with mood.  

My next favorite is Magnesium Glycinate and is a little easier to find and is cheaper than Taurate.  It does little to create GI upset like Mag Oxide and is very effective in higher doses without side effects of diarrhea.  Next there is Magnesium Citrate which is good for constipation and but still allows absorption of magnesium, unlike Mag Oxide, but can cause loose stools in high doses.  Magnesium citrate is cheaper than the previously mentioned magnesium chelates and overall is good all around magnesium.  

Finally there is magnesium oxide which is what the cheaper magnesium brands are made of.   You get a lot of concentrated magnesium in one pill but only absorb about 4% of it.  This should only be really used for constipation and not replacement.  If cheap is more important than whether it works effectively, then you should choose this one  (see you at the crapper). 

When choosing your magnesium be careful is not combined with mag oxide which is used to decrease costs and lessens efficacy of the good magnesium.

Get It On You
Another way to get magnesium is topically with magnesium chloride oil or Epsom salts baths.  

Topical magnesium replaces magnesium faster than if taken by mouth and gets body back to normal levels in 1-2 months instead of 6-12 months like oral magnesium does.   “Oh wow, you mean I have to do this for more than a few days?” Yes, and you have to take quite a few pills a day for many months to get where you need to be in total body load if you are depleted.

How Much?
Now we have the kinds of magnesium, although the above is not a complete list, how much should we take?   The best way to go is start by taking Epsom Salt baths-2 cups in hot tub x 30 mins.  This is cheap and you can find it at any store.  

Topical magnesium oil is easily found at health food stores and can be applied daily or twice a day.   

The chelated magnesiums (taurate, glycinate, and citrate) are usually in 100-150 mg per capsule dosages so I recommend 600-900 mg a day and if you can tolerate it you can go even higher (loose stool is a tip off you need to back down a pill or two).   

The obvious question is whether you can take too much?  The answer, not really, unless you have chronic kidney disease. If tha’ts you go with much smaller doses and you would want to be monitored by a physician.  

If you do not have kidney disease you will be able to excrete any excess magnesium in urine or your stool.   Other instances where you would want to be careful is excessively slow heart rate (works to slow down heart which is usually good and works well for atrial fibrillation), myasthenia gravis, or bowel obstruction (can’t eliminate excess).

Long article made even longer, magnesium is the first place to start for depression.  It is a long undervalued mineral missing in our diet due to years of depletion in our soil.  It is easily replaced inexpensively.  

Magnesium does a body good.

* Being from Louisiana it is my job to make fun of Arkansas, so if anyone there is reading this please know I am proud of you for reading this

(Disclaimer-I am looking to start a Magesium Lobby Group-so send money)

[4 Comments]  [4 Comments] 


4 Responses to “The Inexpensive Way to Treat Migraines, Depression, Leg Cramps and More”
  1. Lydia Ketcham Fox says:

    Is there a natural food source for Magnesium? Does one have to take supplements which I personally hate to do?

    What are the natural food/drink sources for Magnesium? Please list.


    • Nathan Morris, M.D. says:

      Great question and one that also points out some bias in my article to supplements so thank you for bringing more balance to the article. Although I eat a lot of magnesium rich foods I can’t/won’t give up my coffee so I have to supplement with magnesium as caffeine makes me lose some of my gains, but if you are not doing caffeine/other diuretics, food can be your only source and you will be OK. The easiest source are nuts and seeds. Pumpkin seeds are probably one of the best seeds with 535 mg of magnesium per 100 gram serving! That is a great benefit ratio. Almond and other tree nuts are excellent as well and a great place to start, especially if they are raw. Spinach is a great vegetable with a lot of magnesium along with numerous other positives. Believe it or not, dark chocolate with greater than 70% Cocoa content is a good source and in moderation has even been shown to bring about weight loss too. Almost too good to be true but the key word is moderation (less than 1 oz per day which is still a lot). Finally Halibut is good source found in meat.

      I hope this helps and all these foods are whole foods (chocolate not as much) so the more whole (non processed) foods you eat the better your chances of getting the magnesium you need.

  2. Kim says:

    Dr. Morris,
    I suffer from debilitating migraines, constipation, depression/anxiety, kidney stones(those aren’t that frequent, more to do with a med. I am on). I also have MTHFR, so am taking Deplin to get the metabolized folic acid – that’s a great pill. Anyway, I was just in the hospital for a migraine that lasted for 6 days and one of the treatments they gave me was a Magnesium drip in my IV. Although my migraine didn’t go away at the time, it did help with my constipation. I started doing research and found your article. I’m really excited about the possibilities of Magnesium. I’ve ordered some Magnesium Taurate & oil & have taken one Epsom salt bath. I have taken Magnesium oxide in the past for constipation, but it just kind of helped. After reading your article I can see why. Do you ever recommend Niacin for migraines? I have heard of this because it helps open up your capillaries. Also, how do you find out if you have inflammatory bowel disease? I feel like my whole bowel system is messed up. It hasn’t been regular in years. Also, based on the information I’ve given you, if you could recommend how much oil & mag taurate I should take & if I can do them both at the same time. I’m ready for this to work! Thank you!!!

    I also posted this with same article on goodmedicine website.

  3. Suzanne says:

    My migraines have been getting to me more and more with my Dr not wanting to change anything…….so at least you have given me something to go ahead and try!!! And I will O.K. It with him when I see him in a week.


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