by Sierra Fawn Guay, MS, RDN, LDN, CBIS
Magnesium is involved in hundreds of reactions in our bodies and may play a role in preventing and treating headaches.
While severe magnesium deficiencies are rare, it is likely that most people consume inadequate amounts of this important mineral. According to the World Health Organization, food processing has led to a progressive decline in magnesium intake over the past century.
Research suggests that magnesium deficiency can lead to more frequent headaches since magnesium is involved in several processes such as neurotransmitter release and dilation of the blood vessels.
While the exact mechanism of magnesium in preventing and treating headaches remains unclear, there is growing evidence that adequate magnesium intake and/or supplemental magnesium may be used as a safe and affordable treatment for both tension-type headaches and migraines.
Consuming foods that are high in magnesium is essential. These foods include leafy greens (such as spinach, Swiss chard, and kale), legumes, nuts, and whole grains. On average, one cup of cooked chard contains more than 150 mg of magnesium. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of magnesium is 400-420 mg per day for adult males and 310-320 mg per day for adult females.
In addition to consuming foods that are high in magnesium, it may be appropriate to use magnesium supplements. While generally regarded as safe, it is important to discuss magnesium supplementation with your doctor because magnesium may interact with medications or cause unwanted symptoms such as diarrhea. Certain types of magnesium (such as magnesium citrate) are utilized more effectively by the body than other types. Magnesium supplements should be taken in divided doses (small doses multiple times per day), which should be increased gradually as tolerated.
To get started on increasing your magnesium intake, try the following magnesium-rich recipe.
Sautéed Swiss Chard with Ginger and Onions
½ cup wild rice, uncooked and rinsed
1 ¼ cups water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
1 bunch Swiss chard (preferably locally-grown), washed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste
In a small saucepan, add water and rice. Bring to a boil and stir once. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 35 minutes or to desired consistency. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes.
While rice is standing, heat oil in a pan. Add onion and sauté over medium heat until onion is translucent or to desired doneness. Add ginger and sauté for two minutes. Add chard and cook until wilted, about three minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
Mix rice and chard together. Serve hot as a main or side dish.
Sierra is a registered dietitian who works with brain injury survivors in Greenville, North Carolina.