- As a college student, I started having headaches almost daily — nothing relieved the pain.
- Last year, a nurse practitioner suggested I take B2, aka riboflavin, and magnesium pills daily.
- Studies have found both can help with migraines, and now I can go days or weeks without headaches.
In January, I started a new practice I hoped would improve my life. When I wake up, I take two pills — vitamin B2 and magnesium. I'm still surprised at how such a simple act reduces my headaches.
Late last year, I had been having almost daily headaches for the past 12 years. My headaches started in college, where friends teased me for carrying around a plastic baggie full of pain-relief pills. Unfortunately, none of them helped. When I saw my doctor, I was told more than once that my headaches were likely due to allergies. My bloodwork always came back largely normal, which reassured me that nothing major was wrong but was frustrating because it didn't provide any solutions.
Most days, I could function as usual, pushing past the constant throb in the side of my head. I didn't consider my headaches debilitating even though they were. In my mind, I carried on as normal, even though for years this meant taking daily naps at my office by sitting on a toilet in a stall and resting my head on my knees.
A simple suggestion led me to become pain-free
In December, I saw a new healthcare provider. My headaches had been flaring badly, but I was used to powering through. When I mentioned them to the nurse practitioner during my appointment, it was just out of habit, one last thing to cross off my list.
She recommended I try a daily dose of vitamin B2 — also called riboflavin — and magnesium. While I wasn't hopeful, I was willing to try anything. Since my pharmacy didn't have the doses she'd recommended, I procrastinated on getting them. After I'd let weeks go by, I learned I could find them online. As I scrolled through positive reviews claiming headache relief, I started getting excited.
Studies have found links between B2 and magnesium and migraine relief
While I waited for the supplements to arrive, I browsed scholarly journals and saw that articles from as far back as the 1980s found a link between magnesium and migraines. One 2015 study found 400 mg of B2 a day worked just as well as sodium valproate — a medication for migraines that reduces the frequency but has bad side effects that B2 does not. Another study found similar results for magnesium oxide.
I've been taking both supplements daily since the beginning of this year and, for the first time in years, I can go days or sometimes even weeks without headaches. After my years of daily headaches, it's an incredible relief.
While they may not work for everyone, supplements are an effective option
Dr. Alexander Mauskop is a neurologist, headache specialist, and the director of the New York Headache Center. When it comes to using supplements to treat migraines, he said these aids "should be a regular recommendation, but often it's not."
He said he regularly prescribed magnesium and coenzyme Q, also known as ubiquinol.
Mauskop added that the evidence was strongest for magnesium and coenzyme Q: "We have good data showing that one-third of migraine sufferers are deficient in CoQ10."
Magnesium can help even if you don't appear deficient
The relationship between magnesium and migraines is even stronger.
"Magnesium can be helpful for up to 50% of people with migraines, so not everyone, only those who are deficient benefit from it," he said.
Knowing if you have a deficiency is not always easy. Mauskop said the routine magnesium blood test wouldn't necessarily detect a deficiency. It's more accurate for testing red-blood-cell magnesium, specifically.
Testing magnesium levels can be important because, Mauskop told me, about 20% of migraine sufferers with a magnesium deficiency can't absorb oral supplements. Most of the time, troubles with absorption lead to a magnesium deficiency from the start.
For those who have a deficiency but don't benefit from oral supplements or would rather not take them, Mauskop said monthly intravenous infusions of magnesium could work just as well.
However, he still recommends starting out with a pill, as it's a convenient option that can be effective.
"I would say 80% can get enough with oral supplements," he said. "They just have to increase the dose and they can get more absorbed."
Mauskop added that high doses, like the one I was recommended, might not be necessary.
After spending over 10 years longing for a fix, I wish more people knew about this — I never dreamed there could be such an easy solution to drastically reduce my pain. I hear people complain about migraines and chronic headaches all the time, and I can't emphasize enough how much this tiny change has helped me.
It's a simple, low-cost, low-effort solution to try, but if it works, it could be life-altering.