Life Extension Magazine®

Woman working with migraine supplementing with magnesium

Control Underlying Factors Behind Migraines

Migraines are more than just headaches. They can cause lasting neurological damage that leads to dementia and stroke. Two natural agents calm and balance the storm of neurotransmitters that contribute to a migraine, providing effective natural migraine prevention.

Scientifically reviewed by: Julia Dosik, MPH, in August 2023. Written by: Stephen Grant.

Control Underlying Factors Behind Migraines  

Migraines are more than just headaches. They are serious disorders that can cause lasting neurological damage and increase the risk of stroke as well as dementia.1-5

Large-scale epidemiological studies reveal that in the US, around 16-22% of adults reported migraine or severe headache symptoms.6 Migraines and severe head pain are significant public health concerns with head pain representing the fifth leading cause of emergency room visits each year.6

As scientists delve into the biochemistry of the human brain, they are discovering that migraines can cause lasting damage that is similar to the changes seen in seizures, strokes, and dementia.1,2,7 Physicians are finding that a patient’s history of migraines can be a risk factor for some of the most-feared chronic brain disorders.1-5,7

Current migraine treatments include drugs originally developed for treating epilepsy.8-10 In the short-term, these drugs are effective because they help reduce the over-excitation in the brain that produces a seizure or a migraine.9 But as with most pharmaceutical drugs, they are fraught with side effects and fail to address the underlying cause.8,10

As scientists searched for treatment alternatives to anti-epileptic drugs, they uncovered two compounds that provide a therapeutic dual action against the changes in the brain that lead to migraines.

Both of these substances, gastrodin and magnesium, are thought to modulate the sudden changes in neurotransmitters that can set off a crippling migraine as well as support healthy blood flow to the brain. Gastrodin and magnesium work to calm and balance the storm of neurotransmitters that can lead to a migraine while nourishing the brain with improved blood flow.11-14

This article explains how gastrodin and magnesium provide relief and protection for sufferers of migraine headaches.

The Inner Workings Of A Migraine

While we still have much to learn, scientists are discovering that migraines share several basic features with other brain disorders.

Before and during a migraine attack, blood flow in specific brain regions begins to drop, causing disturbances in the brain’s balance and affecting neurological function.15-17 A reduction in brain blood flow also occurs during a stroke, and more gradually in the condition known as vascular dementia, which reduces your ability to reason and maintain memories.1,18 In all three cases, the result is increased vulnerability of brain cells to dysfunction, degeneration, and eventually death.1

Brain scans show that people with migraines have visible abnormalities that are similar to those seen in stroke victims and in people with dementia.19,20 And some studies suggest that people with chronic migraines are at an increased risk for strokes and dementia.3-5

In addition to problems with blood flow to the brain, people with migraines show a harmful imbalance in the brain’s excitatory and inhibitory activity.2,21,22

Normally, the brain maintains a healthy balance between excitatory and inhibitory activity by modulating the relative amounts of neurotransmitters that brain cells use to communicate across their connections, or synapses.

Sudden and excessive excitation of brain cells, combined with insufficient amounts of input from the calming GABA neurotransmitter, produces the electrical “storm” we see as an epileptic seizure.6 It’s now thought that a milder version of this process occurs during a migraine.7,23 The longer-term effects of this imbalance result in a condition called excitotoxicity, which also occurs in strokes and in the neurodegenerative disorders that produce dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease.1

Because the imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters is common to both migraines and to seizures, neurologists have begun exploring anti-epileptic drugs in the treatment of migraines. Such drugs generally elevate the GABA-related activity in the brain in an attempt to move the brain’s balance back to normal.9,10

But seizure drugs are extremely powerful medicines with plenty of adverse effects, and physicians and patients alike are understandably reluctant to use them continuously to prevent migraine attacks.8,10

Gastrodin: A Powerful, Multi-Targeted Brain Shield

Gastrodin: A Powerful, Multi-Targeted Brain Shield  

The extract of the root of the orchid Gastrodia elata has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine formulas, especially for disorders involving the central nervous system.24

Studies show that gastrodin-based formulations improve brain blood flow, which is commonly reduced during migraines.13,15,24 This benefit of gastrodin has been used successfully in China to treat stroke victims, whose decrease in brain blood flow is potentially life-threatening.25-27

Gastrodin’s most exciting mechanism of action stems from its ability to modulate both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters, which makes it particularly beneficial to migraine patients.12,27-30

Laboratory studies demonstrate that gastrodin inhibits the enzymes that break down the calming GABA neurotransmitter. By blocking these enzymes, gastrodin helps raise GABA levels back to normal.12,28

While increasing the calming GABA, gastrodin also decreases levels of excitatory neurotransmitters in a brain stressed by reduced blood flow.27,29,30

Restoring this balance has been shown to be neuro-protective, even against the massive decrease in brain blood flow seen in strokes.27,29

The cumulative impact of gastrodin’s increase in blood flow and reduction in the excitatory/inhibitory ratio may be behind its impressive success in clinical trials for migraine relief.31

In a study of 90 migraine patients, the subjects were given either gastrodin (50 mg three times daily) or the prescription drug flunarizine (a calcium channel blocker that may enhance blood flow) over a 6-week period.31 Both treatments were equally effective at reducing both the duration and total number of migraine attacks. However, gastrodin was more effective than the drug overall, with a higher proportion of people achieving a benefit of 91% compared with just 76% in the drug-treated group.31

In other studies gastrodin showed a higher overall therapeutic effective rate vs. flunarizine.32-34

Clearly, gastrodin’s ability to boost brain blood flow, shield brain cells from excitotoxicity, and restore the calming inhibitory effects of GABA is effective in migraine headaches as well as in the more immediately-threatening disorders like strokes.27,29,31 Now let’s look at the element magnesium to see how it augments gastrodin for comprehensive migraine prevention.

What You Need to Know
Minimize Migraine Attacks

Minimize Migraine Attacks

  • Migraine headaches are common and debilitating.
  • Mainstream medicine has made little progress at preventing these excruciating episodes, while evidence is accumulating that recurrent migraines place you at risk for strokes and dementia over the long-term.
  • Mainstream medicine has turned to anti-epileptic drugs that treat seizures because of a strong similarity between the brain chemistry of seizures and migraines, but these drugs are burdened with many side effects.
  • Two natural substances, gastrodin and magnesium, work on similar biochemical pathways to anti-epileptic drugs to restore the balance of brain neurotransmitters and calm the excited brains of migraine sufferers.
  • As a bonus, both gastrodin and magnesium boost brain blood flow, which is diminished at the outset of a migraine headache.
  • Gastrodin and magnesium have proven safe and effective in clinical trials of migraine and many other serious neurological conditions.
  • Magnesium Complements Gastrodin For Migraines

Magnesium is essential in controlling brain electrical activity, especially with regard to brain blood flow and modulating the excitatory-to-inhibitory actions of brain cells.35 Studies show that up to 50% of migraine patients are deficient in the amounts of magnesium in their blood during an attack, and that they can have a high ratio of calcium to magnesium.36-38 This imbalance sets the stage for the contraction of brain blood vessels resulting in a reduction of blood flow. Because of this benefit, magnesium is increasingly indicated for migraine prevention.14,36-38

Treatment with magnesium does increase both brain blood flow and its velocity, as shown by researchers using high-tech Doppler ultrasound to look through the skull and measure blood flow velocity in a major brain artery.39,40

Like gastrodin, magnesium also has beneficial effects on the balance of excitatory to inhibitory neurotransmitter signaling in the brain. Magnesium is a natural blocker of an excitatory receptor on brain cells, so when ample magnesium is available, those receptors don’t trigger the excitatory electrical impulse.41-43 This allows the brain to move into its more balanced, calm mode. In addition to blocking excitatory receptors, magnesium also supports brain GABA activity, helping to induce a calming environment and further reduce the excessive brain electrical activity associated with migraines and seizures.44

And magnesium supplementation has now been proven to be effective at preventing migraine headaches.40,45-49

One early study evaluated women with migraine during their menstrual cycles, a common time for attacks to increase.45 Using 360 mg of magnesium daily vs. placebo, researchers showed that the number of days with headache was reduced only in the magnesium group. Magnesium also improved premenstrual complaints.

A broader study of migraine patients demonstrated a significant reduction in the incidence of migraine headaches using a dose of 600 mg/day of trimagnesium dicitrate.46 Another, similar study showed that irritation of facial and neck muscles, common in migraines, was also reduced by magnesium supplementation.47 The frequency of migraine attacks was reduced by nearly 42% in a group treated with trimagnesium dicitrate 600 mg/day, compared with around 15% of placebo-treated subjects.48

Several dramatic studies have now appeared in which complete elimination of migraine pain was accomplished using intravenous magnesium citrate. One study revealed an 80% rate of pain resolution within 15 minutes of the injection, along with complete elimination of hypersensitivity to light or sound, common migraine features.50 Another study found response to treatment in 100% of those given the IV magnesium (7% in placebo), with complete disappearance of pain in 87% (0% of placebo); all patients receiving IV magnesium had resolution of accompanying symptoms.51

In total, at least half a dozen good clinical trials have now demonstrated the utility of oral magnesium in the form of magnesium oxide and trimagnesium dicitrate for preventing migraines and reducing their severity.40,45-48,52,53 Intravenous magnesium sulfate has proven its effectiveness in hospitals, including emergency room departments, to treat an existing migraine headache.49-51,54

What Makes A Headache A Migraine?
What Makes A Headache A Migraine?

Migraine headaches are now ranked in the top 20 on the World Health Organization’s list of diseases causing disability worldwide.55 There are two major subtypes of migraines.

Migraines without auras are the most common type.57 These headaches have a higher attack frequency and are usually more disabling than migraines with auras.58

A typical migraine without aura lasts as little as 4 hours and as long as 72, with classic symptoms of a single-sided headache, pulsating pain of moderate or severe intensity, along with nausea (and often vomiting) and an aversion to light or sounds.55 These headaches are aggravated by routine physical activity.57

Migraines with auras involve recurrent episodes of localized neurological symptoms (weakness, tingling, ringing in the ears, etc.) that develop over 5 to 20 minutes and last usually for less than an hour (the aura itself).57 A headache like that of a migraine without aura usually, but not always, follows the aura symptoms.

“Premonitory” symptoms, or warning signs of a migraine, can occur hours to a few days prior to a migraine attack; these arise both in people with auras and those without, and these symptoms should not be confused with the presence of an aura. Such symptoms include fatigue, concentration difficulty, and muscle stiffness particularly in the neck.59



Migraine headaches are common, affecting 18% of American women and 6% of men.55 They rank near the top of disorders that cause debilitation and loss of work or recreational time.55 And mainstream medicine has yet to find a safe, long-term way to prevent migraines before they begin.56

Two natural substances, gastrodin and magnesium, have shown efficacy in preventing and sometimes treating migraine headaches. Both work to improve brain blood flow, which is decreased at the beginning of a migraine attack.13,24,28,31,37 Both also act in specific (but different) ways to increase brain concentrations of the calming neurotransmitter GABA, while reducing the impact of the excitatory, potentially damaging neurotransmitter glutamate.11,12,14,27,28,35,37

These two natural compounds act in similar ways to the desired effects of the anti-epileptic drugs now in widespread use in migraine treatment, and for good reason.12,14,44 Anti-epileptic drugs lower excitatory glutamate levels while boosting calming GABA levels, similar to gastrodin and magnesium. The downside to these drugs, however, are side effects that decrease their usefulness in the long-term.8-10

If you suffer from migraine headaches, gastrodin formulations and magnesium have been shown to calm the brain, reduce dangerous levels of excitotoxicity, and minimize or eliminate migraine headaches.12,27,28,30,39,40,54-56 This is especially important as we learn how much migraines have in common with debilitating disorders such as strokes and dementia—and how greatly migraines raise your risk for those conditions.1-5,7

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.

How Anti-Epileptic Drugs Mitigate Migraines
How Anti-Epileptic Drugs Mitigate Migraines

Migraine headaches and epileptic seizures share many clinical and biochemical features.2,7 They both occur in unpredictable episodes, though the onset of individual attacks may be preceded by a warning aura. Within the brain, both involve an imbalance between neuronal excitation and inhibition, with excitation coming out on top and explaining most of the symptoms.2

These similarities have led many physicians to use anti-epileptic drugs “off-label,” to attempt to prevent migraine headaches.8-10,60 Three drugs in particular, valproic acid, gabapentin, and topiramate, are heavily used in this fashion.

All of these drugs act by increasing concentrations of the neurotransmitter GABA, which has a calming, inhibitory effect on the brain. These and other drugs also appear to reduce concentrations of excitatory glutamate, further restoring a normal balance.9

But all anti-epileptic drugs have serious side effects that become increasingly likely with long-term use.8,10 In 2008, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that all anti-epileptic drugs are associated with increased risk of suicidal ideation and behavior.8

Fortunately, magnesium, act on similar biochemical pathways as anti-epileptic drugs to quell excitation and promote brain cell relaxation in migraine sufferers.11,12,14,27,28,35,37

Editor's Note

Science continues to evolve, and new research is published daily. As such, we have a more recent article on this topic: CoQ10 Targets the Cause of Migraine Headaches


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