Running past the Headache. A case study of how Magnesium may be able help.

September 11, 2017

“The alarm beeps at 6am. She pours some magnesium powder into one of her three water bottles, straps them to her waist and is off before anyone in the house is awake”.

If you have a performance problem like headaches, case studies are a vital key to discover trends and uncover patterns.  In this runner, I analyzed and documented her symptoms over a span of a two months. The findings: A pattern of running any distance over 10 km would result in a three-day post-run headache. Not fun.

No amount of Tylenol or Advil could alleviate this constant throbbing headache. Something had to change and quitting running wan not an option!

We began supplementing with magnesium.  Please note, it is important to taper the dose to avoid episodes of diarrhea, and you need to do this with the support of your Naturopathic Doctor. With this small change, the headaches never materialized and energy later in the day improved. The musculoskeletal benefits also gave sore joints a break and lessened post-run pain.

By alleviating the headache symptoms, she could continue training and more importantly move on with her amazing life.  Great news for the patient. Let’s find out what was happening on a physiological level.

The body makes energy using the Kreb’s cycle, remember high school biology? Well, magnesium is a part of this cycle which makes it crucial for energy metabolism and ATP production.  Magnesium supplementation is attributed to the afternoon energy perk she was feeling.

A deficiency in magnesium can lead to fatigue, muscle cramps/twitches and reduced performance. Other factors such as posture and gait can come into play. In this athlete, the tension headaches were being created from the additional stress around the neck and shoulders.  By giving the body the tools it needs recovery, it can work in synergy to address these issues.

Serotonin receptors, nitric oxide synthesis and release, and a variety of other neurotransmitters are affected by magnesium concentrations, which may be why it had such profound effects on the post run headaches.

Athletes may put further magnesium demands on their body via strenuous training and sweating. These demands may increase magnesium requirements by 10-20%. Therefore, an adequate intake can reduce athletic fatigue on the nervous system and reduce accumulation of lactic acid.

It is important to understand that this blog is not medical advice, not every case is as straightforward and that not every supplement is beneficial for everyone.  I work with my patients to create individualized treatment plans according to what systems are under stress and which systems require further support.  The big take away is – don’t ignore your symptoms. They are your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.  Let’s work together so you can change, explore and live!


Dr. Jennifer Tanner, has a broad, evidence based practice with a focus on sports and performance based medicine. Being a marathon runner and having been a competitive equestrian, an active lifestyle is important. Dr. Tanner uses a variety of tools including Acupuncture and Clinical Nutrition, putting an emphasis on “food as medicine” and addressing the root causes of inflammation . In conjunction with the Integrative Health team, Dr. Tanner is thrilled to help people achieve an optimal state of health and pursue their performance based health goals!

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