Dietary surveys performed in Western countries show magnesium intakes lower than the recommended dietary allowances, suggesting a large prevalence of magnesium deficiency. Low brain magnesium as well as impaired magnesium metabolism have also been reported in various diseases such as migraine. To detect these deficiencies, a non-invasive and sensitive test assessing magnesium status is needed. Because magnesium is an intracellular cation, either total or ionized magnesium (Mg(2+)) of blood cells were suggested as the most adequate tests. Total magnesium levels in plasma, erythrocytes and lymphocytes and Mg(2+) in lymphocytes were analyzed in a group of 29 migraine patients and 18 control subjects. Results show significantly lower concentrations of total magnesium in erythrocytes (50.7+/-4.7 vs. 53.5+/-2.9 mg/l; P<0.01) and of Mg(2+) in lymphocytes (12.0+/-3.5 vs. 14.2+/-3.8 mg/l; P<0.05) in migraine patients as compared to controls. While a significant difference of mean values was noted between migraine patients and controls, an overlap of individual values was observed. These analyses were repeated on migraine patients before and after a 2-week intake of a mineral water containing 110 mg/l magnesium, and a significant increase in all intracellular magnesium concentrations with no effect on plasma magnesium was observed. These increased intracellular magnesium concentrations demonstrate the bioavailability of magnesium from this mineral water. Among the analyzed parameters, Mg(2+) in lymphocytes appears to be the most sensitive index of magnesium deficiency with a 15% decrease in migraine patients when compared to controls and a 16% increase after 2 weeks of a magnesium-rich mineral water intake.