Q: My doctor recommended I take a magnesium supplement to help my restless legs. Can I just buy any one from the pharmacy?

A: This is a great question, and raises a very important topic for anyone taking over the counter supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, or other health products.

In short, the answer is no, you should not buy just any bottle of magnesium you find at the pharmacy. Here are the factors you should consider:

Brand Differences:

Just like with clothing, food, or tools, some companies have more strict standards and quality control measures, and use higher quality ingredients/materials. This is important for vitamins, minerals, and supplements, as you ingest them and they can have a direct effect on your health. You will find the biggest selection of high quality brands at a natural health food store or from a Naturopathic Doctor.

Different forms of vitamins & minerals:

Magnesium, for example, is available as magnesium citrate, glycinate, oxide, malate, and more. Each form will react a little different in the body, and will have a different bioavailability (how well the body utilizes it), therefore providing slightly different benefits. Magnesium malate is a great option for restless legs, but you should still run that by your doctor before taking it. Whether you want to take protein powder, zinc, or Vitamin C, the right form could make a big difference for your body and health.

Another thing to note is that some vitamins and minerals are sold as a synthetic (often cheaper) version. While this isn’t always a bad thing, often times the synthetic version is not as good of quality as the naturally occuring version. Folate is a great example, which is important for cell growth and DNA formation, especially during pregnancy. Supplements often use folic acid, which is the synthetic version of folate. While many resources will tell you they are the same and have the same benefits, they are not, and should not be used interchangeably. Supplements that source their vitamins and minerals from real food sources will most likely have the naturally-occuring form of the nutrient in their product.

Ingredient list:

Just like when you buy a bottle of salad dressing, there are often more ingredients that you would expect. Fillers, stabilizers, preservatives…the list goes on. You’ll want to check the ingredient list for anything you might react to, such as gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, dyes, artificial flavours, sweeteners, or other unnecessary ingredients.

Additional Tips:

Always do a bit of research before you purchase a product. You’ll be more familiar with the options and what is right for you. Check out reviews online, and talk to a pharmacist and/or the staff at the health food store you are shopping at, depending on what you are buying. When in doubt, a naturopathic doctor is a great resource for supplement information.