A Dietitian’s Take: If you only take one supplement, this is the one to pick

Taking a multivitamin is a daily routine for half of American adults. In theory, they can fill in the nutritional gaps that your diet may not have been able to. Even if you eat the “best” diet, supplements can help fully optimize your health, but multivitamins may not actually be the answer. If you asked me which vitamin is most worth it, I’d say magnesium.

What about taking a multivitamin?

Although multivitamins are designed to cover all bases by giving you a combination of nutrients, things don’t actually happen that easily. So far, no studies have shown that multivitamins truly improve health. In fact, five recent studies have reported that they don’t improve cardiovascular health, reduce COVID-19 deaths, or improve other markers of overall health.

Moreover, the benefits that do show up might just be in people’s minds. One study, including data from over 21,000 U.S. adults, found that 30 percent reported improvement in overall health while taking multivitamins, yet there weren’t any actual differences between those who took them and those who didn’t.

According to the June 2022 United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendations, there is not enough evidence out there to fully assess the health benefits and risks of multivitamin use. This further drives home that the health impacts are at best inconclusive, and it’s been this way for a while now.

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral that plays a crucial role in every part of the body, from the muscles to the brain, kidneys, and heart. A typical rule of thumb is that if a food is green or has fiber, it has magnesium in it. Foods like avocado, almonds, and spinach are considered to be good sources.

Foods that are high in magnesium
(Photo by Evan Lorne on Shutterstock)

If it’s in food, why would I need a supplement?

Health experts consistently report that many people in the U.S. do not get enough of magnesium through food. This equally goes for people who eat lots of plant-based foods and people who eat more of a standard American (Western) diet. The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is close to 420 mg/day, but Americans are averaging closer to 200 mg daily. This is due to the fact that there are simply a lot of ways that magnesium is either depleted from our bodies and our environment, such as:

  • Drinking alcohol regularly
  • GI conditions like celiac disease
  • Poor soil quality due to harmful agricultural practices (leading to much lower magnesium content in foods that would typically be high in it)
  • Certain medications
  • Stress

What can the supplements help with?

Signs of magnesium deficiency can be much more common than you might think. Debilitating period cramps, consistent muscle pains and aches, and poor sleep are all examples. Magnesium deficiency is also highly implicated in hypertension and Type 2 diabetes, two of the most common chronic diseases in the world. The mineral regulates salt and potassium (and therefore blood pressure), as well as blood sugar, so running low on it can be a key driver for both of these.

Better sleep quality and mental health management are also some of the most popular reasons for taking the supplement. One psychologist calls it “the original chill pill,” thanks to it showing great promise in patients with depression, anxiety, insomnia, and stress management.

Magnesium can effectively reduce, and possibly even stop seizures as they are happening. Epilepsy continues to be a growing concern, particularly due to there being few medical interventions that work well for people with it. The mineral can penetrate the brain and confer protection in this population.

There are tons of other benefits that have been discovered as well:

Bottom Line

It’s almost as if magnesium is a multivitamin in and of itself, right? Magnesium can be a powerful tool to maximize your wellness through all of its various functions in the body, and there are even more than mentioned here. But as always, nutrition and supplementation is an individual process. Be sure to work with your own dietitian and/or physician to do what is best for your unique circumstances and lifestyle.

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