Ask “Dr. Google” if multivitamins are necessary, and you’ll get a lot of opinions. Some articles feature doctors who emphatically say “no,” that you get all the nutrients you need from your diet. Others will tell you multivitamins are nothing more than expensive urine.
Yet, according to a 2019 survey, 77 percent of US adults take nutritional supplements, and the most popular are multivitamins. So, do the people who spout this nonsense actually believe more than half of us are so ill-informed and gullible that we would waste our money on something that provides no benefits?
I don’t need to make a case for the value of multivitamins—the majority of people obviously get it. However, this survey reveals a disturbing fact: Fewer men than women take supplements.
Men: Be Proactive About Your Health
Listen up, men. It’s every bit as important for you to be proactive about your health—maybe even more so.
A male’s life expectancy at birth is five years shorter than a female’s. We have higher death rates for eight of the 10 major killers, including heart disease, cancer, COPD, and diabetes, and we are much more likely to die from liver disease, accidents, and suicide. We also suffer with more chronic diseases and get them at an earlier age.
Doesn’t it make sense to take a few lessons from women, who are more likely to pay attention to their health and take steps to improve it? One of those steps is taking a daily multivitamin.
What to Look for In a Multivitamin
A key consideration in evaluating multivitamins is the doses of key nutrients. Almost all multivitamins include the major vitamins and minerals required for human health. Many, however, contain little more than the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) or DV (Daily Value) for each nutrient.
These guidelines are supposed to be “sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all healthy people.” But are they enough to promote optimal health—or to make up for elevated nutritional needs brought on by injuries, chronic diseases, and other stressors?
Also, since 40 percent of US adults are obese, 33 percent are hypertensive, and 50 percent are on one or more prescription drugs, just who are these “healthy people?”
That’s why I recommend a more complete daily multivitamin, one that contains optimal levels of key vitamins and minerals.
Essential Vitamins & Minerals for Men
Here are some things every man should look for in a multivitamin:
- Antioxidants. You need vitamins A, C, E, selenium, and zinc to boost your body’s defenses against oxidative stress. An added bonus for men: Zinc also supports prostate health. Recommended daily doses: vitamin A (4,500 mcg), beta-carotene (4,500 mcg RAE/retinol activity equivalents), vitamin C (1,000 mg), vitamin E (130–150 mg), selenium (200 mcg), zinc (30 mg).
- B vitamins. All men need the protective benefits of B vitamins. Because vitamin B12 absorption decreases with age, the best multivitamins for men over age 50 have a hefty dose of B12. Recommended daily doses: B12 preferably in the methylcobalamin form (150–500 mcg, with the higher doses for men over 50) folate (1,334 mcg) DFE.
- Calcium & magnesium. Yes, men need extra calcium too, especially as they get older. Calcium should be balanced with magnesium, an essential mineral for cardiovascular function and overall health. Recommended daily doses: calcium (1,000 mg), magnesium (250–500 mg).
- Vitamin D. Even the best multivitamins rarely contain enough vitamin D3 to keep your blood level in the optimal range of 50–80 ng/mL. Recommended daily dose: vitamin D3 (2,000–5,000 IU) for a couple of months, then have your vitamin D blood level tested and adjust your dose as needed.
- No iron. Most men get enough iron in their diet, and excess iron is a risk factor for heart disease and other health problems. Unless you’ve been diagnosed with iron deficiency, make sure your multi is iron-free.
A few more things to note. While taking one pill a day may be convenient, the best multivitamins—meaning those which contain the right nutrients in the right doses—often come in packets with multiple capsules or tablets.
Also, water-soluble nutrients need to be replenished periodically, so your multivitamin should be taken in divided doses at least twice a day.
Watch Out for “Sizzle”
Another thing you need to be aware of is what I call “sizzle.” Multivitamins for men often contain additional ingredients that specifically benefit male health—but in amounts so small they can’t possibly do any good. Nevertheless, these ingredients are boldly listed on product labels as a marketing ploy.
Common additions include miniscule amounts of lycopene, saw palmetto, and other botanicals that—if they actually gave you the research doses—would support prostate health. But not in the paltry amounts they include.
One well-known vitamin brand has a very small dose of L-arginine, which gives them bragging rights about “sexual energy”—but the amount is far too small to actually deliver that benefit. Another vitamin formula I’ve seen has a 20 mg “cardio blend” of coenzyme Q10, resveratrol, and hawthorn—yet, the effective dose is at least 100 mg of each of these nutrients!
I don’t like to call out supplement companies—they get enough grief from opponents of integrative medicine. But this is wrong. Don’t fall for sizzle.
Do Men & Women Need Different Multis?
In closing, I want to answer a common question: Should men and women take different multivitamins?
Of course, men and women are different, but we’re all human and we have far more similarities than differences. I am not saying one size always fits all, but sex is not the best determinant of nutritional needs. Age, lifestyle factors, and state of health are actually more appropriate gauges.
My advice—whether you’re male or female, young or old, healthy or sick—is to look for a multi that contains the key vitamins and minerals listed above, in the most effective doses. It doesn’t matter if a supplement is marketed for young men, for men over 50, or for all ages and both sexes. Taking a comprehensive daily multivitamin that covers your basic micronutrient needs is an important step on the path to optimal health.