Dr Paul Clayton 2014
In an ideal world, you would get all the nutrition you need from the food you eat. But these days that’s wishful thinking. It might well have been true 50 or 60 years ago, when men were far more physically active and ate more. More food means more nutrients.
Men need vitamins from supplements as they eat less
Today’s low energy, sedentary, and largely indoor lifestyles mean that most men have had to cut their average daily food intake to about 2,500 calories a day – or even less – if they are not to put on weight.
Less food means fewer nutrients. Even if you choose and mix your foods scrupulously, I calculate you cannot get a full range and amount of the most protective nutrients including essential vitamins at today’s calorie intakes.
The evidence supports this. According to the latest US Department of Agriculture surveys, men need to consume 350% more dark green vegetables and 150% more fruit per day in order to meet dietary guidelines. The situation is almost the same in the UK. In fact, men are deficient in most vitamin and minerals. And it gets worse.
RDAs are a minimum, not the amounts needed for optimal health
The survey only assessed men’s intakes of those vitamins and minerals for which there are RDAs – Recommended Daily Amounts. But these were established (mostly in the late ’60s) as the amounts needed in order not to develop a “deficiency” and its associated disease or health condition.
For example, the minimum daily requirement for Vitamin C is 60mg in the UK and 90 mg in the USA. Less than this amount over an extended period and you will develop scurvy. But although taking 60/90 mg will prevent scurvy, it is not necessarily the amount needed for optimal health. And scurvy is not a common disease!
Another example: Up to 70% of men in northern countries are deficient in Vitamin D in winter months. And low vitamin D is also associated with loss of bone density, increased risk of cancer, auto-immune disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.
And these are just two of the vitamins for which there ARE RDAs.
Beyond the best vitamins to the best multi-nutrient supplements
We now know that some of the most important nutrients for long term health have not yet had RDAs established for them: such as the omega 3 fatty acids and the polyphenols, both of which have critically important anti-inflammatory properties.
Why do men need anti-inflammatory nutrients? Because they protect us against what’s called ‘chronic sub-clinical inflammation’, an insidious and invisible process that develops in our tissues and which is now known to drive all the degenerative diseases, from cancer to Alzheimer’s to heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis; not to mention sexual dysfunction, ageing of the skin, and indeed the bulk of the ageing process itself.
There is overwhelming evidence that omega 3 fish oil is heart-protective, helps to protect brain function and has a role to play in reducing the risk of cancer. But few men have sufficient omega 3 in their normal diet. You would need to eat 3-4 portions of oily fish such as herring, mackerel, sardines or wild salmon (not farmed) a week.
There is equally good evidence to support the importance of polyphenols (a group of phyto-nutrients found in fruits and vegetables) to our long-term health. So much so that the American Cancer Society and many other authorities now recommend nine portions of fruit and vegetables a day!
The importance of combating internal inflammation
Omega 3s and polyphenols are important because they are anti-inflammatory nutrients which protect us from the silent danger of chronic sub-clinical inflammation; the trigger for the health problems we formerly assumed would inevitably increase with age. As Scientific American confirmed in a major review:
“Inflammation is an underlying contributor to virtually every chronic disease … rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes and depression, along with major killers such as heart disease and stroke. The connection between inflammation and cancer has now moved to center stage in the research arena.”
We now know, however, that these dangers can be lessened by taking two simple steps. Firstly, we must reduce pro-inflammatory factors in our lifestyle, like high temperature cooking, fast foods, smoking and lack of exercise.
Men need anti-inflammatory nutrients from food and supplements
Secondly, we should increase the level of anti-inflammatory nutrients in our diet. That’s why eating more fruits, vegetables and oily fish is so important.
But as I said before, it’s difficult to get enough anti-inflammatory nutrients from food alone when we are only eating less than 2,500 calories a day. And that’s why I recommend taking nutritional supplements – some of the best are those which include polyphenols derived from curcumin, green tea and grapeseed extract.
Best supplements for men from your 30s upwards
You need anti-inflammatory vitamins and other nutrients even in your 30s and 40s, because over time, inflammation causes slowly progressive damage in the tissues. The symptoms of heart disease, for example, may only become overt in your 60s or 70s – but the damage leading up to the emergence of clinical symptoms will have been gradually accumulating for decades.
For men over 50, when the powers of healing and regeneration are no longer as effective as they were in youth, and testosterone levels reduce (the andropause), there are further protective supplement steps you can take.
For example, the evidence for the carotenoid supplements such as beta carotene, lutein and lycopene is persuasive. Lutein appears to have a protective effect for eyes and the laboratory research for the prostate protective effect of lycopene is increasingly convincing.
I would also add betaine. This is a little known nutrient, but in combination with certain B vitamins like folic acid it helps lower homocysteine levels – and lower homocysteine levels in the blood are linked to lower heart disease risk.
I would then add Co-enzyme Q10 – which helps the transfer of energy from food – and soy isoflavones. Soy isoflavones are one of the dietary elements that contribute to the generally better health and life expectancy of the Japanese men and women.
The lessons for men from the longest-lived healthiest societies in the world
All these nutrients occur in high levels in the diets of those societies that have a long life expectancy and health expectancy – and overall, it’s a combination designed to reproduce the elements in an ideal diet.
Although food and supplements cannot treat or cure age-related disease, they can create a climate in the body where disease is less likely to develop or worsen, and where the body’s own ability to heal itself is supported.
Are the best vitamins those which are labelled as exclusively for men?
No – don’t bother with vitamin and mineral supplements labelled as being exclusively for men. These are marketing gimmicks. We’re all human and we all need almost the same vitamins and minerals.
The only exception is iron. Excess iron in men can potentially accumulate to the point where it becomes pro-inflammatory and pro-oxidative, so you don’t need it. In fact it can be dangerous.
Don’t men need specialist vitamins too?
There are specialist supplements marketed for eyes, skin, bones, heart or brain. But why would you try to protect one vital organ and leave others undefended? Especially when the secret of brain, eye, heart and indeed sexual health, lies in reducing the tissue damage inflicted by chronic inflammation.
And don’t succumb to the more is better idea. Mega doses of individual vitamins or minerals can be dangerous.
You can now see why the best vitamins for men are NOT the A-Z pills, which have little impact on reducing long-term ag-related illness. They are only designed to avoid deficiency diseases. They have little or no anti-inflammatory effect and so cannot combat what is seen as the key driver of age-related health decline, namely chronic inflammation.
Only a comprehensive nutrient support programme can do that.