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Vitamin and Mineral Supplements for Men

Experts weigh in on whether men should take vitamin and mineral supplements.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

In an ideal world, everyone would get all the nutrition, all the vitamins and minerals they need from the food they eat. But…

"That's wishful thinking," says Chicago-based dietitian David Grotto, RD, the author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life and a former spokesman for the American Dietetic Association.

How wishful? Very, especially for men. According to the USDA, men aged 31 to 50 need to eat 350% more dark green vegetables and 150% more fruit per day in order to meet federal dietary guidelines. In fact, men have deficits in nearly every nutritional category. Meat and beans are an unsurprising exception.  

To Supplement or Not to Supplement

What's a guy to do? Pop a vitamin pill and leave it at that? Not so fast, says Howard Sesso, ScD, MPH, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and project director of the Physicians' Health Study II, which followed nearly 15,000 male doctors over the course of 10 years to evaluate the potential health benefits of four of the most popular vitamins: C, E, beta carotene, and multivitamins.

"Studies over the last few years have suggested that individual supplements don't have benefits," Sesso tells WebMD.  

In one large study, Sesso and his fellow researchers found that neither vitamin E or C lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease. That study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in November 2008. In a study published in JAMA in January 2009, the same team reported that taking supplements of vitamins E and C did not lower a man's risk of developing prostate or total cancers.

However, other studies have been more positive. PHS II researchers reported in 2007 that beta carotene supplements might have brain benefits if taken regularly over many years. Beta carotene, taken along with vitamins C and E and zinc, might also slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration, a cause of blindness.

So, where does that leave us? Still short of certainty.

"You have to look at the totality of evidence in order to come up with recommendations," says Andrew Shao, PhD, senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade organization that represents the nearly $25 billion-a-year supplement industry.

And there's still plenty of evidence to be gathered.

Multiple Choice

Research into supplements continues at a brisk pace. Sesso, for example, is nearing the end stages of a study on multivitamins.

One possible reason that individual supplements fared so poorly in trials – and why food sources are widely held to be superior to supplements – is because their benefits may depend on the interactions of a particular food's components. In other words, the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts. Take strawberries, a rich source of vitamin C and other nutrients, Sesso says.

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