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    What Vitamins Should I Take?

    Are the little packs of vitamins at the checkout all you need?
    WebMD Health News

    May 22, 2000 -- I often see little packs of vitamins labeled 'especially for men' at check-out counters and I wonder, are they a good idea or just marketing hype? I'd say they're mostly hype. The mini-pack approach to vitamins and herbs usually offers convenience rather than substance or value. And placing them by the check-out counter suggests they're being marketed as an impulse buy -- the same strategy used to sell candy bars or magazines. The time to make decisions about supplements is not while waiting on line or chatting with the cashier.

    Your choice of supplement products should be based on an examination of your personal health needs and which products are right for you, rather than an impulse purchase. Of course, that takes a little more time and study.

    Paying a little extra for convenience may not be worth it. Here's a rundown on the drawbacks:

    1. You may not be getting much of anything. The small vitamin packs often have minimal levels of the same nutrients that are much more plentiful in conventionally packaged products.

    2. The one-shot fix may sound like a good thing, but it doesn't give you the benefit of steady nutrient levels throughout the day. If you're serious about supplements, it's best to spread them out over three meals, or at least take them twice a day.

    3. "Energy" supplements are usually stimulants that can be potentially harmful. For example, ephedra (the plant source of ephedrine) is often touted as an energy-boosting herb. It can cause liver and kidney damage and high blood pressure, among other complications. Panax ginseng, also promoted as an energy booster, can cause side effects such as anxiety and insomnia with long-term use.

    4. Many of the supplement packets labeled "for men" may be unnecessary for you or misleadingly hyped. Many packets contain a little extra zinc, or perhaps the herbs saw palmetto or Pygeum africanum. These can support prostate function and sexual health in middle-aged and older men who are vulnerable to certain problems, but only if taken consistently on a long-term basis. They are not particularly beneficial to younger men, and are certainly not one-time performance enhancers for men of any age.

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