Men’s Health Supplement Guide Overwhelmed by the vitamin aisle?

Here’s what your body needs—and what it doesn’t

Men's Health Supplement Guide


What it does: Vitamin A is an antioxidant, and it’s also essential to maintaining low light and color vision, mucus membranes (which help to protect your body from disease), and skin cells.

Why you might need it: People with higher levels of vitamin A report a lower risk of lung cancer, though the benefits didn’t extend to supplements—only to those who made foods with vitamin A an integral part of their diet.

Where to get it: Kale, carrots, spinach, and sweet potatoes are great sources of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. Most multivitamins also contain vitamin A, or you can take it on its own. Too much can be toxic, and guidelines by the Institute of Medicine say not to supplement with more than 10,000 IU per day.


What it does: Acetyl L-carnitine is a form of the amino acid L-carnitine, which moves fatty acids into the mitochondria of your cells—particularly muscle cells—to be burned for energy, and then moves the waste generated by that reaction back out to be discarded.

Why you might need it: It heals your brain and improves metabolism. An Italian study found that taking acetyl L-carnitine reduced depressive symptoms in alcoholics, and a study at the University of Massachusetts found that it improved memory and cognitive performance in older adults. Acetyl L-carnitine may also protect you from heart attacks, according to a separate study from Italy. Moreover, taking L-carnitine has been shown to improve the health of your sperm and even reduce insulin sensitivity.

Where to get it: The L-carnitine from red meat is the easiest form for your body to digest and use—between 54 and 86 percent is made available to your body, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. In fact, one 8-ounce steak contains between 100 and 320 milligrams. On the other hand, you only absorb about 15 to 18 percent of the L-carnitine from oral supplements. To boost your body’s levels, you can take 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg per day. More than 3,000 mg daily may cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.


What it does: Beta-carotene gives carrots and other red and orange vegetables their color. It functions as an antioxidant, scavenging free radicals throughout the body. It’s also converted into vitamin A. Fun fact: It also has this bizarre (and beneficial) affect on your skin.

Why you might need it: While vitamin A, as a product of beta-carotene, is an essential nutrient, supplementing with high doses has been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer and prostate cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Where to get it: Carrots and sweet potatoes, along with kale, spinach, collard greens, and other leafy vegetables. Because of safety concerns, and since there are so many natural sources of beta-carotene, it’s usually not recommended as a supplement, says Stephen Dahmer, M.D., a physician at the Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.


What it does: Boron is not well-studied, but it seems to help the body process other minerals and nutrients. It’s also believed to maintain healthy bones.

Why you might need it: One study found that taking 10 mg of boron increased testosterone and decreased estradiol, a form of estrogen, within just a few hours, along with increasing levels of vitamin D in the blood. But there’s little evidence to support the notion that boron supplementation can help with chronic conditions.

Where to get it: Boron is found in almonds and other nuts, kidney beans, avocado, and raisins.


What it does: This herb contains compounds that block leukotrines, which are signaling molecules that cause contractions in your throat during an allergic reaction. By blocking the leukotrines, butterbur helps relieve those allergic symptoms.

Why you might need it: In a Swiss study, taking butterbur was just as effective as cetrizine, the active ingredient in Zyrtec, for quelling allergy symptoms. The catch? Patients had to take four butterbur tablets a day versus one cetrizine pill. Other studies have found that taking 150 mg of butterbur daily reduced the frequency of migraines.

Where to get it: If you’re allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies, taking Butterbur may trigger a reaction. Otherwise, follow the directions on the label.


What it does: Vitamin C is an immune system booster, preventing illness and infections in wounds. It also converts inactive folic acid into the active form and plays a role in the formation of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells.

Why you might need it: Studies show that taking vitamin C can reduce the duration of a cold by almost two days. It can also reduce the frequency of exercise-induced asthma, and prevent upper respiratory infections in people who are training for marathons and other endurance races. A new study also shows that vitamin C can have beneficial brain effects.

Where to get it: Vitamin C should be in your multivitamin, in which case you’ll want at least 200 mg daily. “If you get a cold, up your dosage to between 1,000 and 2,000 a day, but only for as long as you’re sick,” says Stephen Dahmer, M.D., a physician at the Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.


What it does: Calcium is a very important mineral in the body, maintaining bone strength and allowing the nervous system to relay messages. It also plays a part in releasing hormones and enzymes that provide a wide array of biological functions.

Why you might need it: A Canadian study found that people who took 1,200 mg of calcium supplements over a 15-week weight-loss program lost 14 more pounds than those who didn’t take enough calcium. “Unless you have problems digesting dairy, most men don’t need to supplement with calcium,” says Stephen Dahmer, M.D., a physician at the Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

Where to get it: Dairy products are how most people get calcium—three servings of milk or yogurt a day is enough to get what your body needs. It’s also found in spinach and other leafy greens. If you do take calcium supplements, 2,500 mg per day is the upper safe limit for adults, according to the National Institutes of Health.


What it does: Chromium is known to be a necessary element in the human body, but scientists are still analyzing its precise functions. It’s thought to play a role in how your body metabolizes protein, carbs, and fat.

Why you might need it: Chromium picolinate was thought to help with insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance, and preventing diabetes, but a six-month randomized controlled trial at Yale University didn’t find any benefits. In a separate study, those same researchers found that chromium picolinate supplementation also didn’t help with weight loss. However, some research has indicated that chromium picolinate could help Alzheimer’s patients improve memory and cognitive function.

Where to get it: The National Institutes of Health recommends taking 200 micrograms a day for therapeutic purposes.


What it does: Coenzyme Q10 has several functions in the body, including helping the mitochondria within your cells produce energy and neutralizing free radicals as an antioxidant.

Why you might need it: To improve your interval workouts. A Japanese study found that cyclists who supplemented with 300 mg of Co Q10 for eight days increased their maximum speed during 10-second sprints, and felt less fatigue afterward. Supplementing with Co Q10 has also been shown to reduce inflammation and free radicals created by bouts of heavy exercise. It’s also sometimes prescribed to recent heart attack victims to prevent a second cardiac event, and it may reduce low-density lipoprotein levels.

Where to get it: Take 300 mg daily, with food. Co Q10 may lower blood sugar and decrease blood pressure, so talk to your doctor before you start taking it if you’re diabetic or on blood pressure medication.


What it does: Coleus forskohlii is produced from the roots of a tropical plant. In the body, it activates an enzyme called cyclic adenosine monophosphate, which increases your metabolism and the utilization of body fat.

Why you might need it: Research is fairly limited on coleus forskohlii. One study at the University of Kansas found that taking it for 12 weeks increased free testosterone and lean body mass, while decreasing body fat in men.

Where to get it: You’ll usually see coleus forskohlii, or its derivative forskolin, combined with other compounds believed to help cut fat in thermogenics and weight-loss supplements. Shoot for 250 mg twice a day.


What it does: Conjugated linoleic acids are a family of similar fatty acids. CLA was discovered thanks to its anti-cancer properties; it also functions as a powerful antioxidant.

Why you might need it: To lose body fat. CLA seems to enhance the fat-burning effects of exercise, along with increasing your resting metabolic rate, and preventing your body from storing fat. Supplementing with CLA has been shown to reduce body fat and maintain lean mass, and appears to be particularly effective if it’s taken as part of an exercise regimen. A Japanese study found that CLA helped people reduce fat specifically around their waist and hips.

Where to get it: CLA is found naturally in meat and dairy products. You can take between 1 and 3 grams per day.


What it does: Creatine helps reload your muscles after they break down adenosine triphosphate into adenosine diphosphate for energy. The end result from taking a creatine supplement is improved endurance in workouts, allowing you to hang in for more reps and sets.

Why you might need it: In just 30 seconds of high-intensity exercise, you use up as much as 80 percent of the creatine phosphate stored in your muscles. One study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Researchfound that men who supplemented with creatine as part of a weight-lifting regimen for six weeks improved their leg-press strength by 62 percent.

Where to get it: There are many forms of creatine on the market, but it’s best to stick with the most-studied version: creatine monohydrate. Load your muscles by taking either 5 grams a day for 5 days, or 3 grams a day for 28 days. Then you can maintain creatine levels by taking 1 gram after each workout.


What it does: The main role of vitamin D is to aid the body with absorbing calcium, and helping you to both build stronger bones and prevent bone loss.

Why you might need it: A study at Boston University estimated that 36 percent of otherwise healthy adults—and 57 percent of people who go to the doctor for one reason or another—are deficient in vitamin D. Why is that bad? Some studies have indicated that a lack of vitamin D may be connected to weight gain and depression. (Click here to read the latest research on vitamin D and depression.) Vitamin D may also help prevent cancer and high-blood pressure, and men with higher levels of vitamin D also produce stronger sperm.

Where to get it: As little as 10 minutes of bright sunlight—specifically, UVB radiation from the sun—prompts your skin to produce vitamin D. But since you probably spend more time basking in your office’s florescent lights, it’s a good idea to supplement with 2,000 IU a day, says Stephen Dahmer, M.D., a physician at the Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.


What it does: Vitamin E’s main role is as an antioxidant, scavenging free radicals in the body and reducing inflammation.

Why you might need it: People over the age of 55 who took a combination of vitamin E, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and zinc daily reduced their chances of developing macular degeneration, which leads to blindness, by 35 percent. What’s more, in a Finnish study, smokers that took vitamin E were 32 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer, even though taking vitamin E doesn’t seem to help nonsmokers prevent prostate cancer.

Where to get it: Take 200 mg daily, in the form of d-alpha tocopheryl.


What it does: Echinacea is a flower that has traditionally been used as a cold remedy by native Americans, and one study found it is used by as many as 20 percent of herbal medicine adherents.

Why you might need it: Some studies have found that taking echinacea was effective in helping to treat upper-respiratory infections. But when 713 people in a University of Wisconsin study took echinacea during a cold, they only cut the duration of their cold by an average of a half a day  as compared to a placebo—not enough for scientists to conclude that the echinacea was working.

Where to get it: Echinacea is prepared several different ways: either as a tea, a concentrated extract, or as a juice. Most studies have examined dosages between 600 and 625 mg. It may set off an allergic reaction if you’re also allergic to ragweed, marigolds, and daisies, according to the National Institutes of Health.


What it does: Treats cold and flu symptoms with antiviral properties by increasing the production of proteins called cytokines that respond to infection and inhibit the spread of viruses.

Why you might need it: To calm a raging cold or flu. One preliminary study found 28 percent of patients experiencing flu-like symptoms that took an elderberry lozenge were symptom-free after 48 hours; 60 percent got relief from some symptoms (in contrast, the placebo group’s symptoms didn’t change or worsen). Other research indicates elderberry is effective in killing bacterial infections that can lead to strep throat and skin infections. Animal studies also show that elderberry could reduce high blood cholesterol levels because it’s rich in heart-protective antioxidants called anthocyanins. Elderberry is also being studied for its potential to fight prostate cancer and gallbladder cancer.

Where to get it: Nature’s Answer Sambucus Black Elder Berry Extract


What it does: The herb may be effective in treating inflammatory conditions like headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, and asthma.

Why you might need it: To snuff the pain from a head-pounder. A German study found that patients taking feverfew for 16 weeks reported the frequency of headaches decreased by 2 migraines per month in the feverfew group compared to 1.3 in the placebo group. New research suggests taking a combination of feverfew and ginger extracts relieved a headache in two hours for 63 percent of subjects—compared to 39 percent taking a placebo. Additionally, outdoor athletes can seek sun relief from feverfew: applying products that contain the herb can protect skin from UV damage, according to a study commissioned by Johnson & Johnson.

Where to get it: GNC Herbal Plus Standardized Feverfew


What it does: Dietary fiber adds bulk to your meal to help you feel full. There are two types: soluble and insoluble fiber. The former slows digestion and can help lower cholesterol, the latter “sweeps” your digestive system to keep things moving comfortably along.

Why you might need it: “Fiber is important for healthy digestion and proper absorption of nutrients,” says Susan Dopart, RD, author of A Recipe for Life by the Doctor’s Dietitian. New research in the journal PLoS One found that high fiber intakes were associated with lower incidence of stroke in men. People who consume lower intakes of fiber over their lifetimes also have a higher rate of arterial stiffness (a risk factor for heart disease) than those who consumed more. Results from a recent study even suggest that fiber may boost longevity—men eating the most fiber had a 23 percent reduced risk of dying. Aim for 30 grams a day. Whole food sources are best, and ground flaxseed can help you bulk up a diet that’s lacking; two tablespoons contain 3 grams.

Where to get it: Spectrum Naturals Essential Flaxseed Ground Organic


What it does: Both B vitamins, folate and B12 are involved in the production of red blood cells; folate is also a key player in building DNA, while vitamin B12 is vital in nerve cell development.

Why you might need it: To avoid a heart attack. Inadequate intake of both folate and B12 have been linked to elevated levels in the bloodstream of the amino acid homocysteine, which is believed to increase heart disease risk. And while the two nutrients work together, they also provide unique benefits. Case in point: A higher folate intake from your diet (folate is found naturally in foods like spinach and citrus fruits) may reduce the risk of colon cancer, according to a 2011 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Meanwhile, B12 keeps you sharp: A recent study at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that people deficient in vitamin B12 were more likely to suffer from cognitive impairment, possibly because homocysteine also damages the brain. However, men should get folate from their diet rather than a supplement (see “folic acid” for more information), says Susan Dopart, RD, a Los Angeles-based dietician.

Where to get it: Find B12 in: Nature Made Vitamin B12 Tablets


What it does: Folic acid is a water-soluble b-complex vitamin, which the body uses to make energy-supplying red blood cells in the body. The natural form of this B vitamin, called folate, is found in food. Folic acid is a synthetic supplement.

Why you might need it: You might not. First, the good news: a 2012 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that young men and women with the highest folic acid intake experienced a 52 percent reduced risk of high blood pressure 20 years later compared to those consuming lower levels. However, while getting enough folic acid is good, taking too much may have a downside. In a recent review by Norwegian researchers, folic acid supplements were linked to a 24 percent increase in prostate cancer risk for men. Some research suggests there may be a benefit to removing folic acid from supplements designed for men. Because folic acid is already abundant in fortified cereals and breads, men are likely getting ample amounts anyway, and taking an additional supplement can be risky. Most multivitamin supplements contain 400 mcg of folic acid, which men don’t need. If yours does, pop the multi only four times per week, says Susan Dopert, RD, a Los Angeles-based dietician.

Where to get it: Check with your doc first



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