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Did you know there are over 1,400 (and counting) registered multivitamins on the market? That’s a lot of choices for what you might have thought was a simple decision for your health. So how do you choose the best multivitamin for men? And what’s most important in a men’s multivitamin?
While not all researchers agree that multivitamins are worthwhile, we’ll give you some guidelines for how to choose a dietary supplement that fits your needs.
What ingredients are in multivitamins for men?
Most daily multivitamins on the market claim to have all the essential nutrients and essential vitamins you need in a day.
They boast dozens of antioxidants, micronutrients, and amino acids meant to improve heart health, the immune system, energy levels, muscle function, brain health, and overall wellness. When they all claim to offer similar benefits, it can be tough to know what’s most important in a high-quality vitamin supplement.
There are really only three ingredients you’ll want to make sure your multivitamin has, which we’ll look at below.
People (mostly marketers) call vitamin D the sunshine vitamin because we can get our full vitamin D requirements directly from the sun. Even so, vitamin D deficiency is common, affecting about 35% of adults in the United States (Sizar, 2020).
Some people are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency than others, including older adults, people with darker skin, and people who live in climates that don’t get much sun.
If you’re in either of these categories or have had your vitamin D levels tested and know they’re low, a supplement is key. You can take vitamin D on its own or in a multivitamin, but make sure your supplement includes at least 600 IU of vitamin D2 or vitamin D3 to meet the recommended daily value (Bouillon, 2017).
There’s some evidence that vitamin D deficiency may be associated with lower testosterone levels, but that link is not clear enough at this point. More research is needed (Chen, 2019).
Somewhere between 56 and 68% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. That’s a staggering number, especially considering how important magnesium is to our health.
Magnesium is a mineral that’s involved in many functions, including sleep, depression, bone health, cardiovascular health, and countless other aspects of well-being (Schwalfenberg, 2017).
Magnesium deficiency happens for several reasons. Diet is one major factor, as processed foods are lower in magnesium than fruits and vegetables (another good reason to eat a balanced diet).
Believe it or not, if you’re deficient in vitamin D, you’re more likely to be deficient in magnesium, too (they’re closely related, so make sure your multivitamin contains both). Adult men should consume 400–420 mg of magnesium daily (between food and supplementation) (Schwalfenberg, 2017).
Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 plays an important role in neurological function, forming red blood cells and other aspects of health. Much like vitamin D and magnesium, vitamin B12 deficiency is also quite common. It affects men even more than women, so it’s especially important in a men’s multivitamin (Margalit, 2018).
Older men and women are also at risk of B12 deficiency, with an estimated 20% of people over 60 being deficient. People who take metformin, a diabetes medication, are also at increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency (Yang, 2019).
Taking a vitamin B12 supplement, either on its own or in a multivitamin, can address all of these deficiencies and improve overall health. Adults should take 2.4 mcg per day of vitamin B12 (Ward, 2014).
Other common ingredients in multivitamins for men
Of course, most multivitamins include a lot more than just the three ingredients we just mentioned. Here’s what the research has to say about some of the other common men’s multivitamin ingredients:
- Selenium: There’s some evidence (though minimal) that selenium may have some protective effects against prostate cancer. It’s possible that taking this can be beneficial for prostate health (Sayehmiri, 2018).
- Saw palmetto: This is another ingredient often touted for its benefits to the prostate. Evidence doesn’t really support this, but a derivative of saw palmetto––lauric acid, a free fatty acid––may be effective at reducing prostate inflammation (Kwon, 2019).
- Chromium: There’s little evidence that supplementing with chromium is beneficial for health, and there’s some controversy about whether it’s a good idea to take it at all.
- Lycopene: Small studies indicate that lycopene may improve sperm production in infertile men, but more research is needed to know this for sure (Nouri, 2019).
- Potassium: While not beneficial specifically for men, a potassium supplement may be effective at lowering blood pressure. Over 90% of adults in the U.S. are deficient in potassium (Stone, 2016).
- Manganese: This mineral is a bit of a mixed bag. In people with manganese deficiency, supplementing with manganese may be beneficial for certain conditions, including type 2 diabetes. However, if you don’t have a manganese deficiency, you probably won’t get much benefit from supplementing with it. And it may even cause some harm in high doses (Li, 2018).
- Vitamin C: Even though vitamin C has a good reputation for improving immune function and other health markers, there’s no real evidence that vitamin C supplementation has much impact on health. This is likely because vitamin C is not well absorbed through supplementation. It’s best to get your vitamin C through whole food (Granger, 2018).
Two other ingredients are worth mentioning––iron and folic acid (folate). Most men’s multivitamins probably won’t include these (at least not in high doses) because, in general, men do not need more of these than what they consume through food.
Unless you know you are deficient in iron or folate, you don’t need to look for a multivitamin that contains these ingredients.
Be careful with these specific vitamins and minerals
You may notice that many multivitamins list more than the recommended daily allowances (RDA) for many ingredients. For most vitamins and minerals, this is generally safe since there’s little toxicity at high doses. That’s not the case for all vitamins and minerals, though.
The FDA does regulate dietary supplements to some degree, but in a much more limited manner than prescription medications. So it’s important to look at labels carefully and watch out for certain vitamins and minerals. Here are the most concerning ingredients (Starr, 2015).
While vitamin A is necessary for health, it can have toxic effects in high doses. Namely, it can cause osteoporosis and bone loss in high doses and is associated with high rates of hip fractures.
Some multivitamins may also have beta carotene, which can convert into vitamin A in the body. High doses of beta-carotene may increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers, so if you smoke, be extra cautious about this. Your multivitamin shouldn’t exceed the RDA for vitamin A of 900 mcg for men (Hamishehkar, 2016).
In certain populations, vitamin K may be dangerous. It’s important to speak with your healthcare provider before taking a new multivitamin that contains vitamin K. If you have kidney disease or if you are on blood thinners, you may need to avoid taking vitamin K (or make sure you’re taking relatively low doses) (Imbrescia, 2020).
Calcium plays a big role in lots of different parts of our health, but it’s not a good idea to take it in high doses. When you take too much calcium, it can cause gastrointestinal side effects, like constipation, diarrhea, and stomach pain. While not dangerous, those symptoms are probably not something you want to experience. The RDA for calcium is 1,000 mg per day (including what you eat).
Should you take a men’s multivitamin?
We’ve gone over how to evaluate a multivitamin and choose the right one for you, but should you even take one at all? Not all researchers think so.
In general, people who take a daily multivitamin see themselves as healthier, but that doesn’t necessarily line up with actual markers of health. And there’s little evidence that multivitamins improve heart health (Kim 2018).
The truth is, the best way to get your daily nutrients, vitamins, and minerals is through real food. But, we don’t live in an ideal world, and nutrient deficiencies are common, so a high-quality, whole food multivitamin can be a great addition to your daily routine (Bird, 2017).
Whether you take a multivitamin in tablet, soft gel, or gummy form, these are some of the potential benefits of taking a daily multi:
- Mood: One study showed improvements in mood in people taking a daily multivitamin. It also improved an amino acid called homocysteine (White, 2015).
- Energy: Another study showed multivitamins might positively impact energy and exercise performance (Dodd, 2020).
- Multiple benefits in older adults: Older adults are at much higher risk of nutrient deficiencies, so this group sees the biggest impact from multivitamins. They may curb iron-deficiency anemia, neurological damage, and bone disease (Ward, 2014).
Taking a men’s multivitamin may be an important step in improving your overall health. Just be careful about which ingredients are included, pay attention to the doses, and don’t expect a multivitamin to be a cure-all.
We recommend speaking with your healthcare provider before starting a new multivitamin, especially if you have existing health conditions or are taking other medications.
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Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.