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Importance of Nutrition for Men: Understand Supplements and Medications
You’ve probably seen commercials that depict happy people taking vitamins and supplements, trying to depict the importance of nutrition. But can taking supplements really make a positive difference for your health? It turns out that there are a few scientific studies that do not support a decrease in disease risk or an increased lifespan for people taking multivitamins.
However, don’t rule vitamins and supplements out just yet. Those studies are only half of the story. Even if taking a multivitamin won’t help you live to 110 years old, taking a supplement will still fill in the critical gaps in your nutrition, thus improving your overall health and keeping your body running at peak performance.
The bottom line is that many men don’t get all of the nutrients they need, and supplements can combat that widespread problem.
Sometimes different diets that men decide to do, like keto, vegetarian, Mediterranean, paleo, can lead to nutrition deficiencies. It is important to look at each diet and understand how you will still be able to get all the nutrition you need between food and supplements.
Pills vs. Food: Which Is Superior?
Health experts generally agree that it’s best to get your nutrients from food. While that’s a general rule of thumb, it doesn’t strictly apply to all situations.
Let’s take a step back for a minute to examine the issue of bioavailability and how it relates to the importance of nutrition. Each time you eat 100 grams of spinach, you’re putting 2.71 milligrams of iron into your body. However, your body doesn’t necessarily have access to the full 2.71 mg.
The bioavailability of a nutrient is the extent to which your body can liberate it from its food matrix, turn it into a usable chemical form and push it into your cells. In other words, even if you’re eating the right proportions of all the necessary nutrients, your body might not actually be able to use all of those nutrients.
The good news is that macro-nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) have a very high bioavailability—more than 90%. The bad news is that micro-nutrients, like iron and antioxidants, tend to have a lower bioavailability.
There are certain things you can do to enhance the bioavailability of nutrients in the food you eat. For instance, vitamin C acts like a “helper.” If you eat vitamin C and iron together (like orange juice and iron-fortified bran flakes), your body is two to three times more likely to absorb the iron.
A similar thing happens when you eat black pepper with turmeric—the piperine alkaloid in the pepper acts as a helper for the curcumin in the turmeric. However, other food pairings act in a negative way—by decreasing the bioavailability of certain nutrients.
The bottom line is that you would probably have to spend your entire day thinking about your diet in order to truly optimize your nutrition. Men can generally benefit from taking vitamins and supplements for a number of reasons:
- Fill in nutrient gaps based on current diet.
- The older you become, the less able you are to absorb nutrients.
- Deficiency of nutrients from health-related issues.
Are You Deficient in Nutrients? Here’s How to Ask Your Doctor
Even if you’re eating high-quality food, there is a possibility that you’re deficient in certain vitamins and minerals. It’s worth taking a few minutes to talk to your physician about whether you might be nutrient deficient based on the following possible indicators:
- Sudden, severe hair loss – low iron
- Burning sensations in your tongue or feet – low vitamin B12
- Slow-healing wounds – low vitamin C
- Irregular heartbeat – low calcium
- Poor night vision – low vitamin A
Your doctor can order a blood test to check for nutrient deficiencies. Keep in mind that doctors don’t generally like to order tests unless there’s a reason for them. So keep track of your symptoms and bring the list to your appointment. Ask if it makes sense for you to have blood drawn, given your symptoms. If the blood test doesn’t reveal any deficiencies, go back for a follow-up visit. You can also ask if there are any other medical problems that could be causing your symptoms and how it will relate to the importance of nutrition.
Other questions you might want to ask:
- How can I know if I’m getting the right nutrients?
- Will my medications affect my nutrition?
- Will my supplements affect my medications?
- Do my medical conditions affect my nutritional needs?
- Do my medical treatments (i.e. chemotherapy) affect my nutrition?
What About Antioxidants?
Everyone knows antioxidants are good, but do you actually know what they are? It’s really pretty simple. An antioxidant is any molecule that fights free radicals. Free radicals are atoms with unpaired electrons that travel through your body, damaging cells and DNA.
Two of the best known antioxidants are vitamins C and E. Others include:
- Flavonoids – found in citrus, tea, apples, and legumes
- Curcuminoids – found in the spice turmeric
- Oleocanthal – found in extra virgin olive oil
- Polyphenols – found in dark chocolate, berries, soy, and legumes
You can naturally increase your intake of antioxidants by eating high-quality, nutrient-dense foods. Although you don’t have to become a vegetarian, it’s best to eat a lot of plant-based foods because those tend to be rich in antioxidants.
Which Vitamins and Minerals Do All Men Need?
Your exact vitamin and mineral requirements can vary, depending on your health conditions and age. It’s best to consult your doctor for personalized guidance. However, the following can serve as a general guideline:
- Vitamin A – 900 mcg RAE
- Vitamin C – 90 mg
- Vitamin D – 600 IU
- Vitamin E – 15 mg AT
- Thiamin – 1.2 mg
- Riboflavin – 1.3 mg
- Niacin – 16 mg
- Vitamin B6 – 1.3 mg
- Vitamin B12 – 2.4 mg
- Vitamin K – 120 mcg
- Folate – 400 mcg DFE
It is important to remember that supplement needs can easily change throughout the course of ones life.
Should You Take an Anti-Aging Supplement?
Anti-aging supplements aren’t quite the same as multivitamins. Anti-aging supplements don’t actually turn back the clock—because that’s impossible. Instead, they aim to mitigate the effects of the aging process. Anti-aging supplements may contain ingredients such as the following:
- CoQ10 – Delivers immune system support
- Probiotics – Balances your gut
- Fish oil – Supports skin and joint health
- Collagen – Supports skin, muscle, bone, and connective tissue health
- Acetyl-L-carnitine – Reduces inflammation and supports brain function
If you’re taking a multivitamin already, you need to carefully scrutinize the label of any anti-aging supplement you’re considering. This is because, just like anything in life, it can actually be harmful to get too much of certain nutrients.
For example, overdosing on vitamin A can lead to dizziness, nausea, and headaches. So you’ll want to be sure that the vitamins and minerals you’re getting from your multivitamins aren’t also present in your anti-aging supplement.
In addition, before adding any new supplement to your daily regimen, you should check with a doctor or pharmacist if you’re already taking any medications. It’s important to make sure your supplements won’t interact with your medicine.