Michael Castleman - Live Right Live Well

Visit any health food store or pharmacy, and the supplement aisle seems to extend forever. But do men really need all those vitamins, minerals and herbs? Here’s what you need to know if you’re a guy:

Food First

Supplements should be just that: supplemental. They are no substitute for a good diet -- which means “eating at least five one-cup servings of fruits and vegetables every day -- preferably more,” says Amy Lanou, Ph.D., an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. If you eat fewer than five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, spend less time in the supplement aisle (and at McDonald’s) and more in the produce section.

Take a Basic Multivitamin/Mineral Supplement

A one-a-day formula is a cheap, prudent form of nutritional health insurance, just in case. But keep in mind that the evidence in favor of supplements is maddeningly inconsistent. University of California, Berkeley researchers compared the health of 278 longtime vitamin-takers and 602 nonusers. The vitamin group was considerably healthier -- 73 percent less risk of diabetes and 52 percent less risk of heart disease.

However, Danish researchers analyzed 67 studies and found that those who took antioxidant supplements (A, C, E, beta-carotene and selenium) had the same death rates as nonusers -- and in some reports, the death rates were actually higher.

Meanwhile, megadoses of some nutrients can cause problems.

Large amounts of vitamin C can cause diarrhea. High doses of vitamin A can cause liver damage. Megadoses of vitamin B6 can cause nerve damage. In addition, some nutrients can interfere with the action of others. High doses of iron impair zinc absorption.

The safest, most cost-effective course, therefore is “a low-dose, broad-spectrum multiple vitamin-mineral formula,” says Elizabeth Somer, a registered dietitian in Salem, Ore., and the author of The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals (HarperCollins). This will “meet the needs of most people, providing a convenient, cost-efficient balance of nutrients without risk of toxicity.”

Best Herbs for Men

Assuming you’re eating a good diet, the most useful supplements for men are not vitamins and minerals, but herbs:


Also known as arctic root, rhodiola sharpens mental faculties, increases stamina, reduces stress, lowers the risk of heart disease and improves resistance to illness.


Worried about your erections? Medication, like Viagra, might help -- but so does ginseng, according to several studies. An added bonus: Ginseng also provides energy-boosting, illness-fighting benefits similar to rhodiola.

Saw palmetto

As you get older, your prostate begins to enlarge, which causes urinary symptoms, such as trouble getting started, problems finishing and having to get up at night -- often several times -- to urinate. Prescription medication helps. But according to many studies, so does saw palmetto.


Like saw palmetto, the bark of this African tree helps prevent prostate enlargement.

So despite how it may seem, when faced with a wall of supplement bottles, you don’t need to spend a fortune on dozens of vitamins. Eat right, take a simple multivitamin/mineral, consider four herbs and you’re done!

Michael Castleman has been called "one of the nation's leading health writers" (Library Journal). He is the author of 11 consumer health books and more than 1,500 health articles for magazines and the Web.

Available at Amazon.com

The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals


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Men's Health - Supplements: A Guide for Men