Vitamin and mineral supplements for men
Why multivitamins and other dietary supplements can be hazardous to your health
Selenium has antioxidant properties. Antioxidants appear to protect cells from damage. There is some evidence that selenium supplements may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. The NHS says "some research has shown that prostate cancer rates appear to be lower in people who eat foods containing certain nutrients including lycopene, found in tomatoes and other red fruit, and selenium, found in brazil nuts."
However, results are unclear. For instance, one 2009 randomised study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the effect of selenium and Vitamin E on prostate and other cancers. Researchers concluded "selenium or vitamin E, alone or in combination at the doses and formulations used, did not prevent prostate cancer in this population of relatively healthy men."
In 43% of men in the NDNS survey, zinc levels were below the RNI. The NHS says zinc is important in helping our bodies process the carbohydrate, protein and fat we get from our food, and in wound healing. Good food sources of zinc include shellfish, meat, milk, dairy foods and cereal. For men, the RDA for zinc is up to 9.5mg for men.
The Food Standards Agency advises against taking more than 25mg of zinc supplements per day (although you should continue taking a higher dose if advised to do so by your doctor). Taking high doses of zinc reduces the amount of copper the body can absorb, which can lead to anaemia and weakening of the bones.
The trace element copper was also found to be deficient in a significant proportion of men in the survey. The NHS says one of the important functions of copper is to produce red and white blood cells. Adults need 1.2 mg per day of copper, which is found in shellfish, nuts and offal and a varied and balanced diet should ensure you get all the copper you need. If you do decide to take copper supplements, you should not take too much as high doses of copper could cause sickness, stomach pains and diarrhoea. High doses taken for a long time could damage your kidneys and liver.
It’s also worth looking at vitamin D. After the age of about 55 your body starts to lose the ability to make vitamin D from sunshine. The British climate makes it difficult for us to get enough vitamin D, especially in the winter when the UK UV index falls below 3, so taking a vitamin D supplement can be beneficial for men as well as women. The Food Standards Agency recommends that older people should consider taking 10 micrograms (0.01mg) of vitamin D each day.
Good food sources of vitamin D include oily fish, eggs, and fortified foods such as margarine, breakfast cereals, bread and powdered milk.
So vitamins and supplements can be helpful for men. But it’s important that you don’t take too many different supplements because they can interact with each other and be less effective. For example, zinc interferes with how copper and iron are absorbed.
Be particularly cautious if you are taking any medication because vitamins and supplements could cause an interaction. If in doubt, check with your doctor or pharmacist.