When America wants nutrition advice, they generally defer to medical doctors. Why that is, I don't know. Most medical schools only spend about 15 minutes teaching nutrition, right between study blocks on diseases of the nether regions and how to patch up a punctured lung.
As such, I'm always skeptical of articles that list food items or supplements that doctors think we should or shouldn't eat or take. Case in point, a popular media franchise recently posted an article on its website titled "15 Supplements Every Man Needs, Say Doctors."
It's not a bad list, but it's a tad pedestrian and comprised mostly of the type of material your health club uses as filler in its monthly newsletter. Here it is, along with my verdict of its take-worthiness, in parentheses:
- A Multivitamin (No)
- Vitamin D (Yes)
- Vitamin B12 (Only in very specific circumstances)
- Fiber (Yes, but a specific kind)
- Magnesium (You bet)
- Calcium (Nope)
- CoQ10 (Sure)
- Fish Oil (Of course)
- Probiotics (No, not so much)
- Zinc (Maybe)
- Iodine (Sounds good)
- Plant Protein (Huh?)
- Vitamin C (Sure, if you're part of a scurvy crew of 18th-century sailors)
- Vitamin B1 (Yes, if you often drink yourself senseless)
- Collagen (Okay, but a specific kind, and there may be a better alternative)
See what I mean? There are some sound recommendations in the list, but for the most part, the supplements listed are either somewhat useless, redundant (if you're recommending a multivitamin, why separately recommend some of the vitamins that would presumably be contained in that multivitamin?), downright puzzling, just a little off, or perhaps more suited to men of a certain age, like those over 50 or 60.
Here are a few examples of what I mean:
Researchers (Fortman, et al) reviewed three trials of multivitamins and 24 trials of single or paired vitamins involving 400,000 participants. There was no clear evidence that the pills reduced all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.
Similarly, another study (Lamas, et al) assessed the effects of a 28-component multivitamin in 1708 men and women who had previously experienced myocardial infarction. After 4.6 years, they didn't see any difference in mortality rates.
The problem with multivitamins is multi-fold. First of all, multivitamins are formulated on a one-size-fits-all philosophy. While we all need the same 24 vitamins and minerals, how much we each need varies considerably. RDAs and such are all based on a bell curve, and while they may hold true for a 150-pound municipal worker named Phil who lives in Akron, Ohio, they might not hold true for sweaty athletes, bigger people, or you.
There are also a hell of a lot of possible interactions between various ingredients. Iron shouldn't be ingested with coffee or tea because tannins interfere with absorption. Likewise, iron interferes with the absorption of zinc and copper. Vitamins E and A can counteract K. Furthermore, vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble and, as such, are best taken with food.
To do it right, a multivitamin product would consist of several different pills, each containing compatible nutrients and each taken at different times of the day to avoid interactions. Not exactly convenient.
Unlike most vitamins, B12 is stored in the liver. If you stopped ingesting any, it would take your body between 3 and 5 years to deplete its supply.
Granted, this might not be the case in vegetarians, people who take the drug metformin (it interferes with B-12 absorption), or old coots who have trouble absorbing the vitamin. But for most people, especially nutrition-minded athletes who eat a lot of meat, fish, poultry and eggs, B-12 levels are nothing to worry about.
There are several types of fiber. There's insoluble (wheat bran, for example); non-viscous soluble (inulin, oligosaccharides); gel-forming soluble (barley, guar gum); and soluble viscous, gel-forming, non-fermented fiber (psyllium).
Ingesting the first is like eating ground-up Sears's credit cards. It adds bulk, but not much else. That category of fiber, along with the next two, has little to offer, unless you're a connoisseur of flatulence.
The fourth category, of which psyllium is the star, is the one you want to fill up on. It does all the things you could hope for in a fiber – lowering cholesterol, reducing the absorption of calories, and providing a feeling of satiety to curb appetite.
It also helps normalize stool formation (battling both constipation and diarrhea) and quells irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), all without causing any gas to be formed.
So if they're talking about men needing more psyllium in their diet, I concur. One teaspoon a half hour before each of three meals a day could do wonders for your blood chemistry and your bowel movements.
Taking too much calcium (more than about 1,000 mg. a day) can be a huge problem. At worst, the calcium starts to accumulate on the linings of your heart and arteries so that they look like the tiled walls of a White Castle restaurant. The excess calcium might also form kidney stones, or on the less severe end of the spectrum, cause constipation.
Calcium is one example where people really would be better off getting this crucial mineral from whole food. Here's the thing: When you get too much calcium from foods (milk-based protein powders, dairy products), a fail-safe system kicks in, and the intestines start limiting further absorption of the mineral.
Not so with calcium supplements. They have no fail-safe system. The more you take, the more that ends up in your urine, blood, kidneys, heart, and arteries.
Probiotics are a great idea... in theory. Feed your gut wee little beasties and they go to work for you like so many cilia-covered indentured servants, but there are many reasons why it probably doesn't work.
For one, everyone's gut biome is probably as individual as fingerprints, and taking cookie-cutter formulations (as you do when you take a specific probiotic supplement) is probably futile.
Even so, you can flood your gut for weeks with a particular species or several species of bacterium and they just plain fail to take hold and populate. It's like taking a bunch of pale Irishmen and flying them to someplace sunny where they all sear like ahi. Pretty soon, they vacate the place (but on a plane instead of a bus made out of feces).
It's also hard to know if your expensive probiotic supplement is viable or not. These things generally need to be chilled so that all microbial metabolism stalls. Some are freeze-dried and blister-packed, but they still can't be exposed to anything above room temperature.
That means it's imperative that some Doug Heffernan dolt of a deliveryman doesn't break the temperature chain of command and leave the box of pills on a sun-drenched porch somewhere.
The bacteria wake up when exposed to heat and start to look for things to metabolize. Given that there's no food for them in the capsule, they go Donner party, subsisting on each other's corpses until they too die.
Anyhow, for whatever reason, the studies on these things show widely divergent results. If you believe in the concept regardless, stick with kefir, which seems better able to colonize intestinal tracts than other fermented foods.
The best strategy of all, though, might be in eating prebiotic foods, things like sauerkraut and kimchi and kombucha tea that not only introduce hopefully beneficial bacteria to your gastrointestinal tract, but also provide nutrients for them at the same time.
The original article makes a case for adequate protein, but it's a little puzzling that the doctors recommend plant protein over whey, or, for that matter, casein. Granted, they suggest plant protein is more easily digestible than whey, and it's true, but probably only if you're lactose intolerant.
Even so, the vast majority of lactose-intolerant people can tolerate up to 2 grams of lactose per meal, and a high-quality whey protein isn't going to have anywhere's near that much lactose in it.
Plant proteins also don't pack the same muscle-protein synthesis wallop as casein and whey. For that reason alone, it's probably best to stick with non-plant proteins.
This vitamin was the first antioxidant that achieved superstar status. People started taking obscene amounts to ward off disease and speed up recovery from colds and flu. Unfortunately, studies haven't found it to do any of that.
Worse yet, even though vitamin C is an antioxidant, it turns into a "pro-oxidant" when you take large amounts. That means overuse could actually make it churn out free radicals instead of mopping them up.
Obviously, having a deficiency of vitamin C could hamstring your immune system, but you should be able to get all you need through citrus fruits.
I'm generally good with this recommendation, as several studies have found collagen to combat joint pain and help repair ligaments and tendons better than old stand-bys like glucosamine and chondroitin.
The trouble is, there are 28 different types of collagen. The one that's supposed to help joints is type II, mostly derived from chicken carcasses, whereas types I and III, generally obtained from cattle, are better for skin and blood vessels, respectively.
Secondly, the reason collagen works to help joints in the first place is probably because it contains large amounts of the amino acid glycine, which by itself enhances cartilage production.
So collagen, yes, but use the right kind or forgo it entirely and just take a couple of extra grams of glycine a day.
I'm okay with the rest of the "Doctors' recommendations," but my list of the 15 supplements men should use for health looks very much different from theirs. (The items on the list below are exactly what I use. No journalistic shenanigans here!)
It's one of the oldest drugs around, and if it were introduced today, the FDA would probably never approve it because it causes gastrointestinal bleeding in certain people. However, it's a true miracle drug.
It keeps platelets from getting sticky, curbs inflammation, and seems to prevent prostate and colon cancers. It also serves as a mild respiratory uncoupler, which prevents excess free radical leakage (i.e., it may lengthen your life span).
A lot of reports have recently tried to debunk its use, but new research suggests they've neglected to take bodyweight and dosage into consideration. The single 81-mg. tablet a day may achieve the desired health effects in people who weigh 150 pounds or less, but people who weigh more may need two 81-mg. tablets.
2 Chelated Minerals (magnesium, zinc, chromium, selenium, vanadium)
If you're an athlete, you sweat, and thus you're likely to be deficient in zinc, which, along with selenium, maintains high testosterone levels and shores up the immune system. If you're a plain old human, you're also likely deficient in magnesium, and magnesium alone is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the human body, ranging from muscle and nerve function to protein synthesis.
Likewise, certain minerals like chromium and vanadium help regular blood sugar levels and insulin, the importance of which would take another 10,000 words to explain. Suffice it to say that these particular minerals are often in short supply, and athletes would do well to take them, preferably in chelated form. For zinc and magnesium, use ZMA®.
3 Coenzyme Q10
CoQ10 is what's known as a pseudovitamin in that it's essential for life, but it's not essential to life that you supplement with it because the body makes some of it on its own.
Nevertheless, consider taking 90 to 200 mg. a day with food to feed the cellular engines known as mitochondria, which, according to some scientists, are the organelles that truly determine our long-term health. It may also reduce plaque in the arteries.
Curcumin is one of those supplements that sometimes seem too good to be true because the stuff does just about everything. It helps enhance cardiovascular health, reduces body fat, relieves pain, kills multiple types of cancer cells, and reduces estrogen levels, among other things.
Unfortunately, it's always been plagued by absorption problems. You could give someone a hefty amount of plain curcumin and hardly any of it will be detectable in the blood afterward. Thankfully, Micellar Curcumin™ takes care of that issue. It's 95x more absorbable than ordinary curcumin, so you only need to take one 400-mg. capsule a day.
Take one teaspoon of psyllium three times a day, a half-hour before meals. It'll mop up your high cholesterol levels and take care of almost any bowel problems or inconsistencies you've ever had.
As I mentioned earlier, glycine may be why collagen supplements work so well in repairing creaky joints. Take two to four 500-mg. capsules a day.
7 Iodine, or Iodized Salt
People who live by the ocean usually aren't deficient in iodine because they presumably get plenty of seafood. Not so for landlubbers in Kansas. Years ago, practically everybody who lived far away from the ocean was deficient in iodine, so the Morton Salt Company started putting iodine in their salt, and iodine deficiencies became a thing of the past.
However, iodine deficiencies have made a comeback because more people are 1) using exotic sea salts (which often lack sufficient iodine), 2) refusing to eat salt at all because of some doctor's recommendation, or 3) subsisting solely on restaurant food (most of which don't use iodized versions).
That's too bad because iodine is crucial to human health. If you have dry skin or have trouble staying lean, you might be deficient. The same might be true if you have mysterious fatigue or suffer from unexplained autoimmune diseases or depression. It also plays a pivotal role in heart disease and various types of cancer.
The RDA is a mere 150 mcg. a day, which you can easily meet by using iodized salt on your food.
8 I-Well™ Immune Support
This product strengthens and supports the body's natural immune system through a slick combination of four proven, immune-system fortifying substances:
- Beta-1,3-glucan to prime, strengthen, and maintain healthy immunity.
- Solid lipid curcumin particles (micellar curcumin) to promote a healthy inflammatory response, neurological health, and cardiovascular health.
- Microencapsulated Vitamin D3 to enable immune cells to activate in the presence of infectious disease.
- EGCG (the substance that gives green tea its swagger) to support cellular, cardiovascular, neurologic, and metabolic health.
Together, they form a potent foursome that "trains," supports, and strengthens the body's natural immune system. Take three capsules of I-Well™ a day for some peace of mind.
9 Metformin or Cyandin 3-Glucoside
Metformin, the widely used drug for diabetics, regulates a chemical master switch called AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase). In a nutshell, it controls carbs. If you're diabetic, it makes your cells more sensitive to insulin. If you're not diabetic, it makes you leaner.
Metformin is also thought to be the first true longevity drug. When it's given to lab animals, they live longer. When people use it, it reduces the occurrence of cancer and improves the prognosis of current cancer patients. Unfortunately, you need a prescription to get it.
An excellent alternative is cyanidin 3-glucoside (sold as Indigo-3G®). It acts in much the same way as Metformin, and you don't need a prescription for it.
10 Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Doctors dismissed niacin as a cholesterol fighter several years ago, but recent research shows that it matches up against statins quite well and without the negative side effects.
More importantly, though, it appears that niacin is one of the two known things (the other being a $14,000 a year medication) that can combat something called lipoprotein(a), an almost ignored lipoprotein that hardly any doctors test for and is thought to triple the risks of having a heart attack at an early age.
Now here's the rub. A lot of people don't like niacin because it can cause a surge of skin-flushing prostaglandins in sensitive individuals, which can also cause a short-lived prickly feeling all over your body. That's why many people opt for the extended-release formula, which lessens or negates the side effects considerably.
However, studies suggest that the immediate release formula might work better in the long run, and if you take it with meals, you shouldn't have any flushing or feeling of angry ants crawling on your skin.
As far as dosage, studies suggest no more than 2,000 mg a day for the extended-release formula and no more than 3,000 a day for the immediate-release formula. Of course, those recommendations evolved out of studies with heart patients who were also taking statins.
For regular Joes who are just looking for some heart insurance, consider taking one 500mg. immediate-release tablet with breakfast and another with dinner.
11 Omega-3 Fatty Acids
We live in an omega-6 world, and it's killing us. Nature intended for us to have a two-to-one or three-to-one ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in our body. But because of our fast food, snack-food, meal-in-a-box way of life, this ratio is now more like 20 to 1 in favor of the omega-6s.
Inflammation is running rampant through our bodies, and the best way to stop it is to cut down on the omega-6's and start swallowing those beautiful amber fish oil gel caps. Take up to 12,000 milligrams of a combined DHA/EPA formulation, like Flameout®, once per day.
12 P-Well™ Prostate Support
This supplement doesn't just support the health of the prostate and the urinary tract, it also might improve overall sexual health and function. It incorporates three heavily researched compounds to do just that:
- Punicaligan (from pomegranate whole fruit extract)
- Lycopene (from natural tomato fruit extract)
- Cranberry whole fruit 50:1 concentrate
Together, they support prostate health and function; support sexual vascular health by allowing for better blood flow to the penis; and support urinary tract health by reducing infections and increasing urinary flow. Take just three capsules of Biotest's P-Well™ a day.
This compound can protect us from insulin resistance and heart disease, along with working as a potent estrogen antagonist and an aromatase inhibitor. Take three capsules of Rez-V™ a day.
This product is the thinking man's alternative to multivitamins. It consists solely of 18 nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables that have been desiccated, freeze-dried, and stored in a pouch. As such, Superfood contains all the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals intrinsic to the fruits and vegetables it's made from. Take two scoops a day.
15 Wheat Germ
This health food staple from another era contains large amounts of the polyamine spermidine, which has been shown in some animal models to increase lifespan by as much as 25%.
Now, you could take spermidine as a supplement, but it would cost you about 150 bucks or so for a smallish bottle. I suggest you go the wheat germ route instead. One tablespoon contains roughly the same amount as you'd get in a typical spermidine capsule. My go-to brand is Bob's Red Mill Wheat Germ. Just mix that one tablespoon into your oatmeal, yogurt, or protein drink.
T Nation earns from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate. Read more about our policy.