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What Vitamins and Supplements for Men Actually Work?

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What Vitamins and Supplements for Men Actually Work?

Aug 03, 2022

Supplements marketed to men come with plenty of promises. Get stronger. Feel younger. Live longer. But which claims are backed by research—and which are nothing more than empty promises? Thunder Jalili, PhD, a nutritionist and professor at University of Utah Health, discusses the two supplements with the most evidence for health benefits—and which supplements men should avoid.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: You go online, talk to some friends, watch the news, it seems like there is no shortage of advice about supplements that men should be taking.

Thunder Jalili is a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology at University of Utah, and he's going to help navigate us through some of the supplements men might want to consider based on research and not just a promise.

Thunder: And oftentimes, that's all it is, is a promise. You don't really know as a consumer. You're kind of rolling the dice a little bit unless you land on something that has research behind it where you can be a little bit more confident that you're going to see an effect.

Interviewer: Do you as a nutritionist recommend kind of some blanket supplements that everybody should take, or is it really a little bit more nuanced than that?

Thunder: That's a great question. That's something a lot of nutritionists talk about and debate about. My personal opinion, short answer is yes, there are certain blanket supplements I think people should consider.

I'll just give you one example -- vitamin D. I think anyone around 50 or older should really consider taking a vitamin D supplement. It's one of those things we easily become low in or deficient in. I'm always amazed how many people I come across who actually are vitamin D deficient. They're diagnosed as vitamin D deficient by their physician as part of their physical. I recently just came across a 17-year-old who was vitamin D deficient. So definitely vitamin D. Let's put that one on the list.

The jury is semi-out still on omega-3 supplements, but I personally think that that's a good one that all men should consider. There are benefits to omega-3 supplements. There are definitely benefits to eating omega-3 from fish because of the link to cardiovascular disease, but the supplements, there could be a benefit from that too, and there's no apparent harm. So that's another one that I would recommend.

Interviewer: How about a multivitamin? Is that something you recommend that guys take? I mean, a lot of guys take one just because "Why not? Better safe than sorry. In case I'm missing some nutrient, my multivitamin will cover it." What's your take on multivitamins?

Thunder: I don't think everyone should take a multivitamin. That's very much an individual thing, because there's enough research out there that shows sometimes taking a multivitamin or vitamin supplements can actually increase the risk of certain cancers, which is kind of scary, or heart disease.

Interviewer: All right. So let's get into some specific supplements that some men might think they need to take for whatever reason. Saw palmetto is one of them. And that's supposed to help with prostate health. What do you know about that?

Thunder: Yeah, correct. It's been around for a while. It is a popular supplement among some men. So this is one that I would kind of throw into that precision nutrition category. I wouldn't tell everyone just to take it, like a blanket recommendation.

But men, especially as we get older, can have prostate issues, and one of the more common issues that develops is called benign prostate hyperplasia. Basically, it means the prostate gland gets a little bigger. And hyperplasia, as it gets bigger, it puts pressure on the urethra, which is a tube that the urine comes out of. And that pressure on that tube, on the urethra, makes it more difficult for the urine to exit.

So the idea of saw palmetto is it helps keep these cells from dividing and growing, so the prostate gland doesn't get as big or it maybe shrinks a little bit, and it allows for the more free-flowing of urine out of the urethra.

Now, does it work? There is some evidence that it can be helpful. So it's one of those things that I would say it's fine to take it, because there's not a great deal of negative side effect and there is some evidence that it works.

Interviewer: What about supplements that are promising better sexual health or prowess? Any of those work?

Thunder: Yeah, that's a great question.

Interviewer: Those are the ones we get all the emails about, right?

Thunder: Yeah. That's the one everyone is interested in. So short answer is I don't know. I'm not aware of good research that shows those things work. So if people have their favorite supplements that did improve sexual health, some of that may be placebo effect.

Now, there are also some supplements they can improve blood flow, improve arterial function perhaps, and that's one kind of aspect of sexual health. And then there's the other category of supplements that maybe can affect hormone levels. And I don't really know if there's great evidence to support taking those.

Interviewer: Muscle-building, performance enhancement supplements, or any sort of performance enhancement supplements. There are a lot of them out there.

Thunder: There's a lot.

Interviewer: Yeah. What's the research on those?

Thunder: So it's a really broad category. Muscle building is kind of one thing, but enhancement of exercise performance is a little different. There are some things that do help with exercise performance. For example, taking beetroot juice. So that is a potent source of nitrates, and it can increase the levels of nitric oxide that help blood vessels dilate and improve blood flow. And that can potentially help with exercise performance. So that's one supplement, and it has been shown to have some effects.

Caffeine is another one. We usually don't think of caffeine as a supplement, but just from a pure exercise perspective, taking higher doses of caffeine can improve exercise capacity, like running or biking capacity.

And then as far as examples of muscle-building ones, I don't really know any good supplements that kind of increase muscle. If you're interested in increasing muscle, you've got to go old school. You've got to eat, you've got to exercise, and you have to make sure you eat well, high-quality protein, enough calories, and so forth. If you want to supplement, steroids are the only game in town, but they have a lot of negative side effects.

Interviewer: Right. Yeah. What about creatine? I hear a lot about creatine. It's on the internet. A lot of people say it works. They say that it's been studied a lot. There are not a lot of downsides necessarily. Is that true?

Thunder: Yeah, for the most part, but you have to remember creatine is one of those supplements that is part of an overall exercise plan for increasing muscle, right? Creatine by itself won't really help.

Creatine is a tool that allows you to increase exercise, increase reps, for example, in weightlifting, have a little bit more physiological overload as part of your exercise than you normally could. And that extra bit of exercise is actually what helps with the muscle building. So it has to be part of a whole package. When you take creatine, you have a good nutrition plan, and you have a robust strength training plan, yes, then it can help.

Interviewer: What about weight loss supplements? Is there anything out there? That's something we all would love, to just take a pill, right, instead of putting in the work or eating the right stuff.

Thunder: Yeah, the dream. "Give me a pill and let me do what I want." So yeah, there are some supplements out there that help with weight loss, but I'll tell you they're not . . . I wouldn't say they're safe, and I don't recommend those.

Generally, the supplements that are available that help people lose weight do so because they contain stimulants. And the stimulants can suppress appetite, or they can temporarily speed up metabolism, both of which will help the body eat less calories and burn more calories.

So the supplements I'm talking about are things that have caffeine, and things that have ephedra or things that have theobromine, which is kind of like a cousin of caffeine.

But I don't recommend them because I think it's dangerous to mess with your metabolism. Some people may have underlying cardiovascular conditions and they don't know it. They may have a cardiac arrhythmia, or they may have high blood pressure or something and they don't know it because maybe it hasn't been diagnosed. And then if they take some of these stimulants as a tool for weight loss, that can exacerbate their blood pressure or exacerbate the problems in their cardiovascular system.

Interviewer: Thunder, great information about supplements. Tell me if you were to want somebody to kind of go away with one thought, or one idea, or whatever, what would that be?

Thunder: I would really want people to take a hard look at their diet first. Maximize the nutrients you can get from the food you eat. Focus on natural foods, things that are less processed. Maximize all the good stuff that's in there.

Once you do that, then you can also maybe consider adding supplements. There are some supplements that can be helpful in specific conditions. Maybe if you have high blood pressures, there are a couple of supplements you could look at. But make sure that if you have high blood pressure, you're also eating a good diet, you're consuming a lot of plant-based foods that have nutrients that can lower blood pressure, and things like that before you turn to the supplement.