Nutritionist Rob Hobson outlines the particular health challenges facing men and the supplements that can help.
Specific life stages can present particular health challenges, some of which are unique to gender. Among men, prostate health is a prime example of a midlife health challenge.
Although food should always come first, eating a perfectly balanced diet can be a challenge. Dietary supplements can help support men's health when diet may be compromised in some way, through preference, limited time or any other reason. Certain supplements can also help improve health outcomes when taken for a specific reason, such as lowering cholesterol levels.
What is the current state of men's health in the UK?
Sadly, the overall state of men's health leaves much to be desired. Statistics show that in the UK, 67% of men are overweight, with 26% being obese, and men are more likely than women to become obese.1 Being overweight or obese is the leading risk factor for many diet-related diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease, which is the leading cause of premature death in men. Some health issues also affect day-to-day wellness, such as back pain, joint problems and depression.
Many male health concerns occur after the age of 30 and include fertility problems, libido (erectile dysfunction) and those involving the prostate gland, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH or enlarged prostate). Mental health is a growing concern among all adults, exacerbated by the demands of a modern lifestyle.
Research has shown how men are less likely to engage and react to healthcare information or recall the warning signs of cancer when compared to women, and are also less likely to visit their GP.2 This can impact long-term health, especially in the case of diseases such as prostate cancer, where mortality rates are significantly reduced by early detection.
This is partly a problem of upbringing; the definition of masculinity is imprinted on many men from an early age, as a need to be tough, brave, strong and self-reliant. This can influence their attitude towards self-care and seeking outside help.
Can supplements help to support men's health?
One of the ways men can take control of their health is by eating a healthier diet, and in some cases taking a supplement may help. Food should always come first, but supplements play a role in bridging any gaps that exist within the diet; nutrient intake depends on the nutritional quality of the food you eat, which may fluctuate for many reasons.
Some supplements can also support specific health conditions, such as balancing cholesterol levels or relieving joint pain.
According to The National Diet and Nutrition Survey,3 some men do not get enough specific nutrients in their diet. Here are some examples of deficiencies.
LRNI stands for Lower Reference Nutrient Intake, which is the amount of nutrient needed to fulfil the needs of the small percentage of the population that requires only a low level of that nutrient. Most people need more than the LRNI.
- 6% are below the LRNI for zinc
- 36% are below the LRNI for selenium
- 8% are below the LRNI for iodine
- 10% are below the LRNI for potassium
- 12% are below the LRNI for magnesium
- 12% are below the LRNI for potassium
Which supplements support overall health and wellness?
Men's average fruit and vegetable intake is just over four portions, and only 30% manage to eat their 5-a-day.3 The lack of fruit and vegetables and fibre-rich wholefoods in the diet means some men need larger quantities of certain nutrients. A male-specific multivitamin and mineral supplement is a cheap way for men to ensure their nutrient intake is sufficient.
Vitamin B12 is difficult to get from a vegan diet, so vegan men should find another way to obtain this nutrient. Fortified foods are one option, but vitamin B12 is also available as a supplement in tablet or spray form, or as part of a multivitamin.
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The National Diet and Nutrition Survey has shown that men do not regularly eat oily fish.3 Oily fish is the primary source of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. These fatty acids have been shown to help protect the body from heart disease by reducing inflammation and balancing cholesterol levels.
Omega-3 supplements can be taken daily, and are also available in a vegan form made from sea algae.
Aside from being overweight, other risk factors for poor heart health include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. High blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are also the leading causes of erectile dysfunction in men. Addressing these issues with dietary changes can help men with this condition.
A substance called Fruitflow is added to supplements such as Circulease to help support healthy blood flow. Blood platelets can become 'spiky', sticking together to form blood clots. Fruitflow helps maintain platelets' smoothness and prevent this from happening.
Plant sterols are an effective way for men to manage their cholesterol levels. This supplement has been shown to help lower non-HDL (bad) cholesterol by reducing its absorption in the gut.
Plant Sterols 800mg
Proven to maintain or lower cholesterol
- Blocks the absorption of dietary cholesterol
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- Three tablets a day (2.4g) lowers cholesterol levels
Men's mental health
According to the Mental Health Foundation, around 35% of men think they have had a diagnosable mental health condition, and a fifth have had a diagnosis confirmed by a health professional.4 Male mental health is a serious issue, as three out of four suicides are by men, and this is a leading cause of premature death in men under the age of 35.5
Research has shown that people with low mood also have low circulating vitamin D levels, suggesting a connection between the two. Although you can get the vitamin D you need from the sun, this can be a challenge during the autumn and winter months, so it's worth taking a vitamin D supplement.
Stress and anxiety are common in men, especially during mid-life. Stress causes the body to excrete magnesium, and lower magnesium levels increase anxiety: a vicious circle. Taking magnesium during times of stress can help you to maintain healthy levels.
Magnesium inhibits enzymes that break down an inhibitory brain chemical called GABA: Gamma-Aminobutyric acid. As GABA levels rise, it dampens the over-stimulation that can cause anxiety-driven thoughts.
Reproductive and urinary health
Zinc is essential for men, and the prostate has a higher concentration than any other tissue in the body except for bone. Zinc helps to regulate testosterone levels. It is essential for proper prostate function and has been shown to reduce the risk of enlarged prostate and prostate size in people with BPH (prostate gland enlargement). Low zinc levels have also been shown to affect sperm quality and libido, impacting fertility.
Men trying to conceive or suffering from urinary issues should ensure they get enough zinc in their diet. Studies have shown that zinc levels declined by 61% in prostate tissue in patients with enlarged prostate, compared to normal tissue.6
A zinc supplement can help ensure adequate levels, especially if men do not regularly eat foods such as shellfish, wholegrain, legumes and seeds. Research has shown that this supplement may potentially have benefits in treating male infertility, improving sperm quality.7
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