Our annual guide to essential supplements for men
“ We are the ‘pay me later’ people,” says David Foreman, RPh, ND. “We wait until something is broken or wrong before we seek treatment.” As a pharmacist, naturopathic doctor, educator, and host of the Herbal Pharmacist radio show, Foreman has observed that attitude in countless men. “But,” he says, “we need to take a more active role in our health.”
Paying attention to what you eat and adopting healthier routines is the starting point. But realistically, says Foreman, “It takes time to learn new habits.” Meanwhile, supplements can reduce cravings, provide energy for exercise, and help your body store fewer calories as fat. And when your belt feels looser, it’s great motivation to make more healthy choices.
If you’re in the minority of men who aren’t overweight, the same principles can help you stay lean and improve your fat-to-muscle ratio, which keeps your body strong as you age. And a strong, lean body lays the foundation for heart health, diabetes prevention, better sex and fertility, and a good mood.
Men's Biggest Food Pitfalls
“Men tend to be more about meat and potatoes, rather than other vegetables and fruit,” says Foreman. So the first step is to eat less meat, and emphasize poultry and fish over beef and pork. To cut back on starch and sugar (including sodas), Foreman recommends the following supplements. Even if you take medications, he says, all four are safe.
Phase 2 Starch Blocker: A proprietary white bean extract that doesn’t produce gas, Phase 2 blocks absorption of 50–65 percent of all starch calories, turning them into fiber that gets eliminated. According to a review of research published in Nutrition Journal, Phase 2 has been proven to work in 10 studies that followed more than 400 people.
Green Tea: Drink 3–5 cups daily, brewed per the Herbal Pharmacist’s Green Tea Tips (below). It’s good for the heart, and its caffeine content gives your metabolism just a little kick, which helps burn fat. Drinking tea rather than sodas is ideal, but if you’re not likely to do that, take a green tea supplement.
Carnitine: Found in meat, carnitine helps to burn fat and boost energy, which makes it easier to exercise. And
it helps muscles recover from physical activity, reducing soreness. One study tested a proprietary form called Carnipure on middle-aged men and women, and found that it “can reduce chemical damage to tissues after exercise and optimize the processes of muscle tissue repair.” Carnipure is found in many supplements.
Chia Seeds: The most concentrated plant source of healthy omega-3 fats, chia seeds also swell up in your stomach, curbing appetite. Sprinkle them on salads or mix them in smoothies. Just 1 tablespoon contains about 2 grams of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant form of omega-3 fats.
Foreman recommends these supplements for general health maintenance and specific issues in men:
For overall health: Choose a high-quality multivitamin designed for a man at your stage of life.
Omega-3s: For overall health and fat burning, take 1 gram of fish oil daily, in addition to getting 2 grams of ALA from chia seeds. If you’re over age 60, consume more than one alcoholic drink per day, and/or take pain relievers, try an additional 1–2 grams of fish oil daily.
For a healthy prostate: Take 126 mg, three times daily, of Cernitin, a proprietary rye pollen extract also called Swiss pollen extract. It calms inflammation that contributes to prostate enlargement and can be the trigger of prostatitis. (Bacterial infections, which usually resolve with antibiotics, can also cause prostatitis.) Cernitin is found in Jarrow Formulas’ Prostate Optimizer and other products.
For healthy cholesterol: Twice daily, take 150 mg of Sytrinol, a proprietary extract of citrus and palm fruits that helps lower “bad” cholesterol and raise “good” cholesterol.
Hawthorne: Take this herb for healthy blood pressure and overall heart health. Follow the manufacturer’s directions.
For healthy digestion: To strengthen immune function and promote digestive health, take probiotics on an empty stomach, at least two hours before your next mealtime, or before going to bed.
“Optimal nutrition, hormonal balance, and avoiding toxins improve a man’s semen quality and sperm count,” says Adrienne Steward, NMD, a naturopathic physician who specializes in fertility at Integrative Health in Scottsdale, Ariz. We’re all exposed to toxins through household products, plastics, pesticides, fertilizers, and even mercury in fish. Tests can reveal hormonal problems caused by an overload of such toxins, and a nutritionally minded physician can recommend a treatment program.
In addition to a whole-food, organic diet and daily multivitamin, Steward recommends the following:
Vitamin D: 1,000 IU daily, but ideally, get levels tested.
Antioxidants: Take a combination formula with a variety of antioxidants.
Tribulus terrestris: The herb improves hormonal balance and fertility. Follow product directions.
Green Tea Tips
Buy pure green tea—not decaf, but without added caffeine. Boil water, and then wait one minute before pouring it over the tea. Water that is too hot will destroy nutrients and reduce benefits, such as improved cholesterol and immunity. For the heart-healthiest tea, brew 2–3 minutes. Longer brewing will concentrate caffeine, which can raise blood pressure and give tea a bitter taste. Foreman sets his smartphone alarm for 2 minutes of brewing time.
Caffeine Content: Brewed per Foreman’s directions, 1 cup (8 ounces) of green tea contains about 30 mg of caffeine, so 5 cups total about 150 mg. In comparison, a 16-oz cup of brewed coffee (“medium” or “large”) from a coffee shop can contain 130–330 mg of caffeine.
Mad Manly Advertising
Men today are the targets of drug advertising that strikes at the very core of their manliness while painting a false picture of benefits and risks. A study published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law found that from 2006–2010, there were more than 100,000 television ads for Viagra and similar drugs—and most of them violated guidelines that pharmaceutical companies are supposed to follow.
“Cumulatively, our data shows that ED marketing campaigns fail to responsibly educate consumers about health conditions and appropriate treatments,” said study co-author Denis Arnold, PhD. More specifically, the study found, ads incorrectly present ED drugs as the first line of treatment for impotence, while downplaying known risks—such as persistent and painful erections, and sudden loss of hearing or vision—and failing to inform consumers of other options.
In addition, ED drugs don’t necessarily resolve sexual difficulties, notes Christopher Sterrett, MD, an integrative physician at the Holtorf Medical Group in Pasadena, Calif.
“The drugs don’t help with libido, so a man may not have the desire to have sex,” he says.
Hormonal imbalances, including low levels of testosterone, are often an underlying problem. While testosterone replacement can help, lifestyle factors that can affect hormones also need to be addressed.
What Influences Testosterone?
Hormones work in concert. Levels of testosterone can be below optimum either because a man’s body isn’t producing enough or because levels of estrogen (important for men as well as women) are too high, creating an imbalance.
“Men who are overweight make more estrogen,” says Sterrett, because fat cells, especially those in the belly, produce estrogen. Toxins, soy foods, hormones in meat, and sugar also inflate estrogen levels.
Sugar and starch (which converts rapidly to blood sugar) are highly detrimental. “Studies show that testosterone levels decrease after a high-sugar meal,” says Sterrett. Stress, opiate drugs such as Vicodin, and excess alcohol consumption are other testosterone robbers.
On the flip side, maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in regular physical activity, including weight training and short bouts of high-intensity exercise, improve hormone balance. And adequate sleep is essential for optimum testosterone. “If you have to set an alarm clock to get up, you’re not getting enough sleep,” says Sterrett.
To boost testosterone and improve hormone balance, in addition to a multivitamin and antioxidants, he recommends:
D-Aspartic Acid: An amino acid and natural testosterone booster. Take 2–3 grams daily.
Zinc: 10 mg daily, an amount found in many multivitamins.
Indole-3-carbinol (I3C): Found in cruciferous vegetables, this nutrient helps balance hormone levels.
Udo’s Oil 3-6-9 Blend: Use it on salads.
Theanine and/or Ashwagandha: Take one or both to reduce stress.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs): Take them after weight training.