While it may be tempting to buy a multivitamin that you and your partner can share, doing so may mean neither of you gets a supplement that’s tailored to your needs. Here, naturopath Paul Keogh explains why men and women have different nutritional requirements and what you need to look out for when shopping for a multi.
It stands to reason that men and women have different nutritional needs. After all, our bodies are different, and our diets and lifestyles tend to be too.
So when it comes to shopping for a multivitamin for yourself or your partner, there are different issues you need to take into account when deciding which formula to choose. Here are the six most important.
1. Women are more likely to feel run off their feet
While both men and women lead busy lives, research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that women are particularly prone to feeling that they’re constantly short of time – especially if they’re juggling parenthood with full- or part-time work.
Although many women treat it as normal, that never-ending feeling of being stretched too thin is a form of stress, and can take a toll on both your body and your health habits.
For example, women whose lives are busy or demanding are often prone to skipping meals and eating on the run – habits that can lead to deficient intake of some vitamins and minerals. These eating patterns can be particularly detrimental when you’re under pressure, because stress may increase your requirements for some nutrients, potentially exacerbating any nutritional shortfalls caused by an inadequate diet.
For that reason, the foundations of any advanced women’s multivitamin and mineral formula should include effective levels of a broad spectrum of B-group vitamins and vitamin C. Vitamins B5 and C are particularly important here, as they play a vital role in supporting adrenal function, which in turn is responsible for many of the body’s stress-coping mechanisms.
TIP: Look for a women’s multi that also contains American ginseng, which has been traditionally used to support resistance to stress, and relieve fatigue and mental and nervous exhaustion. (In traditional Chinese medicine, this herb is regarded as being nourishing to the Yin or feminine energy, so it’s particularly suited to women).
2. Men’s heart disease risk is higher
Men are significantly more likely to experience certain cardiovascular issues than women, so need to take extra care to maintain the health of their hearts and circulatory systems. From that perspective, important nutrients to look for in a men’s multi include selenium, vitamins B1, B6, C and E and folic acid.
TIP: Ideally your men’s multi should also include lycopene, a naturally-occurring antioxidant found in tomatoes that has benefits for cardiovascular health.
3. Women are more likely to be dieting
Around 15 per cent of Australian women are dieting for weight loss or other health reasons at any one point in time.
Under those circumstances, your diet may be low in some of the vitamins and minerals your body needs for optimal health, resulting in compromised nutritional status. (For example, women consuming low-calorie diets or exercising heavily are particularly vulnerable to developing marginal deficiencies of certain nutrients).
4. Many Australian men are low in zinc
ABS dietary surveys indicate that many Australian men don’t obtain the recommended quantity of zinc from their daily diets, especially as they get older.
These deficiencies could have widespread health implications, because zinc is required for a vast number of physiological functions, including immune health, tissue repair and cognitive functioning.
That makes zinc an essential inclusion in a men’s multivitamin and mineral formula.
TIP: When shopping for a men’s multi for yourself or a partner, look for a formula containing zinc glycinate, which is more easily absorbed and utilised by the body than some other forms of zinc.
5. Our reproductive health needs are different
For men, the issues related to zinc deficiency discussed above are particularly relevant to reproductive health, as this important nutrient is required for testosterone synthesis, hormonal balance, prostate function and the normal production and function of sperm.
Other nutrients that are considered especially important for sperm health and which should be included in a men’s multi include selenium, folic acid and vitamins B12, C and E, while lycopene may assist in maintaining prostate health.
For women, taking a multivitamin that contains both zinc and vitamin B6 may help maintain a healthy menstrual cycle and reduce premenstrual symptoms.
During the childbearing years, a woman’s multi should also contain 400-500mcg of folic acid, which, when taken daily for at least a month prior to conception and during pregnancy may reduce the risk of having a baby with neural tube defects such as spinabifida.
TIP: Herbal medicines have traditionally been used to support men and women’s reproductive health and sexual vitality. For men, these include Korean ginseng, withania and horny goat weed, which have traditionally been regarded as revitalising male tonics. On the other hand, many women thrive on herbs such as dong quai, shatavari and American ginseng, which have traditionally been used to rejuvenate feminine energy.