Vitamins play an important role in our nutrition and growth. Food -- provided that we're eating right -- offers plenty of vitamins and nutrients. But, the truth of it is, men don't get enough vitamins in their daily diet. On average, men need to eat 350 percent more vegetables and 150 percent more fruit than they're currently taking in [source: McMillen].
There are two types of vitamins: fat-soluble and water-soluble. Absorption occurs once vitamins get to the small intestine. Water-soluble vitamins have active transports for absorption, which means molecules in the intestines pick them up in the intestine so they can then enter the bloodstream. Since they dissolve in water, they are eliminated from your body daily. That's why some critics of vitamin supplementation say it simply results in the creation of "expensive urine."
As the name implies, fat-soluble vitamins dissolve in fat. This happens via fat-digesting bile in the liver and small intestine. After the vitamins are broken down, they're absorbed into the intestinal wall and stored until needed.
Regardless of whether you choose fat-soluble or water-soluble vitamins, it's important not to overdo it, as mega doses can cause serious problems.
And, yes, the nutritional needs of men and women are somewhat different. Men need certain vitamins more than women and vice versa. Over the course of the following pages we'll help you understand which vitamins should be on your radar.
Vitamin D is often referred to as "the sunshine vitamin," because the body manufactures it after being exposed to the sun's rays [source: MayoClinic]. The main purpose of vitamin D is to balance calcium, but the more researchers learn about it the more they're finding additional benefits.
Sixty-one percent of the population is said to suffer from vitamin D deficiency [source: Nordqvist]. This deficiency can lead to major issues, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart attack, stroke and muscle weakness. Men who don't get outdoors much will likely find it difficult to get enough vitamin D through food. The only food sources of vitamin D are fatty fish, egg yolks and fortified milks and cereals.
Thankfully, supplementation is easy. Make sure, however, to take the recommended dosage. Since vitamin D is linked to calcium buildup, taking too much may lead to calcium in the blood, which can result in kidney stones, vomiting and muscle weakness.
Next up, a vitamin that's rising in popularity.
Just like vitamin D, vitamin K has been getting a lot of attention recently. This vitamin signals a protein that aids in rebuilding bones. Vitamin K has even been known to protect against fractures and some cancers [source: Hedrick]. It's also an important part of maintaining vascular health because it can help prevent calcium buildup along blood vessel walls.
But while vitamin K is popular, the primary food sources of it are not -- broccoli and green leafy vegetables or fermented cheese and soy. If these options don't appeal to you, try supplementation.
You don't have to be a nutritionist to know about the next vitamin on our list.
Vitamin C is quite possibly the most recognized vitamin we'll examine. It's talked about around the water cooler during cold and flu season and it's often hyped on the packaging of everything from cereal to juice. Its roots go back in the annals of medicine to the discovery -- and treatment for -- scurvy.
Over time, we've learned it's not just useful as an antioxidant but also for the promotion of muscle, bone, skin, gums, tendons, ligament and cell membrane health. Vitamin C is especially important for men who work out regularly or who have had problems with bone strength or gum health [source: Zelman].
It's true that vitamin C can decrease the intensity and duration of cold and flu symptoms and is helpful for maintaining a strong immune system. And, unlike the previously mentioned vitamins, it's readily available in many foods -- fruits and vegetables are full of it. Still supplementation is often recommended during the cold and flu season and overdose is rare because you'll usually pass the excess through your system.
Next, a meaty issue in the world of nutrition.
Vitamin B-12 might not be commonly known and understood, but that doesn't make it any less important. In fact, it's essential for normal activity in nerves. Deficiency can lead to anemia -- a lack of healthy, oxygen-providing red blood cells. It's also part of the B-complex group of vitamins, a few more of which are on this list and all of which are essential for metabolism and energy [source: Sease].
B-12 is abundant in meat, especially salmon and tuna, as well as in eggs and cheese. However, there are not many sources in vegetables, so vegetarians and vegans are at a high risk for deficiency [source: PCRM]. A lack of B-12 can lead to fatigue and shortness of breath. Men who work out regularly need to take extra care to insure they're getting enough in their diet.
Most men aren't going to find it challenging to get enough B-12 unless they're vegan or vegetarian, however it's still an important vitamin and a key part of a well balanced diet.
If you avoid certain foods that are deemed to be healthy, you may be avoiding this next vitamin.
Like its close relative vitamin B-12, vitamin B-3 -- also known as Niacin -- is remarkably important to men's health. It's found in the same good-for-you foods we tend to avoid, like whole wheat, almonds and seeds. But if you avoid this vitamin, do it at your own peril, as it's essential for fueling your body throughout the day [source: UMMC].
The biggest strength of niacin is its link to lowering blood cholesterol. Lower cholesterol means you'll have less of a chance of suffering a stroke, heart attack or cardiovascular disease [source: Science Daily]. Vitamin B-3 can also help decrease the likelihood of skin problems because B vitamins are necessary for healthy skin, hair, eyes and liver. There have even been studies linking hair loss with niacin deficiency, but no conclusive evidence has been found.
If you regularly eat protein-rich foods, especially whole wheat, you should be getting the necessary amounts of this vitamin. However, if you avoid whole grains and almonds, you may want to consider supplementing your diet. Be careful though, excess amounts can lead to flushed skin, rashes and even liver damage.
Next up, the eyesight vitamin.
If you've ever been fitted for glasses, you may recall your doctor talking about vitamin A. Good eyesight and strong night vision is more likely among those with a healthy amount of vitamin A intake [source: OFDS].
You can get a good dose of vitamin A by eating animal liver and eggs or by drinking milk from cows. Beta-carotene-rich vegetables will also supply you with what you need. Examples include carrots, apricots, spinach and cabbage.
Supplementation works well as the body has a high tolerance for vitamin A and overdoses are rare. Men with vision problems may find it especially useful to help maintain their eyesight in the years to come.
Ever been misunderstood? This next vitamin feels your pain.
Vitamin E might be one of the most misunderstood vitamins on our list. As with all vitamins, it's important to maintain balance and not get too much, especially considering vitamin E is fat-soluble and will stay in your system. Since it shows up in such a wide variety of products, it's important to keep track of your intake.
Vitamin E is an important antioxidant and is thought to add protection against heart disease and cancer. It's also used on the skin to prevent signs of aging and as a treatment for sunburn. Hard evidence is still mixed, however [source: UMMC]. The best sources of vitamin E are whole grains, nuts and seeds. Supplementation is possible, but it's the least preferred method of intake and must be taken with food. It should also be cleared with a health provider if you're on any medications, even just aspirin. Still, vitamin E is an important part of our diet and should be consumed through food sources whenever possible.
Need some energy? The next vitamin on our list can provide it.
Riboflavin is sometimes called the energy vitamin, so for men on the move, this is one of the most important vitamins around. As mentioned previously, the B complex vitamins all work together, but that doesn't stop certain ones from being more important than others.
Riboflavin, like its counterpart niacin, is an essential component of energy production. It works to increase metabolism and is required for a variety of cell processes. It's found in many of the same places as niacin, including almonds and proteins, as well as milk, leafy vegetables, liver, and yeast.
Because it helps in blood movement, riboflavin is especially important for men experiencing a period of growth or if they're eating large amounts of protein to build muscle. There is also evidence that it may be beneficial to men who suffer from migraines or tinnitus (a hearing problem) [source: Evans]. Overdoses are rare because riboflavin is easily absorbed and excreted.
Things are about to get strange as we look at the next vitamin.
Vitamin B-9 is best known as folic acid and it's a strange beast indeed. Paired with B-12, it increases the health of the heart and is important in the development of healthy red blood cells and the nervous system. It can be found in leafy vegetables, beans and asparagus.
While folic acid is generally associated with pregnancy in woman, that doesn't mean it's unnecessary for men. Studies have proven it contributes to and increased sperm count or spermatogenesis [source: Randerson]. But here's the major downside: B-9 supplementation may lead to an increased risk of prostate cancer, so it's best to take in folic acid through natural foods and not supplements [source: Boyles]. It's also good to be aware of your dosage and to not consistently overdo it.
And finally, in an age of multi-tasking, this next vitamin rises to the occasion.
Vitamin B-6 is the multitasking vitamin that works with fellow B-complex vitamins, on its own and with other vitamins to handle nearly all aspects of the body. Vitamin B-6, combined with B-12 and folic acid, helps lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that increases risk of stroke, osteoporosis, depression, dementia, macular degeneration and blood vessel disease. It also promotes the health of the brain, cardiovascular systems and bones. It can even help improve your mood and lower colon cancer rates [source: Mayo Clinic].
For men prone to kidney stones, vitamin B-6 works in combination with magnesium to decrease risk. It's also easy to find in proteins like beef and chicken, as well as in bananas, garbanzo beans, potatoes and fortified cereals and grains.
Supplementation is common, but quantity is important as overdoses can lead to changes in nerve function [source: OFDC]. As with all vitamins, it's important not to overindulge in the hope of warding off cancer or disease. Rather, talk with a doctor before taking anything over the recommended daily dosage.
Whether it's by getting outdoors, eating the right foods or taking supplements, these vitamins can help men stay healthy and happy.
HowStuffWorks looks at a study linking time spent with childhood friends with improved outcomes in men's health.
- Boyles, Salynn. "Folic Acid May Raise Prostate Cancer Risk." WebMD. March 10, 2009. (March 1, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/prostate-cancer/news/20090310/folic-acid-may-raise-prostate-cancer-risk
- Evans, Randolph. "Natural or Alternative Medications for Migraine Prevention: Riboflavin." Medscape Today. (Feb. 28, 2011) http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/533714_6
- Hedrick, Bill. "Vitamin K: No Help for Bone Density." WebMD. Oct. 18, 2008. (March 1, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/news/20081013/vitamin-k-no-help-for-bone-density
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- Nordqvist, Christian. "What is Vitamin D? What are the Benefits of Vitamin D?"
- Medical News Today. Aug. 24, 2009. (Feb. 28, 2011) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/161618.php
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- PCRM. "Don't Vegetarians Have Trouble Getting Enough Vitamin B-12." Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. (Feb. 28, 2011) http://www.pcrm.org/health/veginfo/b12.html
- Randerson, James. "Folic Acid boosts prospect of fatherhood, study claims." March 20, 2008. (March 1, 2011) http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/mar/20/medicalresearch.health
- Science Daily. "Vitamin B3 Shows Early Promise in Treatment of Stroke." Feb. 26, 2010. (March 1, 2011) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100224183111.htm
- Sease, Julie, PharmD, BCPS, CDE. "Does Vitamin B12 Help Relieve Fatigue." Jan. 5, 2009. (Feb. 28, 2011)http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/585589
- Smith, Michael. "7 Nutrients Your Diet May Be Missing." WebMD. Jan. 8, 2010. (Feb. 26, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/7-nutrients-your-diet-may-be-missing
- UMMC. "Vitamin B3." University of Maryland Medical Center. June 18, 2009. (March 1, 2011). http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/vitamin-b3-000335.htm
- UMMC. "Vitamin E." University of Maryland Medical Center. Dec. 14, 2009. (March 1, 2011)http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/vitamin-e-000341.htm
- Web MD. "Fortify Your Knowledge About Vitamins." WebMD. (Feb. 28, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/fda/fortify-your-knowledge-about-vitamins
- Zelman, Kathleen. "The Befits of Vitamin C." WebMD. Jan. 7, 2010. (Feb. 28, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/the-benefits-of-vitamin-c