Do men and women really require different nutrition? Can’t we both take the same vitamin supplements and be done with it?
The answer is . . . as much as women and men would like to believe that there are very little differences between the genders, this is actually not true. Let’s take a look at some of the differences in the vitamin and mineral requirements by both men and women to accurately pinpoint why supplementation must be different.
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, helps turn food into energy in the body. It will maintain healthy skin and it is important for nerve function. Niacin is found in red meat, poultry, fish and fortified hot and cold cereals. Because of the different muscle mass between men and women the average man require 16 mg of niacin a day and the average woman needs 14 mg a day in order to provide overall optimal health. (1)
Vitamin A helps to prevent eye problems and promotes a healthy immune system. It is essential for the growth and development of cells and will keep skin cells healthy, one reason why it is such a popular topical factor in skin care regimens. Good sources are milk, eggs, darkly colored vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes and orange fruits such as cantaloupe and apricots. Men require of 900 mcg of vitamin A each day and women need only 700 mcg. It is very possible to get too much vitamin A which will result in toxicity and significant side effects. (2)
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is needed to form collagen, which is the tissue that holds the cells together. It is essential for healthy bones, teeth and gums and helps the body to absorb iron and calcium as well as aiding in wound healing. There are high levels of vitamin C in red berries, red and green bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli and spinach. The requirements for non-smokers are different than those who smoke because of the action of tobacco on the body and the destruction of vitamin C. Non-smoking men need 90 mg and women need 75 mg, while smoking men need 125 mg and smoking women need 110 mg. (3)
Many of the differences in the vitamins required by both men and women are related to body mass size, muscle mass and hormonal balances. The body uses vitamins and minerals, amino acids, antioxidants and enzymes to support the balance of hormones necessary for good health. Women require a different balance of vitamins and minerals in order to support their female hormones and reproductive system than do men.
Iron is another mineral which would be dangerous to non-menstruating women and men. Only menstruating women should take an iron supplement because of the blood loss they experience every month. Otherwise, the body stores the iron and it can reach toxic levels very easily.
Calcium is another requirement which differs between men and women because osteoporosis affects a larger percentage of older women than it does men. Calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K and phosphorus all work together to build strong bone density and the greater amounts of bone which is laid down in the early teens and 20s the less risk woman face for osteoporosis as she grows older.
Interestingly, while scientists and researchers do understands that nutritional guidelines for men and women are different, most products in the vitamin and supplement industry are not guided by guidelines. And currently there are no studies which show that gender specific vitamins have any particular health benefits because they would be very difficult and costly to undertake.
Some of these nutritional differences, such as the requirement for calcium and iron, are significantly different between the genders and must be addressed while other vitamins, such as vitamin A. or vitamin C, have minimal differences and don’t require a different vitamins.
Other nutritional differences between men and women fall under category of products which are not vitamins and minerals such as protein and fiber. Men require more protein than women simply because of the difference in muscle mass and because excess protein will accelerate calcium loss in the urine. Interestingly, men also require more fiber than women because requirements are calculated based on how much protection they offer against heart disease. Since men in general require more calories they also need more fiber.
So, the bottom line is that a good multivitamin without iron can be used for both the men and postmenopausal women, while premenopausal women require a higher iron intake in order to decrease their risk of developing anemia. Women who are entering menopause in their latter years may also find it necessary to increase their iron intake based on their amounts of menstrual flow and blood loss.
(1) Linus Pauling Institute: Niacin
(2) Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin A
(3) Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin C