By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
According to John Gray, the famous relationship author, men are from Mars and women from Venus. But are men and women also worlds apart when it comes to nutritional needs? The answer is that men and women clearly have much more in common than not. But I’ve also come to believe that the differences between the two sexes are still sufficient enough to warrant some gender-specific attention when it comes to nutrition.
Certainly, differences in body mass, muscle mass, and hormonal balances contribute significantly to men’s and women’s unique nutrient needs. And while men and women largely share common concerns in terms of maintaining overall health, including heart health, women typically have heightened worries over the health of their bones, skin, hair, and nails, while men often focus on prostate health.
Osteoporosis affects a larger percentage of women than men, so the minerals that boost bone health, such as calcium, silica, boron, and magnesium, are of particular importance to women. But how much calcium does a woman really need? I used to recommend 1,500 mg, yet research has shown that this amount is unnecessary to protect against fractures. Moreover, too much calcium and not enough magnesium can promote calcification and a stressed state in the tissues. So now I suggest no more than 750 mg of calcium daily from all sources, along with 200 to 600 mg of magnesium for a good balance.
Along with magnesium’s influence on women’s bone health, this mineral may also play a role in maintaining the female figure, since research has linked magnesium deficiency to increased abdominal girth. One new study I reported on in the May [2011 Heart, Health & Nutrition] newsletter described how magnesium supplementation among overweight women had a positive effect on gene expression activity regulating metabolism. Any woman struggling with abdominal fat, therefore, should consider her magnesium intake.
Additional Women’s Needs
Research has shown that antioxidant intake is key to addressing women’s common desire to maintain healthy, age-resistant skin. One Italian study, for instance, showed how a combination of lutein, vitamins C and E, and alpha lipoic acid helped protect lipids in dry, aging skin from oxidation and promote better skin hydration. Grape seed extract, silica, citrus bioflavonoids, and biotin are also important. In particular, biotin, a member of the B complex family, helps improve brittle nails.
Certain antioxidants also support women’s urinary tract health. Specifically, the proanthocyanidin compounds in cranberries have been shown to help protect against E. coli, the bacterial culprit in up to 90 percent of urinary tract infections. And finally for women concerned with proper hormone balance, the plant compounds known as lignans have been proven helpful. Found in flaxseeds and sesame seeds, lignans act as phytoestrogens in the body, being converted in the gut into substances that help balance hormone levels.
Nutrients of Note for Men
Prostate health is a primary nutritional driver for most men. There has been a lot of research done in this area and, as a result, many men focus on the established beneficial nutrients such as saw palmetto, zinc, lycopene, and selenium. Other supporting compounds to consider are pumpkin seed extract (an excellent source of zinc), flower pollen, and nettle root.
Both flower pollen and nettle root have been shown in research studies, either alone or in combination with saw palmetto or other herbals, to help reduce common lower urinary tract symptoms secondary to an enlarged prostate. Those symptoms include urinary frequency, urgency, awakening at night to urinate, and decreased force of stream.
When it comes to preventing prostate cancer, it’s been shown that supplementation with vitamin E can lead to a lower risk of the disease. That’s why I recommend a slightly higher level of vitamin E—including mixed tocopherols—for men than for women. I recommend women take 100 to 200 IUs a day compared to 200 IUs for men, comprised of the primary vitamin E constituent, alpha tocopherol. Anything over 200 IUs just makes expensive urine and may also cause harm. Also keep in mind that including mixed tocopherols with alpha is important because they protect alpha tocopherol from oxidation.
His & Her Multis
I could probably write an entire book about gender-specific nutrient needs. I’m writing about it here, even though [I’m] only [able] to scratch the surface, because I recently decided to transform my daily multi-vitamin and mineral formula from a “unisex” version into two gender-specific formulas to better address the key differences.
To be sure, both formulas will be potently packed with my favorite nutritional boosters that benefit men and women alike, such as high-dose B complex for brain and nervous system health, and a blend of heart-smart nutrients like vitamin D (a solid 1,000 IUs’ worth!), resveratrol, magnesium, citrus bioflavonoids, and green tea, olive leaf, and grape seed extracts. Similarities aside, however, my new multi formulas will feature specific ingredient and dosage differences to individually serve each sex as a solid foundational supplement that can work synergistically with other targeted nutritional formulas.
When it comes to nutrition, men’s and women’s needs are not worlds apart—but they are distinct enough to warrant gender-specific multis.
[Please note that we do not sell any of Dr. Sinatra’s supplements at Heart MD Institute. If, after reading this article, you have any product-related questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. More product information is available at Drsinatra.com.]
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- Liu S, et al. Magnesium supplementation, metabolic and inflammatory markers, and global genomic and proteomic profiling: a randomized, double-blind, controlled, crossover trial in overweight individuals. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(2):463– 473.
- Lynch D. Cranberry for prevention of urinary tract infections. Am Fam Physician. 2004;70(11):2175–2177.
- Safarinejad MR. Urtica dioica for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia: a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. J Herb Pharmacother. 2005;5(4):1–11.
- Heinonen OP, et al. Prostate cancer and supplementation with alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene: incidence and mortality in a controlled trial. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1998;90(6):440–446.
- Preuss HG, et al. Randomized trial of a combination of natural products (cernitin, saw palmetto, b-sitosterol, vitamin E) on symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia. Int Urol Nephrol. 2001;33(2):217–225.
“Gender Specific Nutrient Needs” originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Dr. Sinatra’s monthly written newsletter, Heart, Health & Nutrition. HMDI has apdapted this article with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC (© 2011 Healthy Directions, LLC).