When does a boy become an adult? This is a frequent question that is asked at family gatherings, educational meetings and many other situations. Many believe that a man is someone older than the age of 18 years, whilst others believe that 21 is the age of adulthood. There has even been talk about only being classed as an adult at the age of 25 years due to brain activity. The National Health Service (NHS) deems an adult as any person aged 18 years or older.
Oxford Vitality believes that every life stage is different - each individual requires varying amounts of nutrients and no two stages are exactly the same. This is why Oxford Vitality have developed a multivitamin specifically catered for men aged 18 to 50 years.
Why should men be aware of nutrition?
At around 50 years of age, men change physiologically, just like women - only with different effects and symptoms. Between the ages of 18 and 50, the physical capabilities of men develop and adapt. Body fat is one of these factors. Most men naturally begin to put on weight at the age of 30 and continue to do so until around 55 years old. Male hormones also begin to decline as you age, meaning that men naturally lose muscle mass with age. Another common development in men is the change to their hair and skin. These developments bring about specific nutritional requirements which must be met in order to supply the body with enough energy and nutrients to flourish.
What nutrients are important for men?
Although men require a balanced diet to attain a broad range of nutrients, certain micronutrients are more appropriate for men, particularly for those under the age of 50 years. This includes the following nutrients:
Zinc (fertility and testosterone)
Biotin (hair, energy)
Vitamin C (stress, workouts)
Calcium and vitamin D (bones, energy)
Magnesium (protein synthesis and muscle recovery from exercise)
Most people will name vitamin C as the first vitamin that comes to mind when asked for a list of vitamins. Vitamin C is probably the most well-known vitamin and rightly so as the vitamin dates back to 1550 BC. The Ebers Papyrus (an Egyptian book of herbal knowledge) accounts for a disease which is now known as scurvy, the deficiency condition of vitamin C. The people were advised to eat onions which we now know contain small amounts of vitamin C. In 1880, British sailors were given the common term ‘limeys’ as the British soldiers were given lime juice to prevent the onset of scurvy when travelling around the Carribean.
Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant, protecting cells from oxidative stress which is caused by highly reactive free radicals. The vitamin helps increase the function of the immune system during and after intense physical activity. This is useful as the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity. Only 26% of men are insufficiently active in the UK, meaning that the majority of men carry out physical activity each week and require vitamin C for the proper functioning of the immune system (1). In addition, the regulatory board of nutrition and supplements, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), states that vitamin C attributes to normal collagen levels which are needed for the normal function of blood vessels, bones, cartilage, gums, skin and teeth. Vitamin C is also required alongside several other nutrients for normal energy production and the functioning of the nervous system, immune system and brain. As an antioxidant, the vitamin also regenerates other antioxidants, such as vitamin E, which helps to reduce the symptoms of tiredness and fatigue (2).
Vitamin B was initially thought to be a single substance. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the water-soluble vitamin was grouped into several different substances. Biotin is one of the vitamins grouped under the B vitamin name as Biotin is also known as vitamin B7. The vitamin was originally known as both coenzyme R and vitamin H - the H was the initial of Haar und Haut which means ‘hair and skin’ in German.
Biotin is often commended as the vitamin that induces hair growth and reduces the rate of hair loss, particularly for those who suffer from hair loss or thinning (3). Nearly 85% of men will see hair loss or thinning before the age of 50, a factor that is mainly inherited from your family. Other hair loss can be temporary and is often a result of an illness, stress, weight loss or iron deficiency. Hair loss is a natural characteristic of ageing and any person can naturally lose between 50 and 100 hairs a day.
Further to Biotin’s trait in the maintenance of normal hair, EFSA regard Biotin as a vitamin that contributes to normal energy production levels, macronutrient metabolism and correct functioning of both the nervous system and brain. The vitamin also contributes to the maintenance of normal mucous membranes and the skin.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium carbonate is the chemical formula for limestone, a rock used by the Romans to produce cement. The limestone was heated to convert calcium carbonate into calcium oxide, which is then mixed with water to produce the cement - the practice is still used today in part. The Romans termed limestone as calx, meaning ‘lime’, hence the origin of calcium’s name. The element was only extracted in whole by Humphrey Davey in 1808, many years after the Romans.
More than 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in our bones and teeth. The body controls the level of calcium very carefully; too little of the mineral causes more calcium to be released from the bones, too much calcium and our bodies go into hypercalcaemia, the state of excess calcium. The mineral is absorbed through the lining of the bowel.
The bone status of men varies greatly between the ages of 19 and 50. Calcium supports the structure of bones and teeth, aiding the maintenance of the bone mineral. The mineral also plays a role in the process of cell division, blood clotting, normal energy metabolism, muscle function and neurotransmission.
Many associate vitamin D with rickets, and rightly so as rickets is the deficiency disease of vitamin D. Rickets was first identified in the 1600s as a rare health disorder, however, the deficiency disease progressed in the number of cases in the 1700s as Europeans began to stay indoors whilst living in large, polluted cities which decreased access to sunlight. Sunlight is the main source of vitamin D, specifically vitamin D3 which is one of three forms of vitamin D and the most easily absorbed by the human body.
Although rickets is mainly found in children, adults can also experience a similar deficiency disease, osteomalacia. Osteomalacia produces symptoms such as bone pain, muscle weakness and fragile bones which are more prone to fractures. This deficiency disease occurs if the mineralisation of bones doesn’t occur properly, otherwise known as when new bone is made up from collagen but lacks the protective mineral covering of calcium and phosphorous.
As the deficiency disease would suggest, vitamin D aids the absorption and utilisation of calcium and phosphorous to maintain normal bones and teeth and normal calcium levels in the blood. The vitamin also contributes to the normal function of the immune system and the process of cell division.
Calcium and vitamin D
Calcium can’t be absorbed without the presence of vitamin D. Without calcium, your bones may become weak and not able to support your weight. Peak bone mass is reached at around ages 25 to 30 years, after which you begin to lose bone mass. Acquiring enough of both nutrients helps to keep your bones healthy, reducing your chances of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis. These are both health conditions caused by weak bones with a low bone density or bone mass, increasing the likelihood of a fracture.
Magnesium is associated with muscles and the recovery of muscles after exercise. In recent years, the awareness of Epsom salts has skyrocketed. Epsom salts are chemically known as magnesium sulfate, originating from the town of Epsom in Surrey, England. The discovery of Epsom salts originates back to 1617, initiating the extraction process of magnesium which was recognised as an element in 1755 by Joseph Black.
EFSA state that magnesium contributes to the reduction of tiredness, the balance of electrolytes, energy metabolism, normal functioning of the immune system, protein synthesis and the maintenance of bones and teeth. In addition, EFSA claims that the mineral has a role in the process of cell division. The NHS also affirms that magnesium helps to turn the food we eat into energy and ensures that the parathyroid glands operate functionally to produce the hormones required for bone health (4).
The vast majority of men exercise each week, therefore muscle recovery is essential for good health and the building of new muscles. Magnesium contributes to the functioning of normal muscles by helping to regulate muscle contractions and enabling the muscles to relax, acting as a calcium blocker. Calcium is needed for muscle contraction to occur and both calcium and magnesium compete for the same binding spots. If the body lacks magnesium, your muscles may contract too much which can cause cramps or spasms.
Selenium was discovered by Jöns Jacob Berzelius in 1817 who mistakenly identified the mineral as a metalloid before correcting the discovered element the following year. Selenium exists in two forms; inorganic and organic. Both forms are good dietary sources of selenium although the body automatically converts inorganic selenium sources into organic selenium. Soil is rich in inorganic selenium which is the form of selenium found in plants. Animals, on the other hand, contain the organic form of selenium. The majority of selenium is stored in the skeletal muscle where approximately 28 - 46% of our body’s selenium is stored (5).
Selenium is a component of around 25 selenoproteins, otherwise known as proteins that include an amino acid called selenocysteine. Selenoproteins have a critical role in reproduction via normal spermatogenesis, the metabolism of thyroid hormones and DNA synthesis, as well as offering antioxidative properties. Additionally, the nutrient is needed for the maintenance and upkeep of hair and nails and the immune system.
Selenium is beneficial for good fertility, including sperm function. The nutrient is advantageous for those looking to have a child as selenium helps sperm cells to grow and develop into a good shape and size as well as aiding them to swim, two factors which are necessary for contraception. The antioxidative properties of selenium also help to protect the sperm from oxidative damage.
Zinc has many uses in addition to its nutritional substance, including suncream, metallic structures and utilisation in the rubber, chemical and paint industries (did you know that zinc makes up 97.5% of the US Lincoln Memorial pennies dated after 1983?). On average, we retain around 2.5g of zinc in our bodies. The nutrient is a natural component of the earth and is present in rock, soil, air, water and the biosphere.
Zinc forms the active sites of over 20 different enzymes, as well as contributing to the metabolism of macronutrients, acid-based substances and fatty acids. The mineral also extends the fertility of a man by contributing to DNA synthesis and assisting in the process of cell division.
Studies show that zinc enhances the fertility levels of men. Inadequate supplies fo zinc may be a cause for low-quality sperm as a low status of the nutrient decreases testosterone levels, sperm quality and male fertility rates. Supplementing with zinc is thought to increase testosterone levels and the sperm count in those with a low zinc status (6).
World Health Organisation (2018) Physical Activity. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity
European Food safety Authority (2016) EU Register of Nutrition and Health Claims. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/labelling_nutrition/claims/register/public/?event=register.home&CFID=491601&CFTOKEN=1d2838e6f1ebb7fd-7B28A546-B552-C6AF-6E26229D31B18208
Glynis, A. (2012) ‘A Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study Evaluating the Efficacy of an Oral Supplement in Women with Self-perceived Thinning Hair’, The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 5(11), p. 28-34. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3509882/
National Health Service (2017) Vitamins and Minerals. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/others/
National Institutes of Health (2019) Selenium. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-HealthProfessional/
Colagar, A. H., Marzony, E. T. and Chaichi, M. J. (2009) ‘Zinc levels in seminal plasma are associated with sperm quality in fertile and infertile men’, Nutrition Research, 29(2), p. 82-88.