Healthy hormone balance and general fitness and wellbeing are essential to male health, and underpin a healthy reproductive function as well as fertility, stamina, vitality, optimal libido and a healthy sexual function. The major health concerns specific to men include erectile dysfunction, infertility, benign prostate hyperplasia, prostate cancer and low libido and low testosterone all of which can be improved and/or influenced by a proper diet high in specific nutrients.
Two nutrients that stand out the most for promoting male physiology are undoubtedly selenium and zinc. They are involved in numerous processes vital to men including prostate health, sperm health and assisting fertility. However, there are other nutrients (vitamins and minerals), antioxidants and herbs that are essential for optimal male health, and these include:
- Zinc– Zinc not only plays an important role in human cells and body processes, but it is perhaps the most critical trace mineral for male sexual function. It is involved in almost every aspect of male reproduction, including testosterone metabolism, sperm count, motility and morphology, as well as normal testicular development. The prostate contains the highest concentration of zinc of any organ in the body and is also found in high quantities in the testes.Zinc also plays an important role in the body’s antioxidant defence system and men with chronic zinc deprivation generally have an increased sensitivity to the effects of oxidative stress, as well as low sperm count, hypogonadism and idiopathic male infertility. In fact, even marginal zinc deficiency may lead to decreased levels of testosterone levels and production and development of sperm.
- Selenium– Selenium is essential in the synthesis of testosterone and the production and formation of healthy sperm, and sperm motility. selenium profoundly influences the structure of sperm, especially their tail, which help sperm be able to swim in the right direction. Therefore, low levels of selenium are linked to reduced male fertility. Also, being a potent antioxidant, selenium is heavily involved in immune function and the antioxidant defence system, which is paramount for sperm development and helps protect the sperm against the effects of oxidative stress.Selenium may also provide a protective effect against prostate cancer with high selenium status associated with a lowered risk of prostate cancer.
- L-Carnitine– In addition to its protective antioxidant effects, L-carnitine is required for sperm development and semen quality. The motility of the sperm correlates directly with the L-carnitine content; the higher the L-carnitine content, the better the motility of the sperm. Conversely, when L-carnitine levels are low, sperm development, function and motility are radically reduced.L-carnitine and testosterone improve sexual desire, libido and sexual satisfaction, but L-carnitine has been shown to be more effective than testosterone in improving erectile function, nocturnal penile tumescence, orgasm, and general sexual well-being.
- CoQ10– CoQ10 is a substance found in almost every cell in our body and, similar to the B complex vitamins, it is needed for energy production to enable our cells to perform their specific functions. CoQ10 is also a powerful antioxidant, helping reduce oxidative stress to the sperm. Sperm count and sperm motility have also been shown to improve with CoQ10 supplementation. Low seminal plasma concentrations of CoQ10 have been linked to decreased sperm count and density, and impaired sperm morphology and motility.
- Omega-3 fatty acids– For men essential fatty acid supplementation is vital because the semen is rich in prostaglandins which are produced from these fatty acids. Men with poor sperm quality, abnormal sperm, poor motility or low count, have inadequate levels of these beneficial prostaglandins. Omega-3’s are also an anti-inflammatory agent, which may help reduce your risk of BPH and prostate cancer.
- Panax ginseng (Korean ginseng)– Panax ginseng has a strong reputation as a male tonic and has been used for centuries to promote energy in men who are suffering lowered vitality and diminished physical performance and sexual function. Panax ginseng has been shown to increase production of gonadotropins, which help with male fertility and reproductive function. It has also shown to increases testosterone levels, and improves both sperm count and motility. It may also have some improvement towards erectile dysfunction and lowered libido.
What are food sources of these vitamins?
Zinc– oysters, crab, lobster, prawns, beef, lamb, spinach, endive, seeds (pumpkin, sesame, chia, flax, sunflower), Nuts (pine nuts, pecans, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts), raw cacao, dark chocolate, chicken, pork, legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, borlotti), mushrooms, egg yolk, brown rice
RDI (men aged 19 – 70+) = 14mg/day
Selenium– Brazil nuts, cashews, oysters, mussels, prawns, lobster, mackerel, swordfish, wholemeal bread, seeds (sunflower, chia, sesame, flax, pumpkin), pork, beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, mushrooms, brown rice, rye, quinoa
RDI (men aged 19 – 70+) = 70µg/day
L-Carnitine– lean beef, pork, chicken, fish, dairy products
There is currently no RDI for L-carnitine but it isrecommended that the tolerable upper limit is 400mg-3000mg/day.
CoQ10– offal, oily fish e.g. salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring, beef, chicken, nuts, seeds and plant-based oils, legumes (peanuts, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans), mushrooms, green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, silver beet, broccoli). It may be challenging to get your daily intake of CoQ10 through dietary means. Therefore, supplementation is recommended to help optimise men’s health.
There is currently no RDI for CoQ10. For general supplementation to support cellular energy production 75mg/day is recommended. To support a healthy heart, 150mg/day is recommended.
Omega-3 fatty acids– oily fish e.g. salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, herring, anchovies, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, cod liver oil, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds beef, prawns, fortified foods, egg yolks, oysters, soybeans, tofu, spinach
There is no current RDI for fatty acid intake, instead they use an “adequate intake (AI)” measurement. The AI is the average daily nutrient intake level based on observed or experimentally-determined approximations or estimates of nutrient intake by a group (or groups) of apparently healthy people that are assumed to be adequate.The current AI for both plant-based α-linolenic acid and animal sources of omega-3 EPA and DHA are as follows:
AI (men aged 19+) α-linolenic acid = 1.3g/day
AI (men aged 19+) omega-3 EPA and DHA = 160mg/day
Panax ginseng– is a plant that grows in Korea, northeastern China and far eastern Siberia. It is the root of this plant that is used in teas and supplements. The best way to take Panax ginseng in Australia is through supplementation.
There is no RDI for Panax ginseng as it is a plant.
What vitamins should not be taken together and why?
- General rule of thumb is if you take a large dose or supplement heavily with a mineral, it will compete with other minerals to reduce their absorption.
- The absorption of iron is decreased when combined with high doses of zinc or copper.
- Calcium absorption is decreased when combined with large doses of magnesium, zinc and phosphate.
- Magnesium absorption is decreased when combined with large doses of calcium and phosphate.
- Folic acid absorption is decreased when combined with zinc.
- Vitamin B6 absorption is decreased when combined with zinc, coffee and oral contraceptives.
- Vitamin B12 absorption is decreased when combined with vitamin C doses greater than 500mg.
- Vitamin C absorption is decreased when combined with zinc and iron.
What vitamins need to be taken together for optimal benefit?
- Vitamin C can enhance the absorption of iron from supplements and plant-based foods.
- Iron is also absorbed better when combined with animal-based protein foods and amino acid supplements.
- Your fat-soluble vitamins (i.e. A, D, E, K) are more likely to be absorbed if taken with a meal that contains fats.
- Calcium absorption increases when combined with vitamin D (not necessarily at the same time), protein and vitamin C
- Folic acid is better absorbed when combined with vitamin C
- Niacin (vitamin B3) is best taken with folic acid to enhance absorption.
- Magnesium is better absorbed when paired with vitamin D.
It is important to note to be aware that vitamins and minerals can also affect the absorption and effectiveness of some medications. Therefore, it’s vital that you ask the advice of a health professional before starting a supplement regime.