Many people choose to take supplements in an effort to support their health. Multivitamins are some of the most popular, and they're often marketed toward men or women.
When you look at men's versus women's vitamins, there are a few key differences. Truthfully, you probably don't need them. But if you do want to take men's or women's vitamins, here's what you need to know.
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Here at LIVESTRONG, we prioritize using deliberate language when it comes to sex and gender.
Because manufacturers still sell vitamins marketed to men and women, we’ve used those terms throughout this article.
Men's and women's vitamins are different in that they are made based on the recommended daily value (DV) of nutrients as designated by the USDA.
Men's vs Women's Vitamins — What's the Difference?
Honestly, not much. Men need more of certain nutrients and less of others compared to women. This is based on the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) set by the Food and Nutrition Board.
RDAs for Men and Women
Supplement companies make separate multivitamin formulas for men and women because the RDA for many vitamins and minerals are different. Besides needing less folate and iron, men need more of many vitamins and minerals.
For example, men need 900 micrograms of vitamin A, while women need 700 micrograms, according to the National Academies of Medicine. Men need 15 more milligrams daily of vitamin C, an extra 30 milligrams of vitamin K and an additional 3 milligrams of zinc. They also need more niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, choline and chromium.
Men can safely take women's multivitamins if they choose formulas that are low in or free from the mineral iron. Taking in too much iron can lead to life-threatening conditions, such as liver disease, heart problems and diabetes, per the Mayo Clinic.
Men's vitamins often contain higher amounts of vitamins than women need. Women should avoid taking men's vitamins.
As a general rule, always talk to your doctor before taking new vitamins.
Different Types of Men's and Women's Vitamins
As with most things today, you have a lot of choices when it comes to vitamins. Supplement manufacturers now offer formulas for women, men and older adults. These claim to provide amounts of nutrients that offer special benefits for each specific group.
Men's multivitamins will provide more of most vitamins and minerals than women's multivitamins. For example, men's vitamins like Centrum's One-a-Day for Men have high amounts of the mineral selenium and it contains the antioxidant nutrient lycopene, which is associated with protection against prostate cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Centrum's One-a-Day for Women has more of the B vitamin folate, which is an important nutrient for reproductive health and pregnancy, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. This women's vitamin also provides more iron, as women need more of the mineral to compensate for the losses during menstruation.
Men won't quite get the RDA of many nutrients by taking a women's multivitamin, but that's not really a health risk. The main problem for men taking women's multivitamins is getting too much iron. A women's multivitamin with the RDA for iron — 18 milligrams — provides more than double the 8 milligrams men need each day.
Iron serves many important functions in the body. But, as with many nutrients, too much can have negative effects. When iron stores build up in the body, it can damage your organs and lead to life-threatening conditions, such as liver problems and heart disease, per the Mayo Clinic.
Do You Need a Multivitamin?
The truth is, you probably don't need to take multivitamins. Many experts say there's really no benefit to popping a daily pill, and research shows that multivitamins don't live up to the hype that they can help prevent disease.
Data from studies involving nearly 400,000 participants found limited evidence that taking multivitamins reduces the risk of cancer or heart disease, per December 2013 research in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Results showed no cognitive benefits of long-term multivitamin use either.
Improving your diet is likely a better bet than taking multivitamins. People think of multivitamins as a sort of "nutritional insurance," but they can't make up for a diet lacking in nutrients. Most people can get all the nutrition they need from food.
Instead of spending money on supplements, fill your plate with nutrient-rich, high-quality foods, including:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables, organic if possible
- Hormone-free, grass-fed beef and dairy
- Hormone-free, cage-free poultry and eggs
- Fresh fish and seafood
- Whole grains
- Nuts, seeds and beans
- Healthy sources of fat such as olive oil and avocado
Eating well-balanced meals throughout the day and avoiding non-nutritive foods will help you meet all of your nutritional requirements in most cases.
Is Taking a Multivitamin Worth It? How Do You Know What Vitamins You Should Take?
First of all, it's important to visit your doctor to get your blood tested to determine if you're actually deficient in any nutrient. And even if you are deficient, you don't necessarily need a multivitamin.
If your doctor determines that you do have a deficiency, short or long-term supplementation might be recommended to address the issue. But, in the case of a deficiency, it's only necessary to replace the nutrient you're lacking.
Taking a multivitamin on top of that may just give you a lot of additional stuff your body doesn't really need.
There are some times when taking vitamins may be beneficial, such as before and during pregnancy, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
In fact, it's suggested that people who are trying to become pregnant start taking prenatal vitamins up to a month before trying to conceive, as nutrient needs are higher before and during pregnancy.
Iron deficiency is common (especially among women), and in many cases, supplements are recommended to bring blood levels back up to normal. As always, check with your doctor if you suspect you're deficient before buying iron supplements.
According to the American Society of Hematology, you're more at risk for iron-deficiency anemia if you:
- Menstruate, particularly if menstrual periods are heavy
- Are pregnant, breastfeeding or have recently given birth
- Recently had major surgery or physical trauma
- Have a gastrointestinal disease, such as celiac, inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn's disease
- Have peptic ulcer disease
- Have had a bariatric procedure, especially gastric bypass
- Eat a vegetarian or vegan diet
Before Taking Vitamins, Understand the Risks
People assume that adding vitamins to their routine is automatically healthy, but as we've discussed, that's not always the case. In fact, taking too much of certain vitamins could actually do you harm.
We already talking about the risks of taking too much iron, and according to Harvard Health Publishing:
- High doses of beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A that's found in many vitamin products, have been linked to a greater risk of lung cancer in smokers.
- Too much calcium and vitamin D may increase the risk of kidney stones.
- High doses of vitamin E may cause bleeding in the brain and lead to stroke.
- Too much vitamin K can interfere with the anti-clotting effects of blood thinners.
- Taking high amounts of vitamin B6 for a year or longer has been linked to nerve damage that can affect how your body moves.
It's worth stating again: If you suspect that you have a nutrient deficiency or think you would benefit from taking vitamins, talk to your doctor and get a blood test done to find out for sure.
A dietitian may also be able to help you decide which vitamin brands are best for you.
The Bottom Line
If you absolutely insist on taking vitamins of any kind, talk to your doctor first. And if you get the OK, it could benefit you to take one that's made specifically for men or women because of the differences in nutritional needs.
If you're going to take a women's multivitamin, make sure it doesn't have more iron than you need. This is especially true if you eat a lot of red meat, which is high in heme iron — a highly absorbable form of the mineral. This is another reason it's best to have your blood levels checked before taking supplements.
With the exception of iron and folate (or folic acid), men's vitamins are higher in nutrients and may exceed the RDA for women. Because there are risks associated with taking too much of some vitamins, women should avoid men's vitamins, and men should avoid women's vitamins that are too high in iron and folate.
- NIH: "Prostate Cancer, Nutrition, and Dietary Supplements (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version"
- National Academies of Medicine: "Summary Tables, Dietary Reference Intakes"
- International Journal of Preventive Medicine: "Relation Between Body Iron Status and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Patients With Cardiovascular Disease"
- Mayo Clinic: "Arteriosclerosis / Atherosclerosis"
- Dietitians of Canada: "Food Sources of Iron"
- Iron Disorders Institute: "Iron We Consume"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Dietary Iron Intake and Body Iron Stores Are Associated With Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in a Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies"
- Annals of Internal Medicine: "Vitamin and Mineral Supplements in the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer: An Updated Systematic Evidence Review for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force"
- Annals of Internal Medicine: "Long-Term Multivitamin Supplementation and Cognitive Function in Men: A Randomized Trial"
- Harvard Health Publishing: Fertility, Diet and Pregnancy
- Harvard Health Publishing: Do You Need Vitamins?