Choosing a multivitamin shouldn’t have to be complicated, but with so many options available these days, sorting through the sea of choices can be overwhelming. A natural place to start when narrowing down the selection: your gender.
“Women, for example, tend to be low in iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin B12, especially if they eat a plant-based diet or avoid meat,” explains Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S, founder of Ancient Nutrition and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council. “Meanwhile, selenium and zinc can benefit men’s immune systems and sexual function, including sperm health, so they’re often found in higher levels in men’s multis.”
Read on to find out more about the differences between men’s and women’s multis, and whether choosing a gender-specific supp will benefit you.
Common Features In Men’s Multivitamins
Male-focused multivitamins are formulated with male-specific nutrient needs in mind, explains The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N. “Many age-specific options include minerals and nutrients to support urinary and prostate health,” she adds.
It’s quite common for men, especially older and/or obese men, to be vitamin D deficient, per a study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. For that reason, you’ll often find vitamin D in men’s multis (especially since it’s not easy to get from food).
“Vitamin D3 is needed to support bone health and healthy immune system function,” says Axe. “Plus, it can play a role in stabilizing your mood.”
Read More: 7 Signs You Have A Vitamin D Deficiency
Research has linked certain B vitamins with increased testosterone levels, which is especially noteworthy for aging men who naturally see a dip over time. Plus, “B12, B6, and B3 serve as essential helpers in the conversion of food to energy, and help the body make red blood cells,” Axe says. B vitamins also support heart health, mental performance, exercise performance and recovery, and more.
Men’s multivitamins often contain more zinc than women’s, says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Rebekah Blakely, R.D.N. “Zinc is crucial for a healthy prostate and testosterone production,” she says. While women need just eight milligrams per day, men need 11.
“Some men’s multis contain an extra amino acid blend to support muscle mass maintenance and recovery,” Blakely says. “It’s not that women don’t need amino acids, as well, but on average, men tend to have higher muscle mass.”
Common Features In Women’s Multivitamins
Likewise, female-focused multivitamins are formulated with female-specific nutrient needs in mind, and typically include higher amounts of iron, folate, and calcium.
Women are more likely than men to experience iron deficiency, especially if pregnant, suggests research published in American Family Physician. For this reason, women’s multis almost always contain iron. “Women of reproductive age need to be careful to get enough, since the demand for iron increases because of blood loss during menstruation,” says Axe. The mineral is generally considered important for healthy fertility, prenatal and postpartum health, and cognitive health, he adds. (Worth noting: Many women’s multis specifically formulated for older, postmenopausal women eliminate that iron.)
Women’s multivitamins sometimes contain higher levels of folate (or folic acid), which is a necessary nutrient for pregnancy. Although the RDA for folate is the same for adult women and men (400 micrograms), women’s needs increase during pregnancy (600 micrograms), Blakely points out. “Some women’s multis include extra folate to support unintended pregnancy or so a woman can continue her regular multi rather than switch to a prenatal,” she says. Since folate is a water-soluble B vitamin, the body flushes out what it doesn’t use.
Read More: 6 Nutrients That Support Women’s Fertility
This important nutrient helps with thyroid issues, which tend to be more common in women than men. Plus, “it is necessary for the ovaries to produce both estrogen and progesterone,” Axe says. “It also helps ensure a healthy pregnancy for Mom and baby by supporting breast and metabolic health, and adds to the nutritional value of breast milk for brain, bone, and muscle development in babies.”
Although women’s and men’s calcium needs remain the same for most of life, women over the age of 51 require 200 milligrams more per day, per the National Institutes of Health. “While multivitamins don’t meet daily calcium requirements (it would require way too many pills per serving), women’s multis tend to have higher quantities than men’s,” says The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N.
You’ll sometimes also find that women’s multivitamins include cranberry extract. This, Blakely explains, is to support a healthy urinary tract system. “Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are more prevalent in women than men, and cranberry helps to create a more acidic environment in the bladder so as to reduce bacterial growth,” she says.
Should Everyone take Gender-specific multis?
Although men- and women-specific multivitamins are customized for these groups, it’s always important to consider your individual needs when shopping for supplements, Michels explains.
“While sex-specific classifications cover a fair majority of the population, they don’t always account for varying spectrums of hormones, chronic conditions, and nutrient needs across all genders, ages, and groups of people,” she says. “Also, just because there’s a sex-specific stamp on your multivitamin doesn’t mean it covers all of your nutrient needs.” Vitamin D, magnesium, calcium, omega-3s, and probiotics may require separate supplementation if you can’t meet your needs through your multi and food alone.
If you’re unsure of your individualized needs based on your gender, age, bloodwork and medical history, Michels recommends having a nutrition assessment performed by a qualified professional. You can book a free virtual consultation with any of The Vitamin Shoppe’s nutritionists here.