Vitamins: What men and women need

March 5, 2019

Tribune news service

What’s the difference between men’s and women’s multivitamins? If a woman takes a formulation designated for men, will her voice lower an octave? Will a young man’s hair turn gray if he ingests a supplement for men over 50?

Truth is, males and females — at certain stages of life — do have some varying nutrient needs. And if we need a multivitamin supplement, it helps to be guided in the right direction. But that probably doesn’t mean dire consequences for a man who accidentally pops one of his wife’s prenatal vitamins.

For younger women, the biggy is iron. Because of the monthly loss of this mineral through the menstrual cycle, young ladies need more iron than men from the age of 14 to 50, according to the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans. As she approaches menopause, a woman needs less iron. Multivitamin/mineral formulas for older women may supply half the iron of other preparations. And many vitamin/mineral supplements for older men have no extra iron at all due to the risk for some men to accumulate excess amounts of this mineral.

Most of our nutrient needs stay fairly stable over the years. For example, from age 14 on, healthy boys and girls, men and women all need similar daily doses of potassium, vitamin E and selenium. And men generally need slightly higher amounts of vitamin C, zinc and certain B-vitamins than women.

Vitamin D is another nutrient with the same dosage recommendation for all of us until the age of 70. After that, our skin is less able to convert sunshine to vitamin D (and we probably aren’t outdoors as much). That’s why vitamin formulations for older individuals may contain extra amounts of this nutrient.

Confused? Maybe that’s why some manufacturers now market sex- and age-related multivitamins. Dosages can still vary, however. Stick with reliable well-known brands.


(Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition” (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to barbara@quinnessentialnutrition.com.)