Of all the concerns about how to eat right and stay healthy, which supplements to take – if any – may be one of the most baffling. No recent incident better illustrates the confusion than conflicting headlines published on the same day in the 'Wall Street Journal' and 'The New York Times': "Triple That Vitamin D Intake, Panel Prescribes" and "Extra Calcium and Vitamin D Not Necessary, Report Says," respectively. Although both newspapers accurately reported a new standard by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that triples the recommended daily amount of D, the disparity is telling.
In general, you can assume that most supplements make exaggerated claims about what they do. "Because there's such a prevailing desire for a quick fix – a silver bullet for health issues – the supplements industry can get its marketing hype well ahead of the science," says David Katz, founder of Yale University's Prevention Research Center. But that doesn't mean that supplements shouldn't be part of your diet. Here are three that many doctors – supported by reams of sound studies – say every man should take.
Ignore what you've read about new dosing for D: Although the IOM raised the recommended daily amount (RDA) to 600 international units (IU), many doctors, including Andrew Weil, founder of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, say the standard is still too low. Vitamin D is essential to the body for absorbing calcium and repairing bone, Weil says, but higher amounts – 1,000 to 2,000 IU of D daily – are critical for disease prevention, too. "The IOM's recommendation for vitamin D is very conservative and lags behind research," he says. More than 200 medical studies are published on D every month, says Joseph Pizzorno Jr., a former member of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy, many with strong evidence showing the vitamin can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Among the most persuasive are a recent study that found that people with low D levels have more than twice the risk of heart attack or stroke and three major Harvard University studies that link lowered levels to colorectal and pancreatic cancers. Evidence continues to show that the nutrient can also help fight type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, depression, and arthritis.
Why can't you get enough D from food or sunlight, which naturally produces the nutrient in the body? Few foods – mainly D-fortified milk and fatty fish like salmon and tuna – contain the vitamin, and most Americans don't consume these often enough to generate high levels. We also spend the majority of our time inside and often use sunscreen when out, limiting natural production. Also, most of us live too far north to get enough sun during the winter to generate adequate amounts of D. The result is that more than half of the U.S. is D-deficient, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How to take it: Vitamin D comes in two forms: D2, which is plant-based, and D3, or what the body makes from food and sun. James Dowd, CEO of the Arthritis Institute of Michigan and author of 'The Vitamin D Cure', recommends D3, three times more potent than D2.
Doctors recommend: Carlson Labs Ddrops ($29), Vital Nutrients Vitamin D3 ($14)